Let’s keep the meat dialogue rolling, shall we? Probably my favourite way to season meat is with a dry rub. You can get right in there with the mortar and pestle and release the flavour of many gorgeous spices, cover the meat generously, and then let the cooking take care of the rest. You can customize your blends to what your family like, or, you know, buy them. Not to lace my blog with advertisements or anything, but if you want to buy a rub, make it organic and make it good. Organic fair ( does a fantastic BBQ rub called “Ultimate ‘que” that is my personal favourite rub to purchase- it really enhances the flavour of meat without overpowering it, which is a fantastic quality for a rub to have. They also have an Herbes de Provence which, as Sebastien will testify to, is a favourite of the Frenchies, and a Mole rub that brings some nice authentic Mexican punch with it. I recently received a Southwestern Chipotle rub as a Christmas present, so I’ll try it out, and if it’s anything significant you may hear about it in the future!

Okay, back on track! There are a lot of great rubs out there for purchase, but they really are very easy to make yourself. Using herbs and spices that you grind yourself really is the kicker, because freshly exposing those volatile essential oils gives the strongest, most well rounded smell and flavour. For that, you may need a bit of equipment. Yes, I will admit to spending evenings smashing pepper with a mallet and crunching cumin in cups with a wooden spoon, but if you are serious about getting a good quantity of spice, and aren’t totally fanatical, those methods are less than ideal. A mortar and pestle is one way to sweat for your food, and they really are multi purpose. By that I don’t mean they have a lot of different functions- they are pretty much exclusively for smashing things-but that you will be surprised at the wide variety of things there are to smash! Garlic cloves and butter, fresh herbs, nuts, bananas, coffee beans…the list continues. At the very least, they have a nice shape, so use them as a decoration and for spice rubs. Another option for breaking apart your spices is a coffee grinder, though it is recommended that its not the one that you actually use for coffee. Unless you like a little pork seasoning in your cup of joe or have always wanted to try a cumin flavoured expresso. Whichever you choose to purchase, buy it knowing that your future will be succulently spiced!

So, here’s the recipe for a couple of rubs! The lamb rub really is tailored to the lamb meat, because a primary herb in it is thyme. The principle flavour molecule in thyme is a little something called “thymol” which happens to be something found in lamb, which makes this a natural couple. Another herb used in this rub that really compliments lamb is rosemary (a nice Mediterranean “terpene”). The so called “All-Purpose Pork Rub” that I’ve posted here is more of a name than anything. Doesn’t it sound nice? Really, it is a compilation of classic spices used in many pork dishes, but I have been known to toss it on beef and into meatball mixtures without a pause.

All-Purpose Pork Rub

1/4 c. cumin seeds
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds
2 Tbsp. black peppercorns
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. sea salt

1) Place the cumin and coriander seeds in a large pan and heat to medium heat. When you can smell the spices (they become “fragrant”) and have darkened slightly in colour (they have “toasted”) pull them off the heat and let them cool a bit.

2) Mix all the spices together and grind in small batches to a desired consistency (course if you like bursts in your mouth, finer if you want an even coat, or somewhere in between). Store in a jar or sealed plastic bag and use soon for maximum flavour.

To Use: If you are coating something like a roast, dry the roast with paper towels first. Then evaluate- spices don’t stick very well to hardened fat, so if there is a lot of marbled fat on the surface or a good strip on the top, rub the whole thing with a little oil, or target the fat strip with oil. Then coat generously. Try to get the rub onto the meat an hour or so before you plan on cooking it- even fifteen minutes will make a difference. Then cook as you would normally. If you are doing an individual cut, like a chop, coat well but maybe don’t go to town quite as much as something large like a roast. Get a nice single layer on, then shake off the excess spice before cooking.

Lamb Rub

3 Tbsp. dried thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. dried rosemary
2 Tbsp. black peppercorns
2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. sea salt

1) Mix together black peppercorns and coriander seeds. Grind to desired consistency. If you think you rosemary is on the large side, give it a quick smash too.

2) Combine all in a bowl. Store in a jar or in a sealed plastic bag, and use quickly for maximum flavour.

