Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Lovely Day in Louisville

After a long drive the previous day, we decided to stop in Louisville, KY for breakfast before hitting the road again. I had heard good things about Lynn's Paradise Cafe, but nothing could have prepared me for the magic that is Lynn's. Giant sparkly letters beckon you to come in from the road while an Elvis bear greets you at the front door. From the moment I sat down, I was in love. When I first saw Lynn's I felt that spark of creativity and pure childish joy that I often have to search for. There was a little bucket of toy animals on the table that I couldn't resist playing with. For me, the food was almost secondary to the atmosphere. Now, I did say almost... I can often be pretty easily wooed by fancy sounding breakfasts items like extravagant French toast options or the 'house's special hash' but amidst Lynn's spectacularly decadent menu I just kept on going back to two little words: homemade biscuits. I'm a bit of a sucker for great baked goods so I just went with my gut on this one and kept breakfast simple. Two eggs, biscuits and fresh fruit. Let me tell you folks, that's how it's done. To my absolute delight the biscuits were light and crumbly, but dense enough to hold together long enough to butter and get to your mouth. Oh, and did I mention that they were cooked in bacon grease? Cuz they were.

Words or even photographs can't accurately describe Lynn's. Next time you're planning a trip to Disney Land - forget it. Go to Lynn's. It's the happiest place on earth.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Road Trippin'

It's that time of year again! Zac and I are driving to Florida and along the way, we're searching out some really great food. This morning we packed up and headed for sunnier skies.

Today's plan was to get as far south as possible, and south we did get. All the way to Shelbyville, KY. Here's what we saw/learned along the way:

1. Detroit is rich with off the highway strip clubs. "The Landing Strip" wins for best name.

2. I came, I saw and I conquered Denny's.

3. Driving into Kentucky, I saw a sign for "buttermilk park." Unfortunately, we passed by in the dark and didn't get a chance to explore. I'm sure it's a wonderful place where pancakes do the backstroke in lakes of syrup and chickens dive head first into rich, luxurious pools of batter. I'm not sure if I'll ever visit buttermilk park but I'm positive that it's as good as, or even better than I could ever imagine.

Well, tomorrow will officially kick off the food fest part of our trip. Time for bed. May all your dreams be filled with BBQ.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Beans N' Toast

Recently, Maclean's sent me to shoot their Student's Guide to a Cheap and Delicious Meal. Two Toronto chefs and a Maclean's writer dressed up and re-imagined a cheap and cheerful classic. May I present to you: Beans N' Toast from the Maclean's 2011 University guide. Here are the shots that made it to print, along with a few more of my favorite portraits.

    Giovanna Alonzi - Terroni's Executive Chef

    Jessica Allen - Maclean's Resident Foodie

    Matty Matheson - Parts & Labour's Executive Chef

Monday, September 19, 2011

Oh Summer...

As the fall weather begins to overtake the summer's heat, I can't help but think about one of my favorite evenings in recent memory. On one of the stickiest nights this summer, Dana and Joel (of the famed invited Zac and I to join them for a little al fresco dinner party. This was not your usual backyard BBQ. This was a feast catered by Massimo Bruno, a charming and incredibly talented chef who hosts an Italian Supper Club. Over the course of about four hours, he filled us full of luscious burrata, carmalized figs, zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta, multiple handmade pasta dishes, steak grilled over coals and homemade cannoli (just to list a few!). Uh oh, I think my food coma is setting in again just thinking about it...

Here are a few images from that evening:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Not Your Momma's Take-Out Menu

Recently, Dana Harrison (an uber talented designer and all 'round swell gal) and I collaborated on a take-out menu for Frida Restaurant. Our challenge was to create a menu that stood out from the piles of typical take-out menus that we so often find taking up space in our mailboxes. We needed to create something simple and eye-catching that would instantly have you running for the phone. 

