Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The End of My Experiment

Well, I think the pig's head ended my experiment.  It threw me into a complete dietary crisis and now I'm kind of vegetarian.  The secret was in the nose.  I mentioned the nose in my post on head cheese, that I found the texture soft and unsettling.  Noses also connect with my love for aromatherapy, the sensitivity of that sense continues to fascinate me.  So somehow, feeling the pig's nose, trying to jam it into my soup pot, just shifted something inside me.  I spent most of March trying to wrestle with my feelings and what those feelings meant for the future of my food blog.

My diet is primarily vegetarian (despite the fact I write a meat blog) so the shift isn't a huge one and I will still eat meat on occasion.  In essence, I want to eat sustainably, which means a very small amount of meat.

Thanks so much for coming along on my journey.  Who would have ever guessed that a meat blog would lead to a vegetarian diet...

What will I continue playing with?
My prosciutto is still hanging so I'm excited to try that again.
Summer is coming and I am attempting soya sauce again.
Fermenting is lots of fun and my kimchi experiments will continue.
Bacon is my favorite meat so I will be making that every once in a while from local, well-raised pigs.
I might get into sourdough again, but use it in concert with yeast.
My fish sauce is still brewing away so I am going to be trying that soon.
Pie competitions will definitely be a part of my future.
I'll definitely be growing my own food and herbs as much as possible.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Making Cheese... Head Cheese

It's all fun and games until you get splashed with pig skin juice.  That phrase basically sums up my experience making head cheese, my sweaty, grease-covered, finger burning experience.  As people who read my blog know, I am all for long drawn out food experiences.  Hand grind my sausage meat for two hours?  With pleasure!  Sit over a smoker for four hours while my bacon takes a smoke bath?  Gladly!  Spend three hours toasting peppers and a multitude of other random ingredients for mole?  I'm like a pig in shit.

Despite the fact that making head cheese is indeed a long drawn out food experience, I didn't really enjoy it.  For starters, pigs have eyelashes.  I don't know why it bothered me to see the eyelashes on my piggie, but it did.

Then there's the nose.  The nose.  You can tell just by touching it that a pig's nose is a sensitive thing and I didn't enjoy trying jam its beautiful nose into my stock pot.  I just didn't.  At one point I was trying to hack the nose off with a serrated knife, desperately trying to fit the whole head into the pot.

It was not pretty.  I toughed it out though and ended up with a large loaf pan of jellied pig head.  Here's how I did it.

The recipe came from Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast and I followed it closely.  To be honest though there isn't much to making head cheese.  You are really just taking a head with at least one foot and slowly simmering it until soft then separating out the juice and meat and recombining it in a loaf pan.  Pretty simple stuff!


  • 1 pigs head
  • 4 trotters or pig skin or a combination
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 2 onions, peeled and cut in half
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 4 green onions
  • Bundle of thyme, parsley and sage
  • 2 large pinches of red chili pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of coriander seed, ground in a pestle and mortar
  • 4 cloves
  • The peel from 2 lemons
  • 1 bundle of cilantro
  • Salt to taste


1) First you need a pig's head and at least one foot.  The recipe calls for four pig's feet but I had a whole bunch of pig's skin from making bacon and smoked pancetta so I used one foot and three big pieces of pig skin.  Rinse the head well.

2) Find a pot large enough for the head and trust me, it needs to be mighty big.  Place the head in a pot with all of the other ingredients except the cilantro and the salt.  Fill the pot with water until all of the ingredients are submerged.  Bring the whole mess to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.  You can't cook the head for too long.  I repeat, you can't cook the head for too long.  Other recipes talk about cooking it for up to 14 hours so don't worry about overcooking it.  It took a while for my head to break down enough to fit into my pot so I cooked mine for close to four hours.  Cook until the meat is tender.

3) Once the head is cooked, you need to get it out of the pot.  This is easier said than done.  I recommend putting another pot in the sink and pouring some of the liquid through a sieve until the head is easy to grab.  At this point, wearing gloves or using tongs, pull the head out of the liquid and set it aside to let it cool.  It will be hot so be careful and get kids out of the kitchen.  Pour the remaining liquid through a sieve, discarding everything else (I squeezed the garlic pulp out of the bulb of garlic into the meat).  If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can dig through the pot contents for little bits of meat and soft sinew to add to your meat pile.

4) Put your broth back on the stove and reduce by one half.  As the liquid reduces skim the broth, there will be brown scum and a lot of fat to skim off.  Just be patient and dutiful.  After all, who wants to eat greasy head cheese???