To Use: Same as with the pork- coat generously, use oil if there’s a lot of fat on the surface. For a lamb chop, apply the rub with greater reserve, but by no means skimp.


Meat Dynamics

Instead of a recipe I thought I would have a post that elaborates on a resolution that my family decided on, and that was a strict commitment to ethical meat. “Ethical” may mean the same thing as cruelty-free to some people, but to us it means meat that comes with respect to the animal, environment, farmer, and purchaser. My relationship with meat has been, and in some ways continues to be, quite dynamic. It all began at a young age, when I first learned what meat was.

To give you some kind of idea what meat meant to me as a child, my family nickname was “Raptor”. I loved meat, and all that came with it- the sauces, the rubs, the casseroles! Steak and asparagus, chicken divan, pork roast…it was all fast-tracked into my stomach via grabbing little hands. Then, around the age of five, I very suddenly understood what “pork is pig” meant. I sort of had a concept that that the pig was somehow giving us pork. but I wasn’t quite sure how it did that up until that point. I assumed it was a gift from the pig, that maybe it foraged throughout the woods all day and came back, surprise, with bacon! It was the same sort of realization when I noticed my little brother wasn’t actually a doll- shock, and then…disappointment. Disappointment that my parents had knowingly let me eat some of my favourite animals (though that had explained the process repeatedly) and mostly the disappointment that two of my favourite things had now collided- eating meat and animals. Determined to find a loophole, I decided that the only solution was to eat meat without eating animals. Mommy, can I be a vegetarian that eats meat? Turns out, the answer to that is no. Meat and animals are one of the same, and it broke my heart. I loved animals, really loved animals.

My first real go at vegetarianism began when I was fourteen, and lasted up until I was three quarters of the way through eighteen. Though I am happily an omnivore now, this stint of vegetarianism was what really got me interested in my food. Anything that makes you step back and change your diet in a drastic way can really be a wake-up call for what food means to you. i started reading cookbooks like they were novels, a practice I keep to this day. Food blogs became a place not only to drool, but to delve into. Our family diet changed as well- both my little brother and I were vegetarians, so we rarely had meat in the fridge. My brother had always been a picky eater, so we had stuck to a pretty regular meal plan that involved revolving things like beef stroganoff, spaghetti, and a variety of chicken. Now, we all had to think a little more about what was going on the table, and it led to a bit of a kitchen revolution. Artichokes on weeknights? Beefless borsht? Huevos Rancheros? It’s not that we had been unadventurous eaters before, but a quake had set us loose and we were enjoying it.

Now, by the age of fourteen, my reasons not to eat meat were a little more sophisticated than “But I LOVE pigs!”. The meat industry is a 140 billion dollar industry that occupies a third of the land on the planet, so even if we don’t eat it, it’s of interest to all of us. The accounts of factory farm life are hopefully something that everyone has seen (Food Inc.) or read about (Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer). We understand that there are horrors that happen in factory farms, to the animals, environment, and workers. Being a vegetarian was a way to completely remove myself from the world of factory farming. Which is more socially acceptable, telling a host you’re a vegetarian or saying sorry, I don’t eat meat I don’t know the source of? In a lot of ways its easier to be vegetarian and say hey, I’ve done my part.

Two things changed this. One, I started to crave meat. Not necessarily the actual physical meat, but the history that went with it. Turkey feasts and lamb roasts, two things that had been something to look forward to all year, no longer existed. Spending a lot of time on food blogs showed other people very happily and ethically raising their own meat. Further reading into biology illustrated beautiful and complex relationships between animals and plants, living in an environmentally neutral, if not friendly, symbiosis. I wanted to be part of this movement towards slow, ethical food, and meat was a huge part of that. Two, I understood what it meant to respect animals while causing their death.