I asked Dana about her inspiration for this project, and how she pulled all the elements together. This is what she had to say:
     "My inspiration for the menu came from Frida Kahlo's life and work. I decided to take the opportunity to watch the movie Frida (2002) again and found that the art, animation and colour in the film were amazing. The colourful culture and food of Mexico that Chef Jose and Steve have brought into Frida Restaurant, as well as one of the plates we sourced for the photography (shown in the guacamole shot) were also places I drew my inspiration from. Reena and I worked closely to style the images so that they would showcase the family-style nature of the items on the menu. I love Reena's 'deconstructed' way of styling food and wanted to feature one of these on the cover of the menu. The 'before and after' taco shot just makes you feel like running in and grabbing that last one before someone else does! The way she lights everything to create a really intimate, comforting, homey feel inspired the idea to shoot everything from above. That way the images would have the feeling of being laid out on a table, passed around and enjoyed. We wanted to create a menu that really communicated that this is restaurant quality food made with fresh ingredients, the same as you'd enjoy during a night out at Frida Restaurant."

Creatively, the biggest challenge I faced with this job was shooting a take-out menu for a fine-dining restaurant, without making it feel like an entirely different place. The most important elements we used to tie the two faces of Frida together, were colour and plating. We started with colour, which, for me, is essential in setting a tone and conveying mood through photography. We paired Frida's existing colour palette of vibrant oranges and punchy blues with a casual wood surface and mismatched dishware, creating images that felt warm, friendly and inviting without straying too far from the restaurant's fine-dining roots. Most importantly, we wanted the food plated in a more rustic manner but didn't want to lose Chef Jose's artful touch. 

As with most of my photography, I'm always itching to tell a story, no matter how simple it may be. I wanted these photographs to draw people in and make them feel like they could pull up a chair and be a part of the meal. For me, when food tells a story, it instantly becomes more inviting and more appetizing. The more inviting a photograph can be, the more people will want to be a part of what you have created. In this case... the more people that want to pull up a chair to these tables, the more take-out orders for Frida, right?

When I asked Dana what her favorite part of the project was she simply said "drawing the sketch of Frida for the cover...and eating the food at the shoot."

Thanks to Steve and Jose for trusting in our vision of your food and for letting us tell your take-out story.

Friday, August 5, 2011

An Epiphany in Burgers

It's moment's away from the weekend and I'm sure many of you are already psyching yourselves up for the drive to cottage country along good ol' highway 11. Well friends, that drive just got a little juicer and a little more burger-y.

As a child, Webers was always a sign that we were finally getting close to the lake. Webers Burgers is a staple and a tradition for the zillions of cottage goers that flock to the water every summer. With constant lineups, 50-100 people deep, I've never quite understood the draw. Admittedly a bit of a burger snob (but not in a foie gras kind of way.. just a home-made with love kind of way), I've never really understood the appeal of flavorless pre-frozen tasting patties.

Well my friends, I present to you my latest discovery: Burger Pit! Zac and I have been driving past this place for years. Every time we zoom past, we talk about stopping in for a burger. The giant mom-and-pop-vintage-American-style-burger-shoppe-sign advertising charbroiled burgers has been beckoning us to pull over. How come we never stopped before? The Burger Pit is just down the road from the cottage institution, Webers. Chalk it up to crowd-mentality, but we just figured that Webers was better. And sadly, Webers isn't really all that good. Last weekend, we decided to break free from the flock and let that awesome sign lead us. This was not a mistake. The Burger Pit serves up simple, juicy, homemade, perfectly charred patties. My drive to the cottage had been forever changed. Now instead of yelling out WEEEEEEBERS as we hit the three quarter mark to the cottage, I'll be yelling our BUUUUUUURGER PIIIIIIIIT!

