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.