Topline Trends Tuesday: Lobster – poised to become the new shrimp

March 31, 2009

img_2583According to a recent CBC news report, Atlantic Canadian lobster is now often a cheaper grocery store choice than bologna: “During the fishing season off the Nova Scotia coast at the end of the year, prices on the wharf fell to $3.50 per pound ($7.70 per kilogram). Sale prices for live lobster in grocery stores over the holidays dropped as low as about $13 per kilogram.” (According to Grocery Gateway, in Ontario bologna is currently 9.98 per lb.)

So, what will the lobster fishermen – an industry already struggling before the economic downturn – do to encourage higher lobster prices?

They have a multi-pronged plan to encourage people to use lobster more often in home cooking and to remind consumers that Canadian Atlantic lobster is a premium choice.

To that I say Bravo! I’d love to see people (in other words me) eating more of this wonderful Canadian seafood.

What about you? Do you think lobster will start turning up in your shopping cart more often if you can start thinking of it in the same category with shrimp?

PS: Pictured above is chef Derek Bendig and the lobster quiche he made for a party I went to a few weeks ago. It was pretty yummy.

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Dana and the black chickens

March 30, 2009

silkie

 

My job as a food trend tracker keeps me on my toes. If I find references to something new in close proximity to one another, I draw myself up to attention and get researching.  Such was the case last week with Chinese silkie chickens (also called black chickens).  Sunday a chef proudly told me he now could get organic black chickens, then I heard someone talking about Chinese black chicken soup being healthful; on Thursday, one of my favourite online food destinations the Kitchn wrote about these curiously coloured birds. Was a trend taking flight?

The truth is that although I’m a schooled chef, I’d never cooked or eaten a black chicken before. So, I put out a call for info on Twitter and Facebook and I got an almost instant response from people who live both near and far offering suggestions about where to get my hands on these birds and how to prepare them.

I bought two silkies at T&T Supermarket and brought them home. Then I started reading about Chinese chicken soup and  the ingredients just didn’t inspire my appetite. All of the recipes contained ginseng, one of my least favourite flavours.

So, I went to bed with no plan in my mind but to cook those birds the next day. As it turned out, I decided that to be able to judge the flavour fairly, I needed to treat one of the chickens like I would treat a regular bird from my local grocery store. In the end, I decided the best test for a true comparison was to make a traditional chicken broth.

For my second chicken, I decided to treat it like a duck since many of the references I checked said that black chickens have a gamy flavour.  I concocted a recipe (it’s posted below but please be forewarned that I only made it once – it hasn’t been tested) for braising the second chicken in a lemongrass infused broth.

My results:

  • Chicken broth:  the silkie chicken made an incredibly nice chicken broth. In fact, from now on whenever see one in a Chinese market I’m going to pick it up expressly for that purpose. The broth in my freezer now is a lovely golden colour and has a true chicken scent and flavour. It’s excellent!
  • Braised Lemongrass Silkie:  the sauce, if I do say so myself, was excellent and the silkie chicken legs braised in this liquid were tender and quite tasty. The breast meat absorbed the flavour of the aromatics in a very desirable way but the meat was a bit tough and not something I’ll crave. In fact, I think I’ll make this braise again but I’ll use duck or goose legs instead.

As for the look of the meat, although it’s a bit startling at first, we got over that pretty fast while we were eating and I think it will be easier to cut up a black chicken next time I bring one home.