The address is listed as 5 Booth Street, but it's right on Highway 11 between Oro-Medonte Line 10 and Line 11, just south of Orillia. Trust me, it's good. Go to there.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Charcutepalooza Challenge #6

Once again, this month's challenge was down to the wire, but James and I refused to be defeated by our busy schedules. We scrambled to make our Hot Dogs the day before the posting date and here's a quick roundup on how we felt about the challenge this month:

James: H-dogs 2.0. After our epic fail last time (when we weren't suppose to make hotdogs anyway) I was more than a bit nervous that this would all turn pear-shaped for a second time. It didn't! We made delicious, hotdog-tasting hotdogs. The thing about hotdogs is, well, they're just hotdogs. The best hotdog I've ever had? Nearly. Was it worth it? Absolutely not. While I do appreciate the process of making an emulsified sausage, the attention required to make it work and the premium ingredients - I don't think it's worth all the time and cost required to create a gourmet dog. Sure ours were juicier, more tender, had better flavour and weren't the least bit rubbery. Sure they rank right up there with the best. But c'mon, they're just f*cking hotdogs! The lesson is this: While it's nice to use costly beef ribs to make hotdogs, it's not worth it. The reason: With simple slow, low smoke you can turn a rack of beef ribs into something divine instead of a glorified kid's birthday party treat. I'd give ours an 8 out of 10. But what's a 10 out of 10 hotdog really worth? A 6 out of 10 rack of ribs? C'est la vie.

R: Oh, while we were rushing to get everything done, we did somehow manage to squeek in dessert. Giant soft pretzels, that turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to our hotdogs. The recipe we used called for pretzel salt, but we thought this treat would be far superior if we doused the pretzels in salted butter and cinnamon-sugar, and boy were we right!  I highly recommend giving these a try! For the recipe, click here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Some Damn Good BBQ & A Charcutepalooza Retraction

Last night, James invited Zac and I to be part of an elite rib-taste-testing-squad. Our delicious assignment was to help determine which ribs would be entered in Woodbine Park's BBQ competition this coming weekend. Of course, I can't divulge any of James' secrets but I can tell you that his ribs are killer! I'm sure he'll tell all once the competition is in the bag, so check out his blog to read all about it after the weekend.

Since the grill was already fired up, we figured why not throw on some of our fresh sausages. Now we would be able to experience them as originally intended. Zac dubbed this creation the "club sausage." Turkey and bacon with cranberry-walnut relish all conveniently stuffed in a sausage and served on a bun cut into three sections.

In my last post, I talked about how the sausages were a bit on the salty side and the bacon had overpowered the turkey. Well, here's where the Charcutepalooza retraction comes in: I TAKE IT BACK!! These sausages were not at all overly salty, in fact they had the perfect balance of salt and sweet. The general consensus was that they tasted like thanksgiving dinner all rolled up into one bite.  You could distinctly taste each of the ingredients that went into these lovely little delights. 

I'd say that the lesson learned here is to let sausage mellow overnight so all the ingredients can become friends and learn to get along in a wonderfully balanced and harmoniously tasty way.

I guess the big question now is: what other full meals can we stuff into a single sausage??

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Charcutepalooza Challenge #5

This months challenge was "stuffing" and stuff-it we did - into our super busy schedules... heh.. This month's sausage-making came dangerously close to unraveling. James and I have been trying to co-ordinate our schedules for weeks now, and yesterday, being the last day before the posting deadline, was looking grim. It seemed like we were going to have to call this month off. Luckily, I have a husband who has been dying to get his hands on the sausage stuffer. He announced to me yesterday morning that he would take over for James and help me get this month's challenge completed. He even took the work out of deciding what kind of sausage to make.  He chose turkey, bacon, cranberry, walnut sausage. After an announcement like that, how could I possibly skip this creation? So this month Zac and I tackled the challenge together, while James missed out on all the fun (but don't worry, we saved him some sausage).

This is probably going to come as quite a shock to some of you, but I am terrified of cooking. I LOVE to eat and could spend all day in the kitchen but I don't really like to cook, especially without someone there to guide me. I have a bit of a history of ruining just about anything I attempt to cook. Without fail, I seem to screw it up somehow. I'm a baker, I revel in precision and measurement and rules. I don't really have a very good grasp on 'doing what I feel the food wants' and 'letting the ingredients speak to me' which is probably why Charcuterie appeals to me so much. It's a rather scientific way of preparing food.