5) While the liquid reduces, pick all of the meat off the head.  Wear gloves because it will still be quite warm.  This is the really sweaty stage.  You have the vat of pig broth bubbling away as you pick at a large very hot pig's skull.  I found this part the most challenging and it takes some time to really clean the skull.  Once you are finished, put the meat in the fridge while the broth finishes reducing and has a chance to cool.

6) After your broth is reduced and cool, add salt to taste.  Err on the side of adding too much salt than not enough because head cheese is normally eaten cold so it can take some salt.  At this point I added my fresh cilantro to the meat.  I wanted it to be green and fresh so I didn't cook it at all.  I chose cilantro because it complements the lemon and the coriander seed.  Line a loaf pan with saran wrap and pack loosely with the meat.  Pour in the broth up to the top of the loaf pan and shake and jiggle the pan until all of the air bubbles are released.  Place a piece of saran wrap on top and put in the fridge overnight.

Voila!  Head cheese!

The Verdict

My gelatin set up beautifully.  It doesn't have the artificial hard texture of manufactured gelatin but rather a wobbly luscious feel.  I ate my first bit of head cheese on a spoon.  That's right, I just scooped up a chunk of the end piece and into my mouth it went.

Not the most pleasant experience in the world.

I must admit right now that I am not a big fan of jellyish textures unless it is in chocolate pudding form.  And head cheese is definitely not in chocolate pudding form.  A large mouthful of meat and jiggly jelly didn't do it for me.

My second attempt was a sandwich.  I put a large slice of head cheese on dark rye bread with a pickled golden beet and mustard relish and some greenery.  The pork itself was delicious, beautifully flavoured and textured.  It was just the jelly surrounding the fantastic meat that threw me off.  So here's my solution.

Braising is a fantastic method for demeating a pig's head.  Rather than taking the leftover stock and boiling it down to encase the meat, reduce it and freeze it in small portions to use in other soups.  The natural gelatin will add a beautiful texture and you won't be confronted with lukewarm pig jelly in what was otherwise a delicious pork sandwich.

  • It's really a fairly simple recipe, which makes it fun to experiment with!  As I mentioned, I decided to add fresh cilantro to my cooked meat to give the loaf color and freshness.  I also added some red chili flakes for spice.  The possibilities are endless.  Maybe you want a Thai head cheese with lemongrass and thai basil?  Chinese style head cheese with star anise, cinnamon and orange peel.  German head cheese with pickled sauerkraut for the vinegar element or beets for color.  Texture is always a good thing in food so add nuts and cooked veggies!  Go wild with your head cheese!  Ahhh...  Head cheese.
  • Think of head cheese as a sandwich meat.  You can eat it on sandwiches with cheese and mustard.  It goes on a cheese plate with pickles.  I've even read about deep frying it, which might be my next experiment.  If anyone has delicious head cheese recipes, I would love to hear about them.
Up Next?  Roasted Romano Beans


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Oyster Obsession Part 3: Liquor

For the finale oyster post, we are exploring the liquor - that lovely salty bath that surrounds the meat, the essence of the ocean.  As I removed the meat for the po' boys I drained the liquor into a separate bowl.  It was destined for Korea's national dish, the subject of today's post: kimchi.

I love kimchi.  An asian version of sauerkraut that uses fish sauce and hot peppers to flavour the fermented cabbage, it is always served as a side dish on the Korean table.   Interestingly, the hot peppers were not added to the original kimchi until the 1500's, when Japan invaded Korea and brought the pepper with them.  Even in Korea, it is primarily Southern recipes that contain the seafood and spice elements, so consider this recipe more typical of a Southern kimchi.

The recipe is quite simple.  I used my oyster liquor rather than fish sauce and the proportions are loose.  Adjust to suit your own taste.
  • 1 head of napa cabbage chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of fermented shrimps
  • The liquor of 15 oysters (approximately)
  • 1 tablespoon of fermented thai bird chili sauce
  • 2 cloves of organic garlic chopped fine (very, very pungent)
  • 2 tablespoons of ginger chopped fine

1. I adapted this recipe from a kimchi recipe I found on Chow where the directions are to soak the napa cabbage overnight in salted water.  Start by massaging the salt into the cabbage and then cover with water and leave overnight.

2. The next morning, add all of the other ingredients to a large bowl and blend together until the sugar is dissolved and everything is mixed well.  Add the cabbage to this bowl and mix it all together using your hands.  I recommend wearing gloves so the hot peppers don't burn your hands.  I also poured my oyster liquor through a sieve to prevent any little bits of sand and shell from falling into the kimchi.

