Odd Bits

Odd Bits in Toronto

By | Odd Bits, Toronto | 13 Comments
As you know I’m passionate about odd bits like this beautiful piece of caul fat and convincing people to try them, every chance I get. My excuse for not blogging recently is that I have been working on a TV pilot.
It all began earlier this year with an email. Over the last year I’ve made good friends and made many interesting connections  via email and Twitter. And while I rage against social networking, it does have an amazing power to connect people like minded people. After numerous emails and conversations on Skype Marcel and Mark flew from Texas to Toronto last weekend to film an Odd Bits pilot.
As this was probably my only chance to do this I wanted to show odd bits that tend to make people squeamish. Many people dislike odd bits without ever having even tried them. Then there is a cringe factor, which blood and testicles certainly have.
We started with Rob Gentile at Buca, who I know loves to work with one of my favourite odd bits – blood. Rob has blood pasta and a surprising chocolate blood tart on his menu. Recently he added a blood gelato with Tuscan spice and he showed us how he makes it.  He serves Sicilian-style, that is in a brioche, with caramelized spiced pistachios and a chianti reduction. After tasting this I’ll never go back to regular ice cream.
Matty Matherson from Parts and Labour likes to shock and he loves testicles. He prepared fried lamb testicles two ways – with a beautiful salad with leaves harvested from his restaurant’s rooftop garden and dressed with salsa verde. The second presentation was heartier, on mashed potatoes with fried onions, bacon and topped with a rich, trotter maple sauce.
The final day shooting was with Scott Vivian at Beast restaurant. Scott is the force behind the Group of 7 chefs and loves to use the whole animal. He made us a dish using three odd bits, the heart, tongue and marrow bone, all from Ontario water buffalo. Scott likes spicy food as his final dish revealed. 
A taco with spicy marinated heart, roasted rare and creamy poached tongue and topped with coriander, fresh house-made cheese, pickled onions, and a garnish of red cabbage sprouts. As Scott noted wisely, if you serve odd bits in a familiar dish people are more likely to try it. I loved it, but it was the accompanying roasted bruléed marrow bone that made me swoon. Topped with a spicy caramelized topping I briefly considered stopping my campaign to convince more people to eat odd bits and to keep all those marrow bones for myself.
Finally a snap of the odd bit loving Texans, Mark and Marcel. No cowboy boots or stetsons, just an appreciation for eating the whole animal. They left Toronto with a new found love of bone marrow and testicles. So watch for the next big thing in Dallas to be a testicle bone marrow combo, as the year of offal continues.

Souper aux Abats

By | Montréal, Odd Bits | No Comments
The Montréal association of food journalists held a Souper aux abats last Monday and I was the guest of honour. This is the best way to attend a dinner as you get credit for the food, but it’s the chef who does all the work, a big thank you to Patrick. The menu was loosely based on recipes in my book Odd Bitsafter a discussion with Chef Patrick Plouffe of Chez Bouffe, Gildas Meneu,  Mario Hinse from L’Epicerie. The matching wines were chosen by Guénaël Revel, don’t ask, all I remember is a zinfandel that I liked because I usually don’t.

Two odd bits, cockscombs and pig’s ears were combined in a salad for the first dish. This was interesting as it made me realize that I prefer cockscombs warm, in a sauce. It also showed yet again, that pig’s ears are a polarizing odd bit. It’s the cartilage that makes people love them or hate them.

In my book I suggest using tongue instead of ham in a croque monsieur. Patrick made three different croques, using duck, veal and beef tongue.

On the menu at Chez Bouffe is a duck heart tartare, and he served it with a slice of battered, fried gherkin. Readers of this blog know how much I love beef heart tartare. This dish proves you can make tartare with any animal heart, and duck heart makes a very rich and creamy tartare.

My favourite dish was the brain ravioli, made with veal brains, not lamb thanks to a last minute substitution by the supplier. Patrick added toasted pine nuts, which gave the dish a nice crunch. Everyone who hates, or who thinks they hate brains should taste this dish. I’m sure it will convert them to the delights of this delicate odd bit.

And for dessert – chocolate blood ice cream, what else?

Cookbook Awards

By | Cookbook Awards, Odd Bits | 4 Comments

I’m not sure how I feel about awards, but I know I love to be nominated and love it even more when I win. Single subject is always a tough category and this year I am shortlisted with my friend Molly Stevens and Yotam Ottolenghi who I don’t know personally, but I do like his recipes. This is an interesting mix of cookbooks All About Roasting: New Approach to a Classic ArtOdd Bits and Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes From London’s Ottolenghi. Whoever wins, I think we are all winners if we have encouraged our readers to cook.

Group of 7 Odd Bits Dinner

By | Nose-to-Tail, Odd Bits | 4 Comments
I’ve been looking forward to this night, since Scott from Beast and Matty from Parts and Labour first suggested it. As members of the Group of 7 Chefs they thought an Odd Bits dinner would be fun and a way to help them raise money for their trip to New York to cook at the James Beard House later this year. Importantly it would be a way for offal lovers and neophytes to try a range of dishes not often found on restaurant menus. All seven chefs picked an odd bit and created a dish. The list was bone and tendon, lamb kidneys, lamb tripe, tongue and testicles, pork heart, veal brain and pork blood.
Appetizers included the platter of duck liver paté and head cheese, shown above, and slices of headcheese served on baguette with pimento cheese an interesting taste and play with “cheese”. There were familiar poultry livers wrapped in bacon, retro and delicious, and puff pastry rounds topped with bone marrow, eggplant and a black truffle slice presented on top of empty marrow bones.
Here are the group of 7 chefs, actually eight because there is a team of two; Matty Matheson, Scott Vivian, Kevin Mckenna, Mark Cutrara, Chris Brown, Marc Dufour, Rob Gentile, and Bertrand Alepee.