Over the last few challenges, I've sort of just deferred to James in the cooking department. I've followed his direction to ensure that I couldn't possibly screw up our meat making. This month, it was my turn to take the lead. Making sausage had seemed easy but I was convinced it only felt that way because James was there to keep me from destroying dinner. Oh well, I was really in it now. The only thing left to do was crack open the bible (Michael Rhulman's Charcuterie) and dive right in.

I found a recipe for turkey and cherry sausage that seemed like a good jumping off point for the sausage that Zac had envisioned. For the most part the directions for making sausage read pretty much like any recipe for baked goods. Of course instead of flour and sugar using meat and fat. Sausage needs to have a specific fat to meat ratio. Our recipe didn't have bacon in it and since bacon is pretty much equal parts fat and meat we decided to consider it 50/50 and adjusted the turkey and back fat accordingly. Once I had the meat to fat ratio figured out, I scaled out all my seasonings just as the recipe called for, substituted cranberries for cherries and added walnuts. All the while mindful of sticking to Rhulman's ratios. I had the meat diced and seasoned and sitting in the freezer ready to go when Zac got home.

By the time Zac finished work and we had ground the meat, it was well past dinner time and we were both starving. We just couldn't muster up the energy needed to actually prepare a meal and knew we couldn't wait for the sausage to be ready, so we sat down to a quick dinner of cereal before we began to stuff our sausages. Fast forward past our embarrassingly sad Charcutepalooza dinner to a lovely coil of sausage sitting on our kitchen counter. The marbling was pronounced and the casings had filled uniformly. We had crossed the finish line. We quickly cooked up one of our little links as a late-night snack. Here's where I re-learned a valuable lesson that I had apparently forgotten: Bacon is salty.  While our sausages turned out nearly perfect, they were a bit on the salty side and had a more distinct bacon taste than we had expected. The turkey had been overpowered, but the cranberries gave the sausages a nice sweetness. If I were to attempt putting bacon into sausage again, I would reduce the amount of bacon and leave the salt out until after I had mixed the meat and tasted it, before stuffing the casings. Other than that, I would do everything else the same.

All in all this challenge was a success.  While this sausage may be a bit overpowering on it's own, we're thinking it will make a killer addition to a simple pasta with fresh tomato sauce - hold the salt.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Little Promo That Could

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm rather blown away by the level of response I've been getting from my promo. Just as I was beginning to feel like the chatter was tapering off, both the Applied Arts Blog and PDN Online wrote a little something about my bacon-y package this week. I'm pretty stoked, so I thought I'd share.

For the Applied Arts Article go here.
Click here to read what Heather Morton has to say in her PDN interview for the "Promos I Kept" column.
P.S. Thanks Heather for choosing my promo to talk about... again!

Since I couldn't dream of posting without sharing some images with you, here are three snappys to get you through the day:

Behind the scenes from Charcutepalooza

In and Out Burger in LA - ohhh yum!

 Seriously THE BEST dessert on the planet! I'm salivating just remembering it. No joke.
Butterscotch Pot de Crème with Salted Caramel & Crème Fraiche from Gjelina in LA. Go There.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sharing the Bacon-y Love

I've been holding onto this for some time now and trust me it hasn't been easy. It's a little project I've been dying to share: The promotional piece that would formally introduce me as a "brand" to the world.... Or at least a selected group of Art Directors, Ad Peeps and Magazine Folks.

Over the past few years I've attempted to make my "debut" as a photographer but have put it on hold for numerous reasons. When I left Westside Studio, where I had worked as a producer, the timing was perfect and everything began to fall into place. I suddenly had time on my hands and was compelled to fill every second with my eye to a lens. I spent a year shooting and putting together a portfolio that I could be proud of. I wasn't going to come out without a bang. I needed to create an image that was distinctly me and would showcase my personality before you even knew who "me" was.