As I mentioned, I volunteer in a lab at UVic. I work with rats. I also have two pet rats, beautiful little boys named Cam and Mitchell (seen Modern family?) who provide entertainment and always show me lots of affection. The study we work with, though I won’t get into the details, requires a lot of rats, specifically, a lot of rat brains. The first time I had to kill a rat, it turned out to be something like fifteen rats. I cried when I drove home. The first time I had to cull a litter, my stomach turned. But I kept on doing it and somehow…it felt okay. It didn’t feel cruel or uncalled for. I loved to learn about the inside of their bodies, and knew that each result pushed the study forward. I had so much respect for the rats we worked with, just like I have for my own pet rats, and knew that they lived a relatively good life. We did what we could to make them comfortable, and made sure they had a quick end that showed respect for their life. It was a perfectly modelled relationship for meat, one of utmost respect. If my meat can be treated the way I know I can treat these rats, then I can justify and enjoy eating meat.

I have now been enjoying ethically raised meat that is good for me, the environment, and the local farmers, for nine months. The whole mystery of the culinary world of meat is lain at my feet. If you haven’t already looked into where your meat comes from, if you eat meat, understand that it is important that you do. The meat you buy is a choice, and a big one, so make sure you have all the resources to be happy with the choice you make.

Again, Happy New Year, and I hope those resolutions are stay with everyone throughout the year!

Caramel w/o the Christmas.

You may be thinking that this looks an awful lot like Christmas candy. This may have something to do with the fact that they were made from a recipe with the words “Christmas Caramels” in the title. But who says that the 25th of December has to have a monopoly on all things nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and molasses? I say we call them “Salted and Spiced Caramels” then make them year round, given out as much-appreciated gifts that don’t kill a budget. They are fantastic, not-too-sweet morsels that taste even more delicious when hand wrapped in squares of wax paper and packaged into fantastic little boxes, such as mini chinese take out boxes from The Papery (Victoria). This recipe makes a ton of caramels, so plan out the recipients.

First things first, a few things about candy making:

1) Use a candy thermometer. Trying to “eyeball” 255 degrees F is nothing more than a shot in the dark. The cost for a candy thermometer is $15-$20. They can double as a deep fry thermometer and last forever. Some have a clip that holds them to the side of pots, which is a useful but not essential addition. The average temperature range is 100-400 degrees F.

*Think your candy thermometer may be off by a few degrees? This can make a big difference when working with high temperatures. To check if it is off, bring a pot of water to boil on your stove top. Check the temperature- water boils at 212 degrees F. If your candy thermometer is reading above or below this, check the instructions that came with your candy thermometer for re-calibration.

2) Use a recipe. Unless you are an experienced candy maker, and feel comfortable throwing a little bit of this and that in, use a reputable recipe and follow it closely. For one thing, you are going to be dealing with brutally hot liquid, so tasting and adjusting isn’t really a very applicable option. For another thing, you may unintentionally alter the chemical make up of your candy, which can take you into completely unpredictable territory. I know person who once halved the sugar in their caramel recipe, which resulted a nasty semi-liquid that didn’t resemble caramel in the slightest. Lesson: save improv for pasta, recipes you have experience with, and the stage.

3) Use a large pot. Candy often foams and expands, and the last thing you want is burnt candy all over the stove top making a huge mess. A nice wide bottom will have a good surface area to volume ratio, and high sides will stop spitting and overflowing. You will be safe 90% of the time you fill your pot only 1/4 of the way full.

4) Be safe! If your pot has a handle, turn it in so that it isn’t hanging over any edges. Keep all infants/pets/absent minded people away from the stove top. Even better: keep them out of the kitchen! It sounds a little extreme, but if something that hot came spilling down, you want minimum damage. I usually keep moccasins or shoes on, and wear oven mitts for stirring after feeling the sting of having hot sugar spat on my fingers. If you are careful, you will end up with delicious tasting candy with no bad memories of burns.

So there it is, a crash course in candy making basics. Here is a recipe, adapted from miss Martha Stewart herself, for gingerbread caramels.

“Everything Nice” Caramels

Sugar and spice…

4 c heavy cream
1 c golden corn syrup
1 c lilly white corn syrup
4 c white sugar
3/4 c butter
1/2 c unsulfured molasses
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
coarse fleur de sel

oil for greasing
parchment paper

1) In a large pot, combine cream, corn syrups, sugar, butter, and molasses. Turn on medium-high heat, and stir until sugar has dissolved. Cook over medium high heat until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm ball stage). This will take about 20 minutes, and requires you to stir frequently. Watch for foaming, and if you feel that it is getting too high on the sides of the pot, ladle some out into another pot, and you’ll have to work it in batches. Alternatively, you can use any extra that is above 200 degrees as caramel sauce.