3. Take a glass container and wash it out well with soap and water and then sterilize it in boiling water.  Once it is cool, spoon the cabbage into your clean container. 

4. The liquid might not reach the top of the cabbage.  I took a clean rock (wrapped in saran wrap) and placed it on top of the seasoned cabbage to help press the liquid out of the cabbage.  Cover the jar or put a lid on it and let it sit out at room temperature for 24 hours.  Then move the jar into the fridge and let it sit for a week.

The Verdict

Whoo!  The hot sauce is hot!  I only used a tablespoon of the thai bird chili sauce (homemade) but it is hot so it made the kimchi a bit overwhelmingly hot!  The oyster brine gives the kimchi a lovely delicate flavour.  Definitely a winner.  The garlic is fairly strong but not overpowering and the ginger is strong, but I'm a ginger freak so it makes me happy to nosh on large amounts of ginger. 

Changes for next time?  I am going to try another batch with my homemade fish sauce when it is ready.  I might try less hot sauce next time just because it is so freakin' hot that it interferes with the pleasure of eating the kimchi.  Different veggies might be fun as well, radish is traditional, cucumber is also used, broccoli might be interesting. 

Kimchi is a fabulous addition to any diet.  Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, which is renowned for its cancer-fighting ability and fermented foods are great for digestion in general.  If you've never tried it before, give it a shot and I promise that you will be back for seconds.

Up Next?  Corned Beef Sandys


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Oyster Obsession Part 2: Meat

For the next stop on my oyster obsession journey, I delved into the shell.  While the oyster meat is delicious raw, a deep fried oyster is possibly the next best thing.  And this recipe is utterly delicious.

As I trolled my new Martha cookbook and Epicurious looking for oyster ideas, I came upon the po' boy, a traditional sub sandwich from Louisiana.  Oysters are a traditional meat found in the po' boy and the recipe gave me an excuse to deep fry in the name of learning a culture's food traditions.  I love deep frying for a good reason, it's infinitely more satisfying.

The original oyster sandwich, found in New Orleans in the 1800's, was called an oyster loaf.  It was also known as a peacemaker - and man, after eating one, I totally understand how that term came about.  The po' boy is related to the peacemaker but can have lots of different meaty toppings, oyster is but one choice.

Find a link to the recipe here.

I followed the recipe to a T with the exception of using buttermilk rather than regular milk.  I also threw in some red chili flakes.  To make your oysters extra perfect, make sure you salt each topping component (the flour, egg wash and corn meal).  Keep in mind that the oysters will be sandwiched between two pieces of bread so they can handle some salt.

I also recommend prepping the oysters and letting them sit on a rack while the oil heats up.  As they sit, the outer cornmeal crust will dry a bit and will fry up extra crispy!  And extra crispy is what you want!

My final tip is to always use a thermometer when deep frying.  I guarantee, unless you are very experienced, that you will not heat the oil up enough and you will be left with little greaseballs from the sea.  This is almost always the problem with heavy deep fried food.  If it is fried properly, it should be light not greasy.  The hot oil instantly seals the outside of the food if your temperature is hot enough.  If not, then the coating just absorbs the oil.  This never tastes good.

To serve, get your favorite bread.  Traditional, Louisiana-style is a baguette with a crispy exterior and a soft interior.  You can serve it with mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomato or "undressed" with nothing but the meat (okay fine maybe a little mayo).  Straying from the path is my general rule in life so I made up a spicy soy dressing, do what will make your sandwich taste delicious.

The Verdict

You will notice that there is no picture of the completed sandwich.  I tried, I really did, but I have a rule that photography ought not to interfere with eating.  And there was no way I was setting up a photoshoot with my luscious peacemaker begging me to eat it!  Oh it was good.  The cornmeal crust was absolutely to die for.  Super crunchy, super tasty, a little spicy, perfection.  I think it's probably perfect for deep frying just about anything so check out the recipe just for that.  The oysters were from The Daily Catch and, again, were absolutely delicious.  Plump, juicy, tasty.  Go check out their store if you are a seafood lover.

Up Next?  Oyster Obsession Part 3: Brine


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Oyster Obsession Part 1: Raw

A couple of weeks ago, I ate oysters for the first time in probably ten years.  For some reason, I was of the firm opinion that they weren't anything special.  Well that opinion changed with a visit to Merchant's Oyster Bar on the Drive where I enjoyed four different varieties of icy, on-the-half-shell oysters.  Delicious and salty and slippery with just a touch of lemon.