When I first found out that my friend James (who you may know as my partner in crime for Charcutepalooza) makes his own bacon, I immediately thought: Make your own bacon??! You can do that? What does that even mean? I had to shoot James in action. Soon after we had booked a shoot date, I came across a recipe for bacon caramels.. yup you read that right. That folks, was the pig-in-the-blanket that began the creative process of designing and executing what I was pretty sure would be a unique promo that would hopefully garner some attention.  

Here's how it all came together:
With all the debate going on these days about paper promos (which I won't get into...cuz that's a whole other post in itself) I was hesitant to even put this project together, but it really wasn't the kind of thing that I could e-mail around. Right off the bat, I decided to go small. There were too many images to use on a postcard so a book seemed like the right solution.  Sending out a book of images still didn't seem exciting enough to me. I wanted the recipient to have the full experience of the story. I decided that I would make and hand wrap candies to go with each promo (I sent two with bacon and two sans-bacon, for any non-adventurous eaters/vegetarians/non-bacon eaters out there). The next question was how to package the pieces in a fun way. Candy boxes. Through some stroke of pure luck and a lot of leg work I managed to find candy boxes complete with inserts that held four candies and were the exact same size as the books I wanted to send (so you have an idea of scale, the packages are 3.5"x 3.5"). Now I had a box containing four candies with my book neatly tucked inside. How did I wrap and address the packages? Butchers paper with a meat label to bring the entire project full circle.

You can see the story on my website by clicking on the I Heart Bacon gallery.
And if you're so inclined, you too can make bacon caramel.

I have to send some special thanks out into the world to the folks that helped me out of the goodness of their hearts:
Aleks Wallner, an incredibly talented artist who drew the little piggy for the cover of my book.
Dana Harrison, a graphic design guru and all around lovely lady, who designed my logos.
And not to be forgotten, James Kennedy, for letting me invade his kitchen and stick my lens in his face. Oh and for the bacon.

The overall response to this little promo of mine has been rather overwhelming. I went into it assuming that I wouldn't hear a peep. In the first couple of days, I received emails from people thanking me for the afternoon snack, a handful of requests for meetings, an Art Director who Tweeted about the promo, a shout out from Heather Morton (yay!), aaaaannnd a job!

Perhaps the moral of this story is: People like bacon and if you send it, they will call.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Big Mac Challenge

A couple weeks ago I received a call from Shelbie Vermette, the photo editor at Toronto's newest and most exciting paper, The Grid.  As soon as she told me the concept for an upcoming shoot, I was immediately on board.  This was going to be FUN!  Four of Toronto's chefs were to be given a Big Mac meal which they were asked to transform, without adding any additional ingredients, into a dish fit for their restaurants.  As you probably know by now I am no stranger to the hamburger, so being asked to take part in a burger re-imagination project had me pretty excited.  Writer Karon Liu and I literally had no idea what to expect when heading out for our shoot.  Each time a dish came out of the kitchen, our minds were truly blown.  The creativity, thoughtful care and humor that each of the chefs put into their dishes was absolutely inspiring.  The chefs were all such great sports that they even let me snap a few quick portraits of them enjoying their creations. 

You can read the full story here and can check out the behind the scenes story here.

Aravind’s Open-Faced Samosas by Chefs Raj and Aravind Kozhikott

Campagnolo’s Big Mac All’Americana by Chefs Craig Harding and Nigel French 

Local Kitchen's McLumi Platter by Chef Fabio Bondi 

The Drake’s Birthday Surprise by Chef Anthony Rose 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Charcutepalooza Challenge #4

The last few weeks have been crazy busy for me, and we just barely managed to squeek this challenge in.  This month was filled with failures and lessons for us both.  I've decided to re-dubb this month's theme as the "You can't have a home run every time" challenge.  Thankfully, my partner in meat crime, James, was able to take the reigns in the post writing department.  This month, I defer to him.  Take it away Sir....