2) While getting the mixture to temperature, line a 12″ X 17″ baking pan with parchment paper and spray the paper generously with oil. This will make a huge difference when it comes to removing the caramel!

3) When you reach 248 degrees, remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the vanilla, salt, and spices. Immediately pour the mixture into the parchment lined baking pan. Using oven mitts, transfer the pan to a place where it can sit for 24 hours (if you aren’t using the oven, thats a safe place where it will be undisturbed). Sprinkle the top with fleur de sel. Let it stand, uncovered for 24 hours.

4) Invert the baking pan onto a cutting board. Peel off the parchment paper and flip the caramel so the fleur de sel side is up. Using a sharp, large knife (a chef’s knife works well), slice the caramel into bite sized pieces. Arrange caramels in a single layer without touching each other (if they touch they will STICK and melt in a warm room!).

To wrap: Cut wax paper into squares. Place a single caramel in each square, and roll the wax paper around it, twisting each end in opposite directions. Cut off any ends that are too long. This is a long process to do by yourself, so recruit a friend, family member or glass of wine to join you. A good activity to get people to do while watching a movie or TV show.

A Dutch beginning.

Welcome to 2011! I hope everyone had a sufficient New Years Eve! I started my New Years Eve off by cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on Mount Washington, where my family and Sebastien’s family had been skiing and enjoying fabulous weather for five days. A long drive home, a couple of ciders, and an extremely competitive game of Apples to Apples that left me hoarse, and there you have it, 2010 was over! How is 2011 looking so far? Any resolutions in the air?

Some people are anti-resolution. They see everyday as the stepping-stones to become a better person, so they forgo the thought of one big burst of effort one month of the year. These people also do not kiss a loved one at midnight (you can kiss anytime of the year!) and probably still help themselves to champagne. Myself, I am a fan of making resolutions. Resolutions are not only goals for the future; they are the products of reflection. Being of the non-religious variety, the practice of full life reflection is meager, save for New Years and birthdays. I pull out an old notebook and split a page into categories, organized by colour, and then begin with the big goals, which are broken down into series of smaller goals. Yes, it is the scientist in me that smiles at the neat columns and extra thoughts scribbled onto many fluttering sticky notes. Whether or not you partake in this quiet, reflective ritual, I hope you have a great new year regardless!

If you try this fantastic Dutch pancake, how can it not be a great year already? Baked in the oven and served with a sprinkling of icing sugar, maple syrup, and fresh apples or berries, this would make a great brunch item for the family or guests. I once even baked a jumbo-sized one, wrapped it well in tea towels, and drove it to a music festival where many happy campers enjoyed it, accompanied by fresh strawberries and shredded mint. I’ve also seen this pancake served as a desert item, spiced up with cardamom alongside a bowl of golden raisons soaked in liquor. Enjoy this recipe throughout 2011!

Dutch Baby Pancake

4 eggs
1 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
2/3 c flour
2/3 c milk
2 Tbsp butter

1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. When the oven is almost or fully preheated, place an 18 “ pie plate, or two 9” cake pans, in the oven for about ten minutes, until they are quite hot. Meanwhile, make the batter.

2) Get out a large bowl, and crack your eggs in, whisking them until they are smooth and lighter in colour. Add the sugar, salt, flour, and milk, whisking until smooth.

3) To the nice and hot pie plate/ cake pans, add the butter. It should sizzle and melt. If it doesn’t melt completely, pop it in the oven until the butter is bubbling lightly. At that point, pour in all the batter at once and put it back in the oven.

4) Bake it for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for ten more minutes, or until the pancake looks set and the edges are browning. A bit of butter on the top may make it look uncooked, so give it a prod with a fork to test the batter when you think it is done.

5) Serve! Maple syrup and berries, or whatever you see fit to enjoy this pancake-meets-doughnut-without-the-guilt.