sugar

Smoked Quail

Quail, kombu, Eastern Hemlock needles, maple wood chips, Tub o’ Duck Fat, sake and sugar

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We’ve been taking things a little slower nowadays as we’ve completed most of the recipes that involve in-season produce and meat. We are going to start focusing on some of the stranger recipes that require more hard-to-find ingredients. This isn’t really one of those recipes as we knew from previous experience where to find the fir, although this time we opted for the Eastern Hemlock needles as they are easier to source and, in our opinion, equally delicious!

We started this recipe by creating a broth with kombu seaweed, water, sugar, and sake. This was fairly simple–we simmered water, sugar and kombu for approximately 15 minutes to infuse the flavours.

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After the steeping time had elapsed, we removed the kombu. The broth almost tasted very similar to almond extract mixed with simple syrup but had a strong mushroom smell (kombu is high in MSG)–it was unlike anything either of us had ever tasted, that’s for sure! At this point, we added the sake and returned the broth to a low simmer.

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Having already preheated the oven, we briefly bathed the quail in the broth, baked them for a few minutes, and then repeated this procedure a few times. Our best guess is that this broth is meant more to act like a glaze than anything else, and the repeated procedure created a pretty thick sticky glaze surrounding the bird inside and out.

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Next, we used the Eastern Hemlock needles and maple wood smoking chips to smoke the quail. If you remember back to our Mock Smoked Salmon post, we previously took a different (and slightly more dangerous) approach to smoking that may or may not have jeopardized our damage deposit. I recently acquired a Smoking Gun, so this smoking this time around was much less dangerous and way more controlled!

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We cut up the Eastern Hemlock needles and combined them with maple wood chips. Then, with the naked, sticky quail in hand, we loaded the Smoking Gun with the mixture and inserted the nozzle into an upside-down bowl.

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Needless to say, this was so much more convenient and efficient than our previous smoking attempt! It literally took under 30 seconds to fill the bowl with smoke. I think last time we spent about 45 minutes heating up our make-shift stove smoker.

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Finally, I cooked the quail in a Tub o’ Duck Fat until they looked golden and crisp.

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Last time we went on our forage for Balsam Fir, we made something the book refers to as Fir Sugar. It only required blending Balsam Fir with sugar, so we used the excess Balsam Fir needles to make this and have kept this in our fridge up until now. It actually turned out to be an excellent accompaniment to this dish both in terms of flavour and aesthetics!

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The quail was delicate and smoky! It was sticky and sweet, with the now familiar taste of duck fat, but with a background taste of smoke that added a subtle little something that made the flavour really interesting. We ended up pairing this with a sweet potato puree and a sprinkle of balsam fir sugar. The mix of potato and fir-sugar was simply amazing! Fir-sugar will now be a standard on sweet potato, forever.

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This recipe was definitely one of the easier ones and I would consider making this for a dinner party! The only thing I would change is that next time I would smoke the quail a second time (after cooking) to really bring the smoky taste to the forefront of the dish. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the familiarity of the flavours–it reminded me of a sweet Chinese chicken dish, but with a sophistication that forces you to take your time to savor every bite.

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Cinderella Pumpkin Ice Cream with (Caramelized) Roasted Seeds

Pumpkin, cream, egg yolks, sugar, pumpkin seeds, and caramel

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One thing we are trying to ensure we do is to complete recipes when their ingredients are seasonally available. We’ve missed the boat on some of the berry and recipes, so we will try to catch those next season. For this season, we are trying to complete all of the gourd, potato and pear recipes. Since pumpkins are openly available, we jumped at the opportunity to make this recipe!

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Before we get into describing the procedure of the recipe, we wanted to note a very important deviation from the initial recipe and our rationale for doing so. We used a New England Pie pumpkin variety in place of a Cinderella pumpkin. In terms of the rationale, have you ever seen a Cinderella pumpkin? Their size would have yielded more pumpkin ice cream than the two of us could consume. Our research into the Cinderella pumpkin variety uncovered that it has a creamy consistency and sweet flavour that is sought after for use in pies. As the New England Pie pumpkin had a similar flavour profile but was 1/8 of the size, we opted for this.