So the meal begins –

Bone and tendon interpreted by Matty was a roasted marrow bone, topped with grated horseradish set in a broth with beef tendon and peas. A dessert spoon was inserted into the marrow handle first. I think the idea was to use the handle to extract the marrow, as the bowl of the spoon was too big for most of the bones. I pushed my marrow out into the broth,  and reached for the sour dough toasts. Although the toasts already had a smear of foie gras butter, that didn’t stop me from spreading the bone marrow on top.

Then came Chris with the lamb kidneys. Gnocchi, rapini and sauteed lamb kidneys topped with a fennel zabaglione was a great way to introduce people to kidneys. These kidneys were mild almost sweet, balanced by the rapini and light well flavoured sauce.

Tripe is often a hard sell as most people think they don’t like tripe. Kevin and Marc cooked unbleached lamb’s tripe with pork bits to make a rich, satisfying stew that wasn’t overly gutty in taste. They added  beans and topped it with cornmeal encrusted, fried slice of testicle.

Testicles always create interest and Mark approached them with a sense of humour with his take of tongue and balls. He served a thick slice of beef tongue topped with a well seasoned sausage of lamb testicles. It was accompanied with a homemade ketchup and garnished with potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
Scott presented pork heart on a tostada. Rare slices of heart were mixed with radish, pickled squash, watercress, crispy fried pig’s ears and the right amount of chile. Those crisp slices of ears converted a long time pig’s ear hater at my table into a fan. Odd bits is often all about texture. The bacon fat aioli on the plate was the final touch of brilliance. The flavours and textures played well against each other.

Veal brain was next and Bertrand served it with a bacon brioche Toulouse sausage, black trumpet mushrooms tand tied the dish together with a beurre blanc, rich and satisfying. Some diners expressed nervousness about eating brains, they should know that odd bits from well raised healthy animals are fit for the table.

Blood was the finale and Rob presented his signature dish blood chocolate tart. It was topped with an espresso poached fig, and topped with a buffalo milk crema and almonds. The perfect way to convert the doubters to the versatility of blood in kitchen.

Well done gentlemen, I’m hoping you’ll consider a repeat performance. Although it took a day and a half for me to even have the slightest hint of hunger, I’m ready to eat it all again. Two great meals of odd bits and another coming next month, a great start to 2012, The Year of Offal.

Odd Bits Dinner in Waterloo

By | Nick and Nat's Uptown 21, Odd Bits | No Comments
Last night I was at Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21 in Waterloo. I met Nick last year at Savour Stratford, when we were both judging the Best Chef competition. Nick asked if I would participate in a cookbook dinner at his restaurant sponsored by the local bookstore Wordsworth Books. I said yes,  Nick had told me he loved my Fat book, authors always fall for flattery. Also I love this type of event, the chef does all the work and I have time to meet people who like my books and I can continue my mission of convincing people to try odd bits. Nick made my food shine and alas my photography doesn’t do it justice – I had a camera incident – my flash had a mind of its own deciding when it would and wouldn’t work, but I’ve posted the snaps anyway.

To begin, Nick presented an amuse bouche of vegetables, pickled carrot and beet, balanced with a piece of fresh apple, no odd bits there. At my table were two vegetarians!!!!!! Yes I was polite, but I did get on my soap box a couple of times. We also had a paleo diet follower at the table, so as you can imagine our dinner conversation was very lively.

Nick started with a bombshell – Crispy Lamb’s testicles with caramelized onions and double smoked bacon combining two of my recipes with delicious results. There was a nervousness,  but all the diners were surprised by the mild taste and light texture of the testicles. The bacon was worth the trip to Waterloo.

The next dish was a combination of pig’s ear served two ways; cold in a salad and hot and glazed. Nick also included slices of grilled tongue with mustard seed glaze. Pig’s ear is challenging for some,  you either love it or hate it because of the cartilage. The tongue was a universal success and hot tongue was a first for many of the diners.

Lamb brains followed in one of my favourite incarnations,  a filling for ravioli. I add morels in my recipe, but as they were not in season Nick served the ravioli with his homemade picked wild mushrooms, a perfect foil for the rich, creamy brains.

The main course was a Peruvian heart kebab on a bone marrow dumpling with spicy winter greens, a mix of cultures that worked. The only negative with the heart for some was its texture, chewy some said. True. It wasn’t tough, but you did have to use your teeth. To quote my friend Al Brown, “when did tenderness overtake the importance of flavour? Texture is good.” He’s is absolutely right, and heart has both texture and flavour.

Nick finished strong with chocolate blood ice cream with a choux paste beignet from the Fat book. Again people were surprised by this dish and all loved the rich chocolatey taste.
It was a fabulous meal and as Nick followed recipes from my book we both hope that the meal inspires them to try the recipes at home and explore the vast world of tasty odd bits.