Merchant's does buck-a-shuck after 9:00 pm, which is when we went.  When the oysters arrived at the table I was quite disappointed that they were already shucked!  I thought we were shucking them ourselves and because I had never shucked an oyster before I was quite excited.  Needless to say my girlfriends made a lot of fun of me when I mentioned this.  Now that I have shucked my own, I can see why "shuck your own oysters" might not work as a restaurant concept.

My oyster adventure started with a trip to The Daily Catch on Commerical Drive.  Last October I took part in a Social Bites cooking competition and as part of the chef goodie bag I got a $25 gift certificate to The Daily Catch.  Being out of town and then caught up in the craziness of Christmas, it took me until now to make my way into the store.

The oysters are a great deal ranging in price from $1 to $2 bucks.  I bought a selection because, as you will see, this is just the first in a series of oyster obsession posts.

For my raw experience, I ate the $2 oysters.  I can't remember the name so you'll have to go in and ask yourself or give the store a call at 604-253-3474.  The oysters are a small size and are quite easy to open yourself.  As most sources will say, make sure your oyster shells are closed or that they close when poked.  This means your little oyster is alive and won't kill you with rottenness.

I didn't buy an oyster shucking knife because I don't know how often I'll be shucking and, quite frankly, it seems unnecessary.  I just used a knife with a good point and a blade that I don't care about.  The key is to find the oysters weak spot.  Once you can get a little bit of the knife in, jiggle it around until it slides all the way in and then twist.  The top shell should pop off.  Don't get discouraged, it takes a few oysters to get good.  Be careful not to spill the liquor.  That is the best part.

Once your oyster is popped open, settle it onto a bed of ice to get it nice and cold.  Get a little piece of lemon and squeeze it into the waiting shell.  Pick it up and inhale deeply.  Mmmm, the smell of the ocean.  Then open wide and let it slip, slide down your throat.  It is a wonderfully sensual food and with valentine's day coming up, is an excellent choice for a celebration with your lover.

Up Next? Oyster Obsession Part 2: Meat


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Orange and Flower Water Jam plus a #Giveaway

When you like to cook, your family soon latches on and starts giving you cooking related presents.  Personally I love it and during Christmas I majorly scored with two amazing cookbooks given to me by my brother and sister.  I'm am going to review a recipe from "The Whole Beast" by Fergus Henderson soon but today, oh yes, today we are diving into "Salt Sugar Smoke" by Diana Henry.

I love this book.  I read it from front to back as soon as I opened it.  Long after the family had left the Christmas present opening area, I remained, nestled on the couch in my snuggie poring over my book.  Every few minutes I would yell out to someone, "Do you like marmalade?" or "Get over here and look at this picture!" or "Doesn't this (insert recipe name) sound delicious?"  My father quickly remarked that my brother had unleashed a beast.

I love this book.  As I picked up the giveaway copy today from Chapters and carried it home, I couldn't help but lament that I had to give it away.  If anyone needs two copies of a cookbook, it is this cookbook.  One to use and one to admire.

Why do I love this book so much?  First of all, it is out of character as I tend to hate being restrained by recipes.  However, the pictures are gorgeous.  Dripping jams, juicy fruits, beautiful cocktails, luscious meats, ahhh...  They make me want to run off into the forest with nothing but a bag of apples, some cardamom and canning jars.  The writing is perfectly sparse.  I don't want to read excessively, but I want to read enough to inspire me to try the recipe.  A short story, a tidbit of a description, a pairing suggestion, she hits the nail on the head.  And finally, the recipes are delectable.  They all sound fantastic.  Period.

So, because I believe that everyone should own a copy of this book, I am doing my part and giving one away.  I'm also celebrating my one-year anniversary of dedicating myself to this blog!

Please find the contest details below this "completely delicious, soft, bitter sweet-scented jam."  As Diana Henry suggests, "use it on sliced brioche (watch it dribble over the edges).  It's fabulous, too, spooned over cream to serve with bitter chocolate cake."

  • 7 organic oranges
  • 5 cups granulated sugar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons orange flower water, or more to taste

1. The recipe is quite simple.  Start by peeling the oranges thickly, boiling the peels in water for 10 minutes, rinsing and then soaking in fresh water overnight.  After you peel the oranges, juice them.  You should have about 2 cups of juice, drink the excess.

2. The next day, shred the peel as finely as you like.  I left mine quite thick as I think it gives it a rustic feel, which makes me enjoy eating it more.  Then, combine with the sugar, juice and lemon juice, and bring to a boil.  Turn down and simmer for 30 minutes.  Now add the orange flower water.

3. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Henry says that the recipe makes about 4 cups but mine made 5!  Yes!!!

The Verdict

Absolutely glorious!  I ate mine spooned into some porridge and then, later in the day, smeared on a croissant with butter.  A huge fan of cooking with flower waters in general, I just loved the richness that the orange blossom water gave the jam.

And now on to the contest details...

1. I want to know your favorite type of jam or jelly!  Let me know (and enter the contest) by:

  • Commenting on this blog post.
  • Following me on Twitter and tweeting your answer!
  • Following me on Pinterest.
  • Joining my mailing list.
2. Each thing you do gives you another entry.

3. This contest is open to residents of both the US and Canada (with the exception of Hawaii).
4. The contest closes on the last day of January, 2013.


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Broccoli Salad with Hazelnut Mayonaise

December 29th was the final Christmas feast of 2012 hosted by my cousin Sarah.  Whew!  Another eating season over and this last meal was a great way to finish it off.  My sister turned veggie this year and my Uncle and Aunt are also veggie so Sarah decided to make a veggie Christmas dinner.  The side dish was a broccoli salad with cranberries, red onion, cheddar cheese and a crunchy nut of some kind.  It had a mayonnaise dressing which offset the sweet cranberries and raw broccoli beautifully.  I loved it so much that I wanted to make some the following night for my own dinner.

I changed the recipe a touch and decided to make my own mayonnaise for the dressing.

Mayonnaise is a traditional french sauce though most people in North America, when they hear the word, think of jarred commercial mayonnaise.  Hellman's and Miracle Whip are NOT mayonnaise.  Seriously.  Real mayonnaise is delicate and silky held together with raw egg yolk and patient whisking.  It doesn't sit upright when spooned onto a plate preferring to lounge instead, a smooth pool of nutty richness.

Please note that hand mixing is essential.

Mayonnaise Ingredients
  • 1 egg yolk, organic with the outer shell of the egg washed
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • A tiny pinch of salt (you will adjust later to taste)
  • 1/2 cup of hazelnut oil
I like to use a raw egg yolk.  None of this partial cooking or pasteurized liquid egg products, just a beautiful yellow yolk sitting in the bottom of my bowl.  To this add your vinegar and a pinch of salt, whisking well.  Now you need to blend your oil with your yolk and by beginning slowly, not overwhelming the yolk with oil, it becomes able to handle far more oil than if you had rushed the process.  Patience is key.  

Add your oil drop by drop, whisking the whole time.  Once a third of the oil is incorporated in this fashion (according to The Joy of Cooking), you can begin to pour the oil in a thin stream making sure to continue whisking.  After the oil is completely incorporated, taste for salt and adjust.  The recipe I followed in The Joy mentioned adding a touch of mustard at this step and you could, if your choice of oil is underwhelming.  I used a beautiful, organic locally-pressed hazelnut oil from Canadian Hazelnut Inc. so I decided to leave the mustard out.

Cover your mayonnaise and place in the refrigerator as you prepare the rest of the salad.

Salad Ingredients
  • Hazelnut Mayonnaise from recipe above
  • 2 heads of broccoli with stems attached, about four cups
  • 1/2 a red onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 3/4 cup of whole hazelnuts
  • 1 cup of dried sweetened cranberries
  • Salt to taste

1. Put the whole hazelnuts into a heavy bottomed saucepan and toast on medium heat until roasty toasty but not burnt.  Shake the pan frequently to prevent said burning.  This should take under fifteen minutes.  Let the nuts cool and then either chop or crush.  Keep the chunks of a decent size.

2. Chop the broccoli into 1/2 inch pieces and throw into a large bowl.  Add the toasted hazelnuts, the red onion and the cranberries.  Pour the entire bowl of hazelnut mayonnaise into the bowl and stir well. Add a good amount of salt and stir again.  The salt will pull some of the moisture out of the veggies making the salad juicier so I like to let it sit for about half an hour in the fridge before serving.  Stir well again and let it come to room temperature to serve.

The Verdict

I love the hazelnut mayonnaise.  The oil is made from raw hazelnuts so the flavour isn't overwhelming, but wonderfully subtle.  The toasted hazelnuts add another layer of hazelnut flavour and I just love the nuts against the sweetness of the cranberries and crunchiness of the broccoli.  I will mention that the raw onion is strong so if you are about to go out for a night on the town or have a make out session with your lover, you might want to skip it.  Just sayin'.

Coming Up?  Something offal related.  Perhaps a pig's head or liver, tune in to find out!


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.