Tuesday, 18 November 2014

sour cherries

                                                  SOUR CHERRY LIQUEUR

There is something so rewarding about drinking your own homemade booze. Though I have yet to taste a good home made wine, there are some things of an alcoholic persuasion that taste best when made at home. Where I come from it’s the infamous plum brandy that comes to mind.  The other favourite is a sweet and flavourful sour cherry liqueur which is enjoyed after a meal like a dessert wine or on its own. The first time I tried it I must have been around 3 or 4 years old! We had guests over for dinner and as my parents were seeing everyone out at the front door, unbeknownst to them,  I made my rounds finishing each and every remaining drop of liqueur that the guests had left behind in their glasses. I then climbed on the couch and proceeded to give an enthusiastic rendition of ABBA’s Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie (A Man After Midnight). How’s that for an image?

Growing up it was my grandfather who made this drink and it was absolutely delicious. For the past couple of years I started making it as well because I missed the smell and taste of this nectar of the gods. Normally it’s made with pure alcohol but this being Ontario, finding pure alcohol is out of the question. So I use the next best thing, vodka. Come every July I seek out the ripest sour cherries I can find to make my batch however, this past July I decided to take a drive to the Niagara region to pick my own so I can milk every ounce of authenticity out of the experience, such a purist I am.

Just a bit of a warning though: if you are a person who requires immediate gratification, this may not be the drink for you as it requires  about 10 weeks of cellaring. On the bright side, it should be ready to drink just as the weather begins to get nippy. Think of it as a gift for future you, who probably really needs something sweet and strong to warm up those dark and cold days or wants to break out into a rendition of an old ABBA classic.

2 kg sour cherries, washed and dried (stems off, pits included)
800 g white sugar
3 L vodka

  1. First, choose the ripest sour cherries you can find, the darker the better.
  2. Wash and dry them with stems still on. I like to spread them on paper towels to let them air dry outside gently. De-stem the cherries after they are dried.
  3. In a large glass demijohn, pour in enough cherries to cover the bottom of the jar, cover them in a layer of sugar on top, follow this by another layer of cherries and sugar. Continue layering the cherries and sugar until finished making sure the last layer of cherries is covered by sugar.
  4. Cover the mouth of the demijohn with gauze and secure with an elastic. The reason for this is so that the fruit can breathe whilst ensuring the insects are kept out.
  5. Leave out in the sun to macerate for at least 4 days until the sugar is fully dissolved, and the dark red juices from the cherries have seeped out.
  6. Now it’s time to pour in the vodka. Roll bottle around gently in your hands so everything is evenly incorporated.
  7. Close the demijohn with a cork and place in a dark cool room for at least 10 weeks. Occasionally roll the bottle around to give things a bit of a mix.
  8. Once the end of October rolls around  it’s time to reap the rewards of this aromatic and sweet treat. You’re welcome!

Sour cherries are smaller and more translucent than regular cherries, and have a unique texture

TIP:  Don’t throw away those plump vodka-infused sour cherries!They are great in desserts and can last a long time in your freezer ready to use next time you want to bake dessert.

Monday, 10 November 2014




Hey, bite your tongue! No, I really do mean it. I am literally inviting you to seek out and try cooking with the marvellous beef tongue. As far as cuts of beef go, you simply cannot get a more tender and unctuous cut of meat. The irony is that if prepared properly tongue will literally melt on your tongue.