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We cut the pumpkin in two, removed the seeds (and some pulp) and placed them in a bowl of water.

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The halved pumpkin was placed onto a baking sheet (skin side up) and baked until tender. Next, we removed the flesh from the pumpkin and blended it with honey until we were left with a smooth purée.

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Next, we combined the pumpkin purée with cream and set it aside.

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In another bowl, we whisked egg yolks and sugar until they turned a creamy white colour. Below is a picture of the mixture before and after whisking.

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In yet another vessel (this recipe resulted in a lot of dirty dishes!), we heated some milk and cream over low heat. We tempered the egg mixture with a little warm milk and combined it with the warmed milk. This was cooked until the custard coated the back of a spoon and then passed through a conical strainer. Finally, we combined the custard with the pumpkin puree and allowed for it to cool.

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Next, we washed the pumpkin seeds, coated them with olive oil and roasted them in the oven until they were golden brown.

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While these were cooling, we prepared a caramel by combining 1 cup of sugar with approximately 1/4 cup of water and heating the mixture until it was a golden brown (this wasn’t part of the recipe, this was something we decided to do to make the plating look more unique).

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We then combined the caramel with the roasted seeds and poured it over a silicone mat to cool.

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Turns out, coating pumpkin seeds in oil makes them harder to coat in caramel! So this process required pushing the seeds down with tweezers until the caramel was cool enough to keep the seeds suspended.

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In an effort to ensure that our pictures don’t all look the same, we deviated again from the recipe (only slightly!). We’ve read online that another option for creating a creamy ice cream is to freeze the mixture and then run it through a food processor (instead of running the mixture through an ice cream machine). We liked the idea of having something that looked visually very different than our other ice cream posts though, so we plated the ice cream straight out of the freezer (after freezing the mixture in an ice cube tray).

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The resulting “ice cream” had larger ice crystals than typically expected for an ice cream, but it was visually stunning when paired with a roasted pumpkin seed caramel shard.

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We blended some of the ice cream cubes in our food processor to try as well, and this yielded the expected ice cream texture. We didn’t bother to try placing the resulting ice cream into the ice cube tray though, because it would have been very difficult to remove them from the tray.

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The ice cream tasted like a sweet pumpkin soup and paired really well with the bitterness of the caramel. We poured the caramel a little thick, so if we were to try this again, we would aim for a thinner caramel. All in all, this was a delectable autumn treat that we thoroughly enjoyed!

Strawberry Hull Martinis

Strawberry hulls, water, vodka, lemon juice

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One thing that’s impressive about Toque! is how they aim to waste as little as possible. This cocktail actually consists of two recipes from the book. Strawberry Stem Water is a component featured as it’s own recipe later in the book, so we’ve combined the two here. This recipe is the first in a set of strawberry recipes–in the book, each recipe uses the waste product from a previous recipe, so there was practically no waste at all!

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We started with the Strawberry Stem Water. This was a fairly simple process that involved slicing the tops off of the strawberries and setting the strawberries aside for use in another recipe.

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Next, we sprinkled the the strawberry hulls with sugar and covered them with water.

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The resulting mixture was placed in the fridge to rest for 24 hours. Upon removal from the fridge, the strawberries had very nicely infused the water and the hulls looked a little tired.

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We then passed the mixture through a conical strainer and threw away the hulls (okay, maybe there is a little bit of waste, but it served a purpose prior to being disposed of!).

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Next we started on the Strawberry Hull Martinis as they required the strawberry water component we just made. We sliced some lemon rind to garnish the beverage and squeezed some lemon juice.

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Finally, we added the strawberry water, lemon juice, vodka (no, we didn’t make that!) and some ice to a shaker.

