Saturday, February 18, 2012

Game for game?

As part of my birthday present from almost 3 months ago, I got a choice of a cooking class to attend.  I discover the wide range of cooking classes available in Toronto, ranging from the very affordable TDSB ones, to fairly technical skills oriented ones like the knife skills course offered by The Good Egg, to those with alterier motives such as the various cupid cooking classes.
Not wanting to commit to a series of classes or spending lots of money, I eventually landed on a cooking class at The Market Kitchen at St Lawrence Market that focused on game meat.

I have never been to The Market Kitchen prior. It is set up more as an event space with an open kitchen than a cooking class. It lacks some basic things like mirror over the range for students to see clearly how the cooking progresses, and multiple stations for hands on practice.  Rather than a cooking class, I would consider it more an interactive dinner with cooking demonstration.

The Market Kitchen, St Lawrence Market

The whole evening was quite enjoyable. Our chef was Andrew Chase. He was casual and friendly, although at times seemed a bit frazzled. To keep him organized was our host (whom I forgot to ask for her name), who was very thoughtful. Aside from ensuring the chef had everything he needed, she also made sure the students were able to see all the ingredients up close by walking the containers through the group, and plated several demo dishes for photo opps. The sous chef and kitchen staff are also impeccable, helping the chef with the preparation and serving the food to all students. There was a selection of coffee, sparkling water, and water available throughout the night.

Chef Andrew Chase & staff, The Market Kitchen, St Lawrence Market

What about the food itself? It is a rare experience to be able to try so many different game meat prepared in different styles. During the evening, we get to taste 6 differ game meat.
- Ostrich [sausage]
- Pheasant [sauage]
- Elk [sausage]
- Bison cheeks [stew] with spatzel
- Venison [meatloaf] with buttermilk mashed potatoes
- Camel [stir fry]

Chef Andrew was knowledgeable about techniques in cooking game, and also told interesting stories about the history of the cooking methods.

Most of the game meat is not too "gamey" in taste, but more like lean beef with a rich intense taste. (No, contrary to populat belief, not everything tastes like chicken.) My favourite is the bison cheek stew, with strong wine flavour resulting from the meat being marinated for 5 days. The texture of the bison cheek is not as soft as braised beef cheeks; both has its own character. Spatzel is a simple noodle from the German / Austrian / Swiss area. It is surprisingly fast & easy to make from scratch. Dressed with a butter sauce, it is a good accompaniment to the stew.

bison cheek stew with spatzel

We made the venison meatloaf in small groups and each person took a small tray home to bake on our own.  The recipe does not bind as well as the type of meatloaf I like, so it looks a bit like a loose shepherd's pie. The combination of salted pork rind and venison gave the dish a very rich flavour; definitely a winner for a casual cold winter's night dinner in.

venison meatloaf with buttermilk mashed potatoes

venison meatloaf

The question many people, including myself, with the menu is  ... How does camel taste? As the chef describes, camel meat is like dark Italian veal, with a more gamey taste.

marinated camel meat

The camel was stir fried in the traditional northern Chinese style, with a slightly vinegary sauce. This treatment made the dish rather light to the stomach.

sweet-as-honey stir fry camel

Sidenote: The dish is called 它賽蜜 in Chinese, meaning "it competes with honey". It seems a strange fit as the dish is not sweet in nature. Regardless, it is supposed to help with blood circulation, making it very suitable for keeping warm in the winter.
Game meat is generally more expensive than the staple beef and pork, so it is not likely to become part of my regular diet. It does make for good conversation during special dinner parties, not to mention its leanness that supposedly is healthier (excluding the load of fat that needs to be added during the cooking process).

game dishes

For those looking to try some game meat, you can find them at Whitehouse Meat at St Lawrence Market. They provided the game meat for the class. The owner Leila sat in on the class, and looked rather pleased with the creation that night.

A memorable evening for sure!

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 in Review - Significant Foodie Moments

2011 has been a very busy year, both at work and in my personal life.  While I have not had time to write about my foodie adventures, I was still able to savour some significant foodie moments.  I even managed to lose a few food virginity this year!

White Truffle
What is more perfect than a piggy being born in truffle season? White truffles arrived just in time for my birthday dinner at Auberge du Pommier
white truffle

Cuy (aka Guinea Pig) 
A major event for me in 2011 was travelling in Peru for 3.5 weeks.  It has been my long time dream to try guinea pig (or as they are called in Peru, cuy).  I stumbled upon a celebration in Cuzco where indigenous Quechua women were selling traditionally stone roasted cuy.  Mmm ... The other white meat ...
guinea pig - cuy

Another commonly seen animal in Peru is Alpaca.  Not only do they provide wool, they make a tasty meal too!  And no, they don't taste like chicken.  (More like lamb.)

Being someone who likes my seafood raw whenever possible, I have prepared ceviche on my own many times.  However, it is no comparison to the ceviche at Cevicheria el Fayke Piurano in Lima.

The first major confusion upon arriving in Peru is thinking of menu as a menu - a book listing out dishes that a restaurant serve.  Menu (or cena for dinner) is actually a set meal, usually with an appetizer or soup, a main dish, and either a juice for lunch or dessert and sweet tea for dinner.  Unlike the gourmet prix fixe counterpart in North America, these meals are cheap, fast, and most of the time quite tasty.

Coincidentally, 2011 is the first year I have heard of scrapple (thanks to Food Network), and the first year I ate scrapple at Lancers Diner in Horsham, PA.  Mmm ... The other grey meat ... 

Wish everyone a bountiful & delicious 2012!