Monday, November 23, 2009

small is beautiful

Everyone is talking about the ethics of eating. Should we eat organic? Biodynamic? Vegetarian? Vegan? Buy local? Eat within 100 miles from home? Free range? pasture fed? Humanely raised? Sustainable?

All these things are good, but anyone who has been in earshot of one of my rants, will know I have concerns with all these categories. Recently I have been thinking of the importance of the small.
Small is beautiful.

Last week I was given a cd of music by Corin Raymond ( The title of the cd is "there will always be a small time". In the title song he talks about how the big time music industry will often let you down, and is falling on hard times. But the small time music industry, playing in clubs and parlours, will endure. The only thing that won't change, he sings, is "that folks like us will sing songs for folks like you". Music, he says, "is coming home again".

I was listening to this, and thinking about small, and realized that food needs to come back home again. Restaurants need to stop buying from big multinational suppliers and buy from small local growers, farmers, grocers, butchers and bakers. Home owners should shift their buying from the big chains to the local corner stores and markets. Diners need to move away from the big chain restaurants and start frequenting the mom and pops. We need to move away from buying meat raised in huge ranches, fed in overcrowded feed lots and slaughtered in the monolithic meat packing facilities and start buying meat raised in pastures on family farms. We need to move away from the intensive hog barn operation where the pigs never see the sun and find a local supplier buying his pigs from a family farmer. Stop buying produce shipped from California or further when we can find beautiful vegetables at our nearest market gardener.

The prevailing theme here, is small. Small time producers can't afford all the pesticides, hormones and antibiotics that the big guys use. Small producers also need less of these. All the big lysteria or salmonella outbreaks have happened in the huge production facilities. Do you remember when we couldn't eat spinach? This was because all the spinach was coming from a small number of huge corporations. If we sourced our spinach from hundreds of small farms, we wouldn't need to worry if one of these suppliers developed a problem with salmonella.

When we lived in Italy, we had a small fridge. It was a bar sized fridge for a family of 5. In it we kept milk, water and a few beer for papa. The small size could be a problem, but created an opportunity for a lovely new way of life. Instead of driving to a big supermarket every week, loading a cart full of groceries, and filling a big fridge and an equally large freezer with food for the week; we would walk, every day, to the market. We would visit our favourite (small) tomato guy, our lettuce guy, our mushroom guy; we would buy meat from the butcher or fish from the fish monger. We would grab some bread from the baker and of course a selection of cheeses. And we would do this every day. Always fresh, always tasty.

I have a small restaurant, so come eat at my place. But enjoy other small places as well. We were at the Falafel Place the other day, and loved it. Check out the Underground Cafe or Eat! Bistro. Go visit Scott at Pizzeria Gusto, say hi to Fern at In Ferno's. And there are many more little places to choose from. And if you are craving Earls' calamari, go for it. But the next time, try that little diner down the road from you.

I am not suggesting that you give up the superstore's and costco's of the world. I was just at costco today and bought a lifetime supply of herbes de provence. But I am encouraging you to shop at Vic's Fruit Market. Buy your meat from Marcello's, or Denny's or the Ellice Meat market; wherever your local butcher is. Don't eat wonder bread. Buy real bread from Tall Grass or Le Croissant. Go online and look up to find out about the harvest moon farmers co-op and their "know your farmer" philosophy. Support your local small businesses whenever possible. They need you. They will appreciate your 20 bucks more than the CEO of FacelessFoodCorp Inc. In return, you will be rewarded with better food and better service. And you will develop a real relationship with your food and the people who produce it.

And as you look around the food world, and see all the problems with sustainability, BSE, swine flu, lysteria outbreaks in luncheon meats, salmonella outbreaks in spinach, or tomatoes, or sprouts, GMO products, overuse of antibiotics and hormones, trans-fats, food additives, the dominance of high-fructose corn syrup everywhere...

...remember, there will always be a small time.

Small is beautiful.