James: We might have been cursed from the very beginning, hard to say. But this month's path to Charcuteplaooza was fraught with errors, oversights and utter failures. Shit happens. Sure, we turned it all around and made delicious chorizo sausage links, killer maple candy corn and homemade ketchup but boy it sure wasn't easy this month.

It might be interesting to look at this month's challenge in reverse, so here goes.

We skinned, deboned and ground a fine cut of pork shoulder, spiced it up, grilled up a tester (success) and pumped it into six feet of hog casings. A few of the sausages were 'airy' and burst on the grill but all-in-all I'd say those chorizo, while not quite as good as George's were still pretty great. Topped off with some pickled onions, cilantro and homemade ketchup, our arena dogs were decidedly less Canadian than they were awesome. Oh well, at least the candy corn was made with 100% pure maple syrup!

Our final mistake was not putting that curious little cross-shaped bit in the meat grinder. That curious little bit does the cutting before the cubed meat gets to the die (the part at the end with the holes in it.) Without it you're basically trying to force square meat in round holes, quite literally. Once I found this piece was missing, I returned it to the meat grinder and miraculously it started actually grinding meat!

After dinner last Sunday I decided to start the evidently long process of turning frozen venison into what looked most like sticky baby pablum (I'd yet to replace that cross-shaped bit.) First I cut off all the freezer-burn. This venison came from a deer which had been shot by my father-in-law in November 2009, so it had seen it's fair share of freezer time. Once all the freezer burn was removed, I had a few steaks and a couple of tenderloins. I cut the semi-frozen meat into cubes and fed them into the machine. Without the cutting edge in it was very difficult to get the sinuey venison through the die. I was constantly cleaning out the grinder and what did make it through the small die came out as more a paste than a grind.

I'd forgotten that my father-in-law always marinates his venison in a beer/garlic solution overnight. This turns out to be crucial to getting all the extra blood out of the meat. In a processed, farmed product meat is hung and bled in a controlled setting. When hunted however the procedure is far less exact and bleeding out the animal immediately after death isn't always as quick (or so I understand.) Anyway, I'd unknowingly ground some pretty irony meat.

The first mistake where venison is concerned happened when Reena suggested we use a wild meat as our Canadian twist. Elk, Venison, whatever. Knowing of a good stash of frozen venison harvested in the wilds of Manitoba I thought, perfect! Venison it is. Well, venison makes a lousy hotdog. Actually, it makes a disgusting hotdog. The gamey flavour is intensified ten-fold and the hotdog texture didn't help either.

Hotdogs. So hotdogs were definitely not this months challenge. Taking Reena's word for it, I didn't even check the Charcuteplaooza site this month. Well, not until the venison hotdog failure.

Reena:  I take the blame for the broken-telephone decision to make hotdogs.  My husband Zac read the actual instructions for this month and suggested to me that a game-y sausage (this month's challenge) was sort of the Canadian equivalent to the American ballpark hotdog. Seeing as how it's NHL playoff time, I thought what better way to celebrate Canadiana and to take it even further than to make Venison hotdogs? And Cracker Jacks!

J: At the end of the day, we met the requirements (just barely) and our chrorizo was really, really good. And the funniest thing? We both agree that we'd rather eat a chorizo sausage anyway!

As a cowboy, name lost to time, once said "When you lose, don't lose the lesson." Next month I promise to check the site myself, double check my equipment and approach the new challenge with this failure in the back of my mind.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Charcutepalooza Challenge #3

This month's Charcutepalooza challenge was hot smoking. We were to either smoke pork loin that would become Canadian Bacon or smoke pork shoulder which would become Tasso Ham.  Since James has been smoking meat successfully for years and Michael Ruhlman's spice blends have proven to be perfectly balanced, it seemed that our biggest challenge this month would be coming up with our recipe. Seeing as James and I have promised a little bit of a Canadian flare with each of our challenges, you would think the choice would be clear with Canadian Bacon on the list.  Not so. 