This weekend we took a meandering drive through the country enjoying the haunting beauty of the Ayr countryside on an overcast and cool November day. We stopped off at a couple of antique shops and contemplated our next meal. We were heading toward our favourite place for sourcing organic local meat when all of a sudden the heady aroma of cow manure infiltrated our car. My partner’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree and before we knew it we saw a group of laid back cows outside a barn chewing contently. Not 15 feet away we see a sign for Faul Farms in front of a beautiful old house set in what can only be called an idyllic pastoral setting beckoning us to try their naturally grown beef. So we parked our car and headed towards the country store that was presumably inside this house when a beautiful small black cat crossed our path. We chose to see this as a sign of good luck (as we both love black cats). She, along with a very friendly dog guided us to the front door of the house. It felt a bit odd to enter someone’s house just like that. We looked inside and had no idea which way to turn, it just looked like someone’s home. So we went back outside the front door, rang the bell to announce ourselves and nothing! So we proceeded back in again treading awkwardly in a random direction when suddenly something resembling a shop towards the end of the house came into full view, phew. We were greeted by two friendly young girls behind the counter and we proceed to check out their meat products. We found oxtail, which has been surprisingly difficult to find either because it gets sold out quickly or because it’s become a bit too steep in price. What I was really after now however, was tongue, and after scanning their product list I was left disappointed at its omission. I walk away to check out some other cuts when my partner calls me over to tell me that tongue is listed under the Pet Food section, appetizing right? This delicacy has been relegated to pet food?! Lucky pets I suppose. So I asked if they had any of the tongue in stock and they did. I asked if it’s fit for human consumption and the girl explained that most people don’t eat tongue so they market it as pet food. However, seeing as it was a whole tongue, I happily took it. Sophie, the black cat was on to something, this place was a lucky find and is truly worth checking out: http://www.faulfarms.com/Welcome.html

We were expecting two very special guests the next day, one of which had just flown in from overseas so this tongue had better be good, and boy was it ever! I could tell the tongue was fresh and healthy the moment I unwrapped it so I was excited to get to it and prepare it in a luxurious white wine sauce. I grew up with a tongue recipe my mother used to make which was served with a simple white sauce, however this sauce is an elevated and elegant version that is both simple to prepare and an exquisite accompaniment to the tongue.


INGREDIENTS (serves 4):

1 whole beef tongue
1 carrot, peeled
1 onion, peeled
1 stick celery
A few sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and/or rosemary and oregano
A few peppercorns
A couple of juniper berries (optional)

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. flour
3/4 cup of white wine
1 ladle-full of chicken stock
¼ cup of cream
10-12 fresh tarragon leaves
1 tsp. capers
4 thinly sliced small cornichons
Salt and pepper

  1. Wash the beef tongue thoroughly in cold water
  2. Place in a large stock pot along with onion, carrot, celery, herbs, and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Once boiling turn down the heat to low and let simmer gently for 3 hours
  3. Remove the tongue from the stock, let cool slightly then peel off the thick rough skin. It should come off quite easily.
  4. Slice tongue diagonally into ¼ inch slices. As you get to the thicker part of the tongue you will notice more fat and blood vessels. Continue slicing just the same then simply trim off those ugly bits (hopefully you have some grateful pet to feed them to). Wrap tongue slices in tinfoil and set aside while you make the sauce
  5. In a pan on medium heat, melt the butter then sauté the shallots. Add the flour and continue to fry for another couple of minutes while stirring with a wooden spoon
  6. Pour in the wine and let simmer until reduced by a third, the sauce should look fairly thick
  7. Pour in a ladle of stock and let reduce again by about  half
  8. Add cream along with salt and pepper to taste and let simmer for a few more minutes. The consistency of the sauce should be such that it’s thick enough to coat the back of your spoon, not too thick or clumpy nor too watery
  9. Once you are happy with the thickness and seasoning you can drop in your tarragon leaves and capers
  10. Place your tongue slices inside the sauce and let cook gently in the sauce for another minute
  11. Garnish with cornichon slices and a few more tarragon leaves
  12. Serve with roasted potatoes and fresh green salad leaves

Wednesday, 5 November 2014



TARRAGON CHICKEN WITH POTATO GRATIN                                          

I think that of all the herbs out there, tarragon has got to be the most exquisite and aromatic of them all. It isn't as versatile as other herbs but that’s just fine because it knows what it’s good at. When paired with particular ingredients, tarragon transforms them into something extraordinary and magical. 

Last night I was going through some tarragon withdrawal. I was missing the scent of tarragon wafting through the house so I decided to prepare a classic French dish that is a perennial favourite in our home: Tarragon Chicken.

The first time I had this dish perfectly executed was in a little mountain town called Arrowtown which is in New Zealand of all places. It is situated near renowned Queenstown which is in the south island of New Zealand. This picturesque little place has plenty of international tourists and expats who decided to make it their home, and who can blame them? This area is visually stunning, it’s home to some of the best vineyards in the world, the best skiing, mountains, crystalline lakes, etc. … heck, it’s the actual Middle Earth (much of the Lord of the Rings was filmed there).