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After 30 seconds of vigorous exercise, the cocktail was complete! It’s pretty incredible how strongly the flavour of strawberry came through! It was a cool and delicious treat, not to mention an amazing way to use kitchen trimmings!

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Stay tuned for more strawberry recipes!

Blueberry Tartlet

Blueberries, mascarpone, honey, breton dough, vanilla

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This wonderfully simple blueberry tart was so delicious that we made it again while visiting family this past week. The hardest part of making this tart was the waiting! We started with the parts of the recipe that required time to sit overnight–the mascarpone vanilla cream, and the breton dough.

For the mascarpone cream, we combined the mascarpone, vanilla seeds, honey, and heavy cream and set the mixture in the fridge to rest overnight.

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In another bowl, we combined eggs and sugar for the breton dough.

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To this mixture, we added some butter that we infused with even more vanilla seeds.

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Next, we added flour and worked the dough until it was just combined, wrapped it in cellophane, and placed it in the fridge to rest overnight.

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The next day, we removed the dough from the fridge and rolled it out. This started out as a surprisingly hard task as the dough was rock solid. After a short while, the dough eventually became so soft that it became increasingly difficult to un-stick from the rolling-pin.

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To fix this problem, we rolled the dough between parchment paper sheets and carefully placed it in a large tart mold. The recipe is for a blueberry tartlet, but we already had a large tart mold and decided to make one large tart instead of 4 tartlets. While the recipe didn’t specifically mention weighting down the dough, we added some dried kidney beans on top of the dough as we had experienced some problems with shrinking dough in the past. We must have left the beans on for too long, because the edges of the tart shell turned golden brown well before the center!

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After the tart shell had some time to rest, we evenly spread the mascarpone vanilla cream inside.

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The last step of this recipe involved lightly warming fresh blueberries in honey for a few minutes.

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Finally, we placed the beautiful purple berries on top of the mascarpone cream. We exercised a little bit of restraint in order to capture photos of the constructing of the dessert–it was really hard to resist!

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We sprinkled some caster sugar on top as a finishing touch right before we cut a piece.

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There really is nothing not to like about this dessert! The tart shell was crunchy and sweet and embodied all of the flavours of a butter cookie (biscuit sablé), the mascarpone vanilla cream added some richness and a light sweet flavour, and the blueberries were juicy and delicate. The simplicity of this delicious blueberry tart will make it a favourite for us to serve at dinner parties or to enjoy at home on a Saturday night!

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Explosive Toffee

Maple syrup, sugar, baking soda
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This was a very quick recipe that we did Mother’s Day weekend while entertaining family… and then again last week so we could capture more pictures. The procedure was straightforward. Mix sugar, maple syrup and water in a pot, bring to hard crack stage, then adding baking soda and stir. Voila! 1 The only issue we encountered was that the initial saucepan we chose was too small–so the second time around, we used a larger pot. The ingredients were transferred to a large pot and brought to temperature.

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The boiling mixture took a while to reach temperature, and the bubbles changed over time. They went from looking like this…Explosive Toffee (3 of 9)
to this!Explosive Toffee (4 of 9)
After we added baking powder the mixture did appear to explode!
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It was really interesting to see the dark caramel lighten in colour and puff up with the addition of baking soda. The toffee was then transferred to a parchment paper lined pan to cool.
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This turned out to be delicious! The toffee was rock hard and easy to snap, and had nice little bubbles inside. We thought it would be cool to try to capture a picture of this explosive toffee exploding, so we set out to throw toffee at the ground for about 30 minutes. The results were really fun and the process strangely cathartic!
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Rhubarb Cannoli

Rhubarb, long pepper, thyme and strawberries

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This weekend, we decided to give ourselves a challenge, and attempt one more of the desserts in the cookbook.

We started the process by making a cannoli batter which involved mixing together sugar, flour, butter, orange juice and long pepper (substituted in for Guinea Pepper, we liked the smell/taste better). The mixture then needed to rest in the fridge for 24 hours to hydrate the flour and infuse the flavour of the long pepper.