Small recipes:

I wanted to add some small recipes. I was going to do sliders, mini-burgers, but I am writing an article on sliders for the spring issue of flavours magazine. So I didn't want to scoop my own story. So I decided to include recipes for devilled eggs. With the entertaining season upon us, we are always looking for tasty, easy appetizers that can be made ahead. And who doesn't like this retro favourite.

The method is simple. Boil the eggs and cool them down. Peel the eggs and cut them in half. Scoop the yolk out. mush the yolk with the other ingredients, and return to the hollow of the egg. You can spoon the yolk back in, make perfect balls with a small ice cream scoop or pipe a rosette in with a star tipped piping bag. Traditionally, the eggs are sprinkled with paprika. I am including three variations, but beyond that, let your imagination run wild.

A few tips for boiling the eggs. Start with good eggs. I like natures farm eggs, sold as Vita Eggs. If you can get eggs from a local farmer, even better. Look for free-run, or organic eggs. But be warned, just cause it says "farm" on the package, doesn't mean the chickens haven't been raised in a wearhouse building near the airport. When I boil the eggs, I put a lot of salt in the water. This helps the egg peel easily and won't effect the taste. The most full proof method I know for hard boiled eggs, is to put them in a pot of cold water. bring them to a boil. Then I put a lid on the pot and turn the heat off. As the water cools, the eggs will cook, and then stop cooking usually at just the perfect state of doneness. I find them easiest to peel, if you crack the eggs, then run them under cold water. Water will get inside the shell, separating the white from the shell.

Lobster Devilled Eggs

6 eggs
4 oz chopped lobster meat (canned or from cooked lobster tails)
1 tbsp finely diced red pepper
1 tbsp finely diced green pepper
1 tsp finely diced chive
1 tsp finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/2 tsp paprika (and some to sprinkle)
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper to taste

1.)mush eggs, mix all ingredients together, return to egg.

Bacon Devilled Eggs

6 eggs
4 slices of bacon
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/2 tsp paprika
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper to taste.

1. cook bacon until crisp, drain and reserve the fat.
2. cut 12 thin slivers of bacon for garnish. finely mince the rest of it.
3. combine egg yolks, bacon and seaonings with mayo and 1 tbsp of reserved bacon fat
4. return to egg whites and garnish with bacon slivers

Curried Devilled Egg

6 eggs
1/4 cup yogurt
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp slivered almonds
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

1. combine all ingredients. return to egg

Monday, November 2, 2009

duck and brussel sprouts

I got it in my head that I wanted to do duck with brussel sprouts.

I start with a nice big duck from my hutterite friends. I rinse it off, inside and out, score the skin on the breast and thighs to let the fat run off. There are two little flabby bits of skin at the bottom that i cut off. save these for the next step. I sprinkle the skin liberally with sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Freshly ground of course! There is never a good reason to use pepper that was ground a month ago.

In the pan, I lay out diced red potatoes, quartered white onion and a whole bulb of garlic, split into cloves. The duck goes on top of this. Into a 45oF oven. The goal is to crisp up the skin, get it nice and brown, but to still have a little pink left in the meat. I roasted my duck for about 1/2 an hour.

For the brussels, I started with those two flabby bits of skin from the duck. I cut them into little julienned strips. In a big heavy skillet, I browned the duck skin and rendered all the fat off. It was like little duck lardons (french for bacon bits).

I sliced the brussel sprouts and browned them in the skillet with the duck skin and duck fat. I poured in a splash of white wine and deglazed the pan. I let the wine reduce and cooked the brussel sprouts a bit. Then I stirred in some grainy mustard and some wild flower honey. A little salt and pepper to season it, and yum.

I piled the crispy potatoes on plates, piled the brussel sprouts next to the potatoes. Then I sliced the duck and lay the pieces on top. And voila, duck and brussel sprouts! This is how chefs and their families eat on their night off.

p.s my kids had "shake and bake" chicken