Okay, back to the chicken. One evening a few years back, I went out to a French Restaurant in Arrowtown that was run by the French, even the wait staff was French so my confidence was high when I saw Poulet à l'estragon on the menu, I absolutely had to have it and I am still benefiting from it to this day.  It created such an impression on me that I decided to recreate it once I got home. After much tinkering and experimenting I finally had it down to a science. My tarragon chicken dish is rich, intense and exquisite. I have yet to meet a soul that hasn't fallen in love with it. So if you want to elevate your roast chicken to something exceptional, you will adore this recipe.


Makes 4 servings
  • For the roast chicken:
  • 1 whole organic chicken, about 1.2 -1.5 kg
  • One large onion, sliced
  • A bunch of fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 Tbs. soft butter                                    
For the tarragon gravy:
  • 1/2 of a bottle of white wine
  • Tarragon leaves, at least 20  (can also add 1 tsp. dry tarragon leaves for more intense flavour)
  • 1/2 cup of cream
  • Salt and pepper
For the Potato Gratin:
  • 4 potatoes (I prefer Yukon Gold because they keep their shape), very thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cup cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Grated cheese, I prefer Gruyere here but you can use something similar as well
  • Salt to taste

How to make the potato gratin
How to make the tarragon gravy

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F
  2. Rinse chicken then pat dry with paper towel
  3. Rub soft butter all over the body
  4. Season entire chicken well with salt and pepper
  5. Stuff half a lemon into the cavity along with 5-8 or tarragon sprigs, this will infuse the chicken with a mild lemon and tarragon flavour as well as ensure a moist bird
  6. Place the round onion slices flat on the roasting pan then lie the chicken breast-side up over the onion slices. This will not only protect the bird as it’ s cooking but will sop up all the rendered chicken fat and caramelize them for a knock-out gravy.
  7. Place the chicken in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 400 F. Let roast for 1 hour
  8. In the meantime, remove the excess water from the potato slices by wrapping them in paper towels or a clean dish cloth then putting a weight on them for about 15 min. I used a heavy cutting board.
  9. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a light simmer on medium heat along with the crushed garlic cloves and thyme sprigs. Let simmer on low for about 15 minutes until the flavour of the garlic and thyme imparts itself sufficiently to the cream. Remove the garlic and thyme sprigs. Season with salt and set aside.
  10. I  like individual gratins so I use ramekins to make this dish. Rub soft butter over the inside of the ramekins and place a layer of potato slices over the bottom of the ramekin. Spoon over some of the infused cream then sprinkle on some of the grated cheese. Repeat this layering process pressing down firmly on each layer, until you get to the top. Cover this last layer with slightly more cream and sprinkle a good amount of the cheese over top followed by a little knob of butter. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  11. Once your chicken has been roasting for a full hour, it should be golden and crispy and the fat should be nicely rendered covering the onions at the bottom of the roasting dish. At this point, pour in the white wine and continue cooking the chicken in the oven for another ½ hour.
  12. This is also a good time to put in your gratin ramekins as they take about half hour to cook.
  13. Once the half hour is up, remove chicken from the pan leaving behind that liquid gold. Wrap the chicken in tin foil and leave it to rest for 15 minutes.
  14. Meanwhile transfer the roasting pan to the stove to create that heavenly tarragon gravy. This is where the magic happens! By now the onions should be caramelized and almost melting into the rich liquid. Turn to stove on medium heat, and using a fork mash the onions down to thicken the liquid. Take the tarragon leaves off the stem, chop them up and add to the gravy, then season with salt and pepper. Let the gravy simmer and reduce by about a 1/3. The gravy should be thickened up now. Give it a taste to check if there is sufficient seasoning and tarragon flavour.  You can chop up more tarragon at this point or add some dry tarragon for a more intense flavour. Finally , stir in the cream and cook for another minute.
  15. Pour the gravy into a gravy boat  or pour directly over the roasted chicken. Make sure to leave some gravy aside because you WILL be going back to it over and over again as you surely devour your bird. Enjoy!

Sunday, 2 November 2014


After a longish hiatus from Tatty Apron over the summer due to big changes that culminated in a move to a new city, I’ve been busy finding new local food sources and breaking in a new stove/oven. I am finally settled in and can give it my all once more. 