It was our first time using long peppers in our cooking. The long peppers have a beautiful floral/cinnamon/clove smell to them, with a fiery floral taste that I think works amazingly in this dessert.

Long PepperWith the cannoli batter sitting in the fridge, we turned our attention to the thyme custard cannoli filling. The custard was made by infusing milk with a Madagascar vanilla bean, thyme and sugar, then thickening it with cornstarch, gelatin and egg yolks.  Thyme CustardWe then made strawberry purée in a blender with some simple syrup and fresh local strawberries.Strawberry Puree

Using this purée, we once again attempted to make a sugar powder as we’ve done many times before for the Nothing Ice Cream recipe.

Boiling Strawberry SugarAmazingly, even though we have made at least half a dozen powders by now, we still struggle with this technique! This time around, we encountered something entirely new. While adding the strawberry purée to the boiling sugar, it boiled over the side of the saucepan, instantly catching fire. What are the chances of a small sugar fire getting out of hand? We figured very little! Instead of quickly putting out the fire, we took the time to get a good picture for the blog! Sugar FireWith the fire extinguished and the strawberry purée safely turned into a powder, we turned our attention to the rhubarb. RhubarbAfter its photo shoot, the rhubarb was peeled, chopped, and placed into a saucepan to cook. After this step, we looked around the kitchen and at ourselves. There was red splatter everywhere! The walls, the cabinets, even the white pages of the cookbook were affected which was surprising given it was 2 meters away from ground zero. Maybe next time we’ll peel rhubarb under running water?Peeled RhubarbThe chopped rhubarb was cooked with some sugar and water until it was soft. Chopped RhubarbOnce cooked, the rhubarb purée was thoroughly blended, and painstakingly passed through a fine meshed conical strainer (chinois). The liquid that went through the chinois was was processed in our ice cream maker to make sorbet, and the thickened purée from the chinois was set aside to use in the final plating.The next day (after some extensive cleanup), we set about finishing this dessert. Using a vegetable peeler, we made some rhubarb strips that were subsequently laid out on a silicon baking mat.Rhubarb Strips Rhubarb LatticeNext, we sprinkled some sugar onto the rhubarb strips. In the last recipe, Mock Smoked Salmon, we attempted to take a picture of a curing mixture being sprinkled onto the salmon. After some reading online about our camera settings, we tried this again, and I think we succeeded! We’re pretty sure better action shots would require a better camera.Sugar Sprinkled on RhubarbThe sugary rhubarb strips were put in the oven to soften and caramelize.Sugary RhubarbNext, we turned our attention to the actual cannoli. The plan here was to spread the mixture thinly onto a baking mat, and bake in the oven until the batter turned transparent and lightly browned around the edges.Cannoli BatterAfter about 15 minutes in the oven, the brown and translucent cannoli “strips” were taken out of the oven. We had about 30 seconds to get the molten hot batter rolled into a cylinder, which resulted in many burnt fingers–and sadly, no pictures of this process. We were really proud of the final results!

With all of the components finally done, we started on the final plating of the dish. First, one of our best shaped cannolo was filled halfway with the thyme custard using a piping bag, topped with diced strawberries, then filled completely with more custard.Filling a CannoloThe filled cannolo was then wrapped with a sheet of the baked rhubarb strips.Rhubarb Cannolo with Thyme CustardThe final plating of the dish involved putting down a smear of the rhubarb purée, placing the cannolo on top, then a sprinkle of the strawberry powder with a quenelle of rhubarb sorbet on top.Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree, Sorbet and Strawberry Powder Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree, Sorbet and Strawberry PowderWow! This has to be one of the most complex deserts we have ever made! The mixture of different textures, temperatures, colours was impressive. I must admit that I was not 100% happy with the texture of the custard–it was over set, which I attribute to the conversion from sheet gelatin that the recipe asked for to the powder form that we had on hand.