James: Canadian bacon is only Canadian in the United States. In Canada it's called Peameal Bacon and most often cured and rolled in cornmeal, but not always smoked. The concept for our blog post was proving to be a bit of a conundrum. Tasso is an important ingredient in Jambalaya, a distinctly Louisianan creation but there was little evidence that it has ever made it's way out of the Bayou and into the Canadian culinary canon. In fact, I don't know anyone else who'd ever heard of it. So Tasso Tourtiere, Pâté chinois (Shepard's pie) or Flipper pie were all kind of out.

And were we really going to make another sandwich?  Uh, nope.

Almost stumped, I thought we could justify our Can-con while still taking the low road, or swamp track as it were. When I pulled out the Lonely Planet: New Orleans City Guide in light of my upcoming trip I came across a 'legend' about the humble crawfish...
"When the Acadians were forced to leave Nova Scotia, the local lobsters (very loyal shellfish, indeed) decided to follow their adopted humans to Louisiana. During the arduous marathon swim, the crustaceans lost a lot of weight and most of their size. By the time the lobsters reached the bayous and swamps of southern Louisiana to reunite with their beloved proto-Cajuns, they had transformed into the Acadian's smaller, and now-totemic, crawfish." If the lobster is the forefather of the crawfish, and an undoubtedly Downeast ingredient - well we're bringing it all back home, as Bob Dylan once mumbled.

Bingo! Tasso is in Jambalaya and Lobster could be our Canadian crawfish! One down, one to go. Andouille is a spicy cajun sausage and also an important ingredient in Jambalaya. It is not readily available up here, but all of it's ingredients are. The pork shoulder needed to make Tasso is the very same cut needed to make Andouille. A bit more work but it was certainly worth it. Homemade sausage is easy, delicious and maybe just a bit totally awesome.

R:  Seeing as this was my first experience with Cajun cooking, and that James is able to Cajun-ify almost anything with his eyes shut. I quickly fell into the roll of Help-y McHelperson, where I found myself elbow deep in freshly ground meat, feeding the sausage stuffer at a leisurely pace.  I'll say this much, while making homemade sausage is not a difficult task, it may potentially have the power to convert any meat eater to a vegetarian. But not us! Finding myself without tonnes to contribute to the preparation of this meal, other than immersing my hands in meat and fighting back tears when it was time to cook our well behaved and photogenic Lobster, who we had affectionately named Jaques, I would tackle dessert.

We decided that I should prepare a Canadian classic. Buttertarts. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the Muskokas where we basically spent entire summers waterskiing, barbecuing and begging my parents to take us for Buttertarts from Marty's in Bracebridge. Marty's has literally ruined me for all other Buttertarts in the universe.  They are the best.  Hands down.  Flaky, tender, chewy pastry with runny, sticky and sweet insides. A couple of years ago my mom surprised me with a copy of Marty's cookbook and I'm pretty sure that the angels sang when I discovered the recipes for his pastry and filling. But how were we going to give these tarts the Southern flare that they would need to follow our Jambalaya you ask? Pecans. Maple roasted pecans. Oooooh-we! 

So, how was the meal? Spicy and smokey with a hint of sweetness each time you discovered a coveted piece of lobster.  The Jambalaya was even hot enough to have those of us that hadn't braved James' homemade hot sauce reaching for the Kleenex and wiping away tears. Often, with spice of that magnitude, the flavour can begin to take a back seat.  In this case, not so. Each bite was filled with a wonderful and slightly different combination of tastes. The Tasso and the sausage, while at the core were quite similar, brought very distinct yet perfectly married flavours to the table. The buttertarts, that we served with cinnamon ice-cream from Ed's Real Scoop and a snifter of Bourbon were the perfect way to cool our over-heated pallets. All in all, this meal was well worth the effort and Tasso-rific in our books.  

After a really fun day in the kitchen and a great meal with friends, it was off to bed with the anticipation of waking up to the lingering smell of that deliciously smokey aroma, that is always left behind in my hair, that would have me re-living our meal the next morning.