Looking for more info?  Check out these links:

 

Lemongrass Braised Silkie (Black) Chicken

1   silkie chicken

¼ cup (50 mL) dark soy sauce

2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) minced fresh ginger

2 shallots, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

½ cup (125 mL) mirin (rice wine) or sherry

2 tbsp (30 mL) oyster sauce

1 tbsp (15 mL) dark brown sugar

1 tbsp (15 mL) hoisin sauce

2 whole star anise

2 whole cloves garlic

1 stalk lemongrass, chopped

2 cups (500 mL) chicken broth (approx)

chopped fresh coriander

steamed rice

  • Cut the chicken into leg, thigh and breast portions. Coat all over in the soy sauce and marinate for 30 minutes.
  • Heat half the oil in a Dutch oven or large pot. Add the ginger, garlic, shallots and onion. Stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add the oyster sauce, brown sugar, hoisin, mirin, star anise, garlic and lemongrass. Cook, stirring often for 3 minutes. Add the marinated chicken and enough chicken broth to cover. Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken and continue to cook for 30 to 40 minutes longer or until the meat is fork tender. Transfer the chicken to a large bowl and cover tightly.  Bring the braising liquid to a boil and reduce for 5 to 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Strain the braising liquid into the bowl containing the chicken. Discard aromatic ingredients. Sprinkle with coriander and serve with steamed rice. 


When should you decant wine?

March 27, 2009

winebottle-sedimentHow many of you own decanters but don’t know what to do with them? I love this picture (thanks for taking it for me Martin!) because it shows you exactly why you need to decant some aged red wines.

See that sludgy stuff up near the neck of the bottle? That’s sediment. Sediment forms as highly tannic (read dry) wine ages. It is the grainy deposit that is the result of the separation of bitartrates (acids), tannins and colour pigments that occurs as wines age.

Although sediment is not a bad thing to find in a wine bottle (it can indicate that a wine is well enough aged to be ready to drink), you don’t want to drink the sediment itself. So, here’s how to decant a wine so that you get just the good stuff in your glass:

1. If a wine has been laying on its side in a wine rack, it’s best to stand it up for several hours or overnight to let the sediment sink to the bottom.
2. Uncork the bottle gently so that you don’t disturb the sediment and redistribute it throughout the wine.
3. Light a candle or position a strong light behind the wine bottle. Set a clean, dry decanter or pitcher next to the bottle.
4. Gently and slowly pour the wine into the decanter keeping an eye on the light shining through the bottle to ensure that you are pouring only liquid into the decanter (the light will shine through the wine but not as well through the sediment).
5. As you get closer to the sediment, slow down your pouring to ensure the sediment doesn’t flow into the decanter.
6. If any sediment does make it into the decanter, let it stand for a few minutes and settle to the bottom.

Besides sediment there’s another common reason to decant red wine. “Tight” wines (the ones that make you pucker and crave a glass of water) can sometimes benefit from being decanted since the process of transferring the wine from one container to another can aerate the wine so that it goes down more smoothly.

Cheers!


Puffed Cauliflower Gratin

March 26, 2009

cauliflowergratin

Spring is finally upon us but it will still be a bit of time before local produce is available here in abundance. So, in an effort to mix up my veggie repertoire a bit, I’ve created a light and fluffy cauliflower gratin that can be served with a salad as a light supper or as a side dish with pork chops or chicken. It’s similar enough to mashed potatoes that it makes a great lower carb substitute for spuds, too!

Enjoy!

Puffed Cauliflower Gratin

Topping
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh, whole wheat breadcrumbs
2 tbsp (30 mL) melted butter
2 tbsp (30 mL) finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp (15 mL) shredded Asiago cheese (optional)

Gratin
1 large cauliflower, about 4 lb (2 kg), trimmed
2 tbsp (30 mL) very finely chopped onion
1 tsp (5 mL) minced garlic
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried thyme leaves
2 tbsp (30 mL) cornstarch
1 cup (250 mL) 2 % milk
3/4 cup (175 mL) shredded Asiago cheese
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt and pepper
8 egg whites (or 1 carton liquid eggs)

Topping: Toss breadcrumbs with butter; toss with parsley and cheese. Reserve.

Gratin: Cut cauliflower into large chunks; steam for 12 to 15 minutes or until tender. Cool. Purée in batches until smooth using a food processor; transfer to a large bowl.

