Friday, May 20, 2011

This Summer on Button Soup...

Most of the posts on Button Soup this year have been about the Supper Club.  In case you've missed any, there have been four dinners:

The Supper Club is taking a break for the summer.  I am typing this post from Semmering, Austria, which is an hour or so south of Vienna, in a mountain pass between the provinces of Lower Austria and Styria.  I am here for one month to cook in their kitchens, and then for a second month to explore the region with Lisa.

I debated for some time whether I would write about this trip here on Button Soup.  I describe Button Soup as 'Food from Edmonton, AB' in both the geographical and cultural sense, and I've always focused on home-cooking, rather than the professional sort. I wondered if writing about Austrian kitchens, and professional ones at that, would somehow upset the soul of Button Soup.

Now that I am here, I realize that I have to write about this place.  Studying foreign cuisines teaches you about your own.  In fact, several of my past experiments have been inspired by or stolen from the food of central and eastern Europe.  For instance:
So, over the summer you can expect lots of posts about Austrian food.

Freelance Editor's Competition

I will be typing my posts on a German keyboard.  The major differences  between a German keyboard and its English counterpart are the inclusion of the 'umlauted' vowels (ü, ö, ä...), and that the 'y' and the 'z' keys are in the oppostie positions.  I can't seem to unlearn what Mavis Beacon taught me, and I am constantly typing 'zou' instead of 'you,' and 'verz' instead of 'very.'  As one of those neurotic, condescending pricks who corrects people's grammar and doesn't respect menus with spelling errors, it's extremely frustrating.

If you ever see that I have typed a 'y' where there should be a 'z,' or vice versa, be the first to comment on it and win a jar of homemade preserves.

There's one more exciting feature this summer on Button Soup.

Introducing Lisa Zieminek, Button Soup's Senior Backyard Correspondent

Lisa is my girlfriend.  We live together in McKernan.  She taught me how to cook.

While I am cooking in Austria, Lisa will be closely observing the growth of the edible plants in our backyard in Edmonton.  She will periodically post about some exciting kitchen preparations of those plants.

It's going to be a busy summer.  Stay tuned...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dandelion Salad

At left is the first harvest from the yard, largely rhubarb and dandelions.

When picked young dandelions are tender and bitter, with a slender red stalk. Classically, they are often served with bacon, garlic croutons, hard-boiled egg, and vinaigrette.

Here's a variation on that theme.

Firstly, in addition to the greens, this year I gave the roots and flowers a go.  The roots have the same bitterness as the leaves, obviously with an added crunch.  The flowers are very fun to eat.  They have a slight sweetness

Instead of the classic hard-boiled egg I used a soft-poached quail egg.  When broken, the yolk runs through the leaves and tempers their bitterness.

The dressing was made with cider vinegar, a touch of mustard, a touch of bacon fat, and canola oil

Instead of bacon I used pig's ear.

I should tell you a bit about pig's ear.

When I make headcheese, I simmer the entire head of the pig.  To make the soft, creamy version of headcheese that I enjoy, I include mostly the jowl fat and the tender meat.  I exclude parts of the head that will conflict texturally, notably the ears, which have cartilage in the them.

Since they have been simmered extensively, these bits of ear were coated in seasoned flour and fried crisp.

At first bite, the fried ears are not much different than crispy bacon. Once you reach the centre there is the distinct crunch of the cartilage.  A very interesting eating experience.

This salad goes well with weissbier.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Perennials Bequeathed

In January, Lisa and I bought a house in McKernan.  The backyard was a gift that spring has recently unwrapped for us.  Over the last couple weeks we've discovered that the previous owners of this house were active gardeners who established a mass of edible perennials.

Following are the edible plants that are appearing in our yard.  If you think we've misidentified anything, please let me know.  (We're new at this...)




Juniper (with mature berries)

Raspberries (lots of raspberries...)




Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Birch Syrup

I just had my mind blown.

While Lisa and I were collecting sap from our maple trees, Judy was doing the same from a birch tree in her backyard in Spruce Grove.

She just brought over some of her syrup.  I had a spoonful.  I'm reeling.

I mentioned that our maple syrup has a distinct fruitiness that I've never come across in commercial syrup.  Judy's birch syrup tastes like fruit juice - like pear juice, I would say - and it finishes with some of the green, nutty flavour of the fresh sap.

The birch syrup is very thin, nowhere near as thick and sticky as store-bought syrup.  The flavour is remarkable.  I don't know exactly how I'll use it in my kitchen.  I might just have a spoonful for breakfast every morning, until its gone.