Overall, the bitterness of the rhubarb, the sweetness of the powder, the crunch of the cannolo, and the interesting taste of thyme in the custard made for an amazing dessert that I wish I could get the opportunity to eat more often!Eating Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree, Sorbet and Strawberry Powder

Nothing Ice Cream

Eggs, cream, sugar and various fruit juices

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After a short break for family visits and work-related activities, we are now finally getting to posting some of the recipes we were able to finish in between family-related events (in order, hopefully). I believe our first recipe was “Nothing Ice Cream” –which turned out to be a really interesting (albeit frustrating) experience and a great learning opportunity. We had the day off due to Good Friday, and had planned on waking up late and making some ice cream and fruit powders to serve as dessert for the family Easter dinner.

The day started off really promising. We had bought some beautiful citrus: lemons, limes, blood oranges and grapefruit. These had very vibrant colours, and made for some really nice pictures.

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While Melissa was juicing and photographing the citrus, I quickly made the ice cream using eggs, milk, cream and a little sugar to form a custard, then churning the mixture in an ice cream maker.
With the ice cream done, and four cups of different citrus juices ready, I turned my attention to making the powder. That’s when things started to get sticky!

The instructions on how to make the powder were clear: mix albumen (egg white) powder with citrus juice, then heat some sugar and water to the soft crack stage, mix the juice with the sugar, stir and voilà! Fruit powder! Nope. Not what happened.

As I don’t have much experience working with sugar, my first attempt was with the lemon juice as we had extra lemons on hand in case of failure. I set some sugar and water to a boil, and the juice to simmer until reduced by half. Then I tried adding the albumen power–the powder formed huge chunks, and seemed to be impossible to incorporate. This is when the troubleshooting started. Maybe the juice was too hot, and it was cooking the egg white powder? I whisked until it was relatively homogeneous, and then added it to the sugar syrup that had reached the proper temperature (more quickly than I had anticipated). This first attempt resulted in a yellow sticky glue, not quite the outcome we were hoping for!

To keep a long story short, we proceeded to attempt to make powders with all of our citrus juices while following the instructions in the book to the letter. This resulted in varying levels of success ranging from:

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to “did I just make Nerds?”…

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to actual powder-making success!

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The only citrus juice that managed to resemble powder was the grapefruit juice, and we have no idea why it worked while the others didn’t.

A few weeks later we had to opportunity to travel to Montreal to eat at Toque!. While there we had the amazing opportunity to speak to one of their pastry chefs, and asked him what the secret was to making this elusive fruit powder. To keep the albumen powder from clumping, he recommended mixing it with some sugar first in order to break up all the clumps and to keep them separate even after sifting. For the sugar part, he explained that the most important part of the procedure was to dehydrate the mixture, and that this could be done at a lower temperature. We had erroneously focused on bringing and keeping the sugar caramel to the right temperature, which resulted in sticky failure. Good to know!

Armed with this new knowledge, the next weekend we bought a bottle of elderberry juice which has a beautiful dark purple colour. We hoped to make a fruit powder that could nicely contrast our only other successful powder (grapefruit, which had a light yellow colour).

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Following the chef’s tips, the powder turned out perfectly! The colour turned out beautifully, and tasted strongly of elderberry without an overpowering caramel flavour. Finally, success!

Plating and eating this desert was really fun. It looked great on a plate, and the play on textures is really different and fun.

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Initially we were worried the nothing ice cream would taste too eggy as the recipe used quite a bit more egg yolk than we were used to–but the flavour helped to enhance the taste of the powders.

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We learned a lot making this recipe, and we’ll certainly be making this one again for friends!

Important takeaways:

  • Don’t use a whisk for this recipe, you will make a tremendous mess. A wooden spoon or spatula works great!
  • This recipe is not limited to citrus juice, feel free to use any juice that has a strong enough flavour to withstand being mixed with caramel.