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Stir onion, garlic and thyme in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 30 seconds. Whisk the milk with the cornstarch. Stir into the onion mixture. Heat on high for 2 minutes, stirring once. Stir in the cheese, salt and pepper until melted; stir into the cauliflower.

Whip egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form; fold into cauliflower mixture until combined. Transfer to a greased, 8-cup (2 L) deep, round baking dish.

Sprinkle reserved topping over cauliflower mixture. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden and puffed. Makes 12 servings.


Shitty news

March 25, 2009

tomatoseedlingDon’t worry. Everything is fine here! Although I did want to get your attention, I was also being honest about today’s topic: getting your garden soil ready for planting your crops!

Manure is an excellent addition to garden soil because it provides abundant amounts of the three main chemicals your plants need: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Nitrogen is especially helpful for helping heavy feeding plants such as tomatoes to thrive. It also is valuable since it helps soil  to hold moisture and promotes easier and healthier root growth. That said, too much nitrogen can limit the amount of fruit your plants bear so long term organic farmers like David Cohlmeyer of Cookstown Greens rarely add manure to their soil as long as they keep up with their composting.

If you add manure to your garden, it’s ideal to have worked it into your soil in the autumn. You can still add it this spring but the manure absolutely must be well-decomposed (or well-rotted). Fresh and semi-decomposed manure is very “hot” and can damage your plants since it contains too much nitrogen (think about those yellow spots cats and dogs leave on the lawn and you’ll be able to imagine what will happen in your garden if you use undecomposed manure).

There is an unbelievable amount of information available about what kind of manure is best for gardens but the most concise guidance I’ve found comes from the Old Farmer’s Almanac which recommends chicken, cow or horse manure for vegetable gardens or cow and horse manure for flower gardens.

For more basic info about soil in general, check out this detailed article that The Pioneer Woman posted earlier this week.

Will you prepare your soil with compost, fertilizer, manure or any other additives before you do your spring planting?


Topline Trends Tuesday: Popcorn popularity

March 24, 2009

popcorn

What started with the Kernels chain, way back in the 80s, has matured into a full-fledged snack trend. Fueled in part by the fact that popcorn is a whole grain, this trend is also buoyed by the dodgy reputation that fried snacks such as potato chips have developed.

A slew of popped fresh proof that this trend is hot exists. For instance:

• this great sounding recipe from 101 Cookbooks
• fancy popcorn poppers like this one sold at Williams-Sonoma
• fantastic gourmet flavoured popcorns from 479° Popcorn (try the ginger sesame caramel – it’s my fav!)
• the sudden appearance of Popcorn Indiana on every store shelf
• the launch of the Pop-corn Seasonings line by Clubhouse.

All this is evidence that this trend is exploding!

Are you a popcorn fan? If so, are you a stove top purist or a microwave maven?


Rediscover poached eggs

March 23, 2009

poachedegg

So often I forget that poached eggs are always there to help out when time is short and protein is needed. Whether you eat them on toast, with a salad or use them to top a vegetarian entrée like the curried lentils and rice pictured above, a poached egg can be a meal saver!

I think poached eggs intimidate some home cooks and I wish that weren’t so. They are actually pretty darn easy to make:

1. Fill a pot 3 to 4 inches deep with water.
2. Add 3 tbsp (45 mL) white vinegar to every 4 cups (1L) of water in the pot.
3. Do not add any salt to the water (it breaks down eggwhite).
4. Bring the water to a rolling boil.
5. Break each egg into a ramekin or small bowl.
6. Stir the water so that it is swirling and pour in each egg, adding up to six at one time.
7. Decrease the heat so that the water is just beneath the simmering point.
8. Poach the eggs for about four minutes.
9. Lift out using a slotted spoon. Press lightly with your finger. The eggs are perfect if the whites are firm and the yolks are very soft.
10. Drain on paper towel for a moment before combining with other ingredients.

See how easy that is? When’s the last time you made a poached egg?