Monday, November 19, 2012

I flirted with excellence and she slapped me in the face

If you want to skip the sappy personal stuff, click through the jump.

I come from a tradition of solid home cookery. Growing up, my mother was expert with a spatula, writing a popular cooking column for the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin and running a successful wedding cake business for over ten years despite having a tactile allergy to chocolate. Ron Eade once did a big piece on her latkes that caused her to briefly be known as the "latke queen of Canada" because it was republished in newspapers across the country. My father was - and continues to be - a passionate backyard griller who probably ranks meat cooked on flame as one of the ten best things that Earth has to offer. He doesn't have a broad repetoire but what he does make, he makes with great pride.

So needless to say I am a very, very lucky guy that grew up ridiculously well-fed, and with the appreciation of quality, from-scratch food. It was only when I moved to the United Kingdom for grad school that I bothered cooking for myself, but when I did I went all in. In a year I went from boiling pasta to making paella valenciana, feijoada, Belgian rabbit stew with a rabbit I cleaned myself, and my very favourite dish, khoreshe fesanjan. I discovered food through my friends; each new culture brought their ingredients to the table and I used them with very, very mixed results.

I'm proud of what I accomplished because, as you probably know by now, I only have the use of one hand and two functioning hands is pretty important in the kitchen. Some things simply overwhelmed me because of my disability. Cleaning an octopus was the worst. I have problems removing fish skin and butchering a chicken properly. Scrabble would have been easier hobby.

I'll be honest though; even with my disability aside, I'm kinda just okay. I don't compare myself to Ottawa's extraordinary cadre of so-called "amateur" foodie-bloggers that our community is so lucky to have.  FoodiePrints; The Gouda Life; Sheltered Girl Meets World; If Music be the Food of Love, Play On; RoughChop; Simply Fresh - these are just a few places among many where you can read and see an unpretentious love for cuisine and drink. They travel and document everything from casual wall-holes to epic concoctions only for the faint of heart. As for recipes, they do a great job alternating between the quick, weekday gourmet foods for the 9-to-5ers, to serious projects for veteran home cooks. And, unlike yours truly, they can operate a camera at a level that exceeds a four year old.

I first wanted to join their ranks. This was a step in the evolution of me as Homo coquendam that started from childhood but I got gun shy, so I decided to just write about burgers. Given that I was occupying  narrow culinary space, I wanted to do right by the burger. One way of achieving that was to do an absurd amount of research like Kenji did, develop a signature blend, and following that a burger of untold magnificence that would shake the very foundations of burger history.

This was okay.
Attempt #1 was a home-ground oxtail and brisket burger with tomato and tarragon salsa (aka, tomatogon), manchego cheese, Belgian endive and topped with a Maudite reduction.

So was it excellent? Meh, not really. It was just okay; could have been better. The flavour combinations were very good but texturally, I failed to consider the need to grind the meat finely enough. I flirted with excellence and she laughed me off because despite all my swagger my fly was open (proverbially). It was a (again proverbial) slap in the face because despite my experience I let myself down.  That's okay though. Life's about learning from mistakes and moving on.

You can read on for instructions and learn from my mistakes.

Monday, November 5, 2012

When life hands you lemons, you make burgers

My wife and I had a peculiar evening last week. We were trying to get from our place in Little Italy to IKEA in the west end, but the universe was having other thoughts and decided to throw up a few roadblocks. We took longer than we had anticipated to leave, there was an accident on the 417, and subsequent traffic was miserable. Thing is, this was supposed to be prefaced by a burger and beer at the relatively new Big Rig Brewery. We attempted to at least scrounge a review by stopping at Mill Street, but it was packed to the gills. Nearly ready to give up and get some neighbourhood pho, I spoke words that very rarely leave my mouth: "Sweetie, let's go to the Market!"

I don't like the Market much, for reasons that are entirely my own. (It's not you, Market, it's me.) It's crowded with young'uns and malcontents, crappy drivers and BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM rabble rousing they call music these days. That's its identity and Ottawa needs that area, but few things draw me there. I'll put up with it for Murray Street - the restaurant and the street itself - which seems to be avenue that calls most to dames and fellas rather than characters