I recently moved away from the big city and into a beautiful village surrounded by farms, which means that I have easy access to fresh produce, direct from the farm organic meat, and clean country air. So from now on I will be cooking with stunning local ingredients from in and around the tri-city area of Waterloo, Ontario. Given the abundance of awesome places I have already discovered in my reconnaissance mission over the past few months, I won’t be shy about showing them off and giving them the credit they deserve.

Now, let’s get down to food. In fact, let’s literally start from the ground, with mushrooms! Fungi are intrinsic to all life on earth! Much like love, they are mysterious, pleasurable, and sometimes downright dangerous, but always magical. It’s no secret that I am a love-struck fungophile. I love to look at them, pick them, eat them, photograph them, hell, I love them so much I’d marry them but alas, I’m already taken with a ‘fun guy’ (I had to go there, my apologies).

Luckily, there are a number of excellent places to gather mushrooms around this area. My favorite thus far is in the Halton Hills. I first went there with a group of Slow Food members and an expert mycologist towards the end of September. I wanted to expand my repertoire of edible mushrooms and understand the bounty of this particular area. Prior to this, I have gone out on my own in Germany, New Zealand, and Toronto where I have enjoyed picking and eating such outstanding mushrooms as Porcini,  Woodears, Dryad’s Saddle, Puffballs, and the Bear’s Head Tooth. I don’t recommend you go about it on your own because it’s dangerous. Case in point: on my foraging expedition with the renowned expert mycologist, what I learned above all else is just how much this guy didn’t know, just how much he was unsure of, and how inconsistent his knowledge was with that of other sources. Additionally, what he considered to be either inedible or of little culinary value, I along with many others would easily consider delicacies, i.e. the Slippery Jack.
 So if it’s so complicated and potentially dangerous, why bother? Well, my formula for picking mushrooms thus far has been based on a couple of principles: Do your research thoroughly, compare different sources, and pick only that which ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BE MISTAKEN FOR ANY OTHER KIND OF MUSHROOM. The mushrooms I listed above are perfect examples of this last principle. 

Among the exceptional mushrooms I was able to add to my repertoire while in the Halton Hills are the Slippery Jack, the Ash Tree Bolete, and the Saffron Milkcap. It was also exhilarating to find Porcini and a pretty decent spread of brightly coloured Toad Stools, you know, the Alice in Wonderland mushroom. I was told by the mycologist that these magic mushrooms are toxic, however Reindeer do love to eat them, so if you want to filter out the bad stuff but keep the psychoactive part, you have to resort to drinking the Reindeer urine. Well I know for a fact that some Europeans love the Amanita Muscaria for its culinary merits. They simply remove the toxic components by boiling the mushroom for a period of time then toss out the water. They then fry it, or serve it with olive oil and vinegar, while others simply pickle them. Be careful, it can be deadly if you mistake one Toad Stool for another.
Saffron Milkcap
Young Amanita Muscaria
Amanita Muscaria
Slippery Jack
Slippery Jack
Ash Tree Bolete
Underside of Ash Tree Bolete
Porcini/ King Bolete
Once my basket was sufficiently full, I drove home along winding country roads past picturesque horse  ranches and cattle fields eager to show my partner the day’s harvest. And so I got on to the cumbersome task of cleaning them with a moist dishcloth and brush. Some will have worms, maggots or bugs so it’s best to rub off or cut these parts off. The only special treatment goes to the Slippery Jacks. You have to have their sticky slippery skin removed before cooking for textural purposes. Once cleaned, roughly slice the mushrooms making sure they maintain their shape when cooking, nothing too fine, I like to leave small ones whole or slice them in half.


The best way to enjoy the flavour and texture of your wild mushrooms is to cook them simply:
  •            Melt some butter in the frying pan, add a bit of olive oil so the butter does not burn, then I throw in some chopped shallots, followed by the mushrooms along with some fresh thyme and/or rosemary.

  •       On medium heat, let the mushrooms cook until they release their moisture. It’s important to let the moisture cook off as this will give your mushrooms the concentrated flavour you want.

  •        Now give it a splash of white wine, let that reduce a bit, season with salt and pepper, and finally drop in another knob of butter for that rich silky texture. Serve alongside your preferred grilled meat and potatoes and you will be in mushroom heaven.

Notes: optimal foraging season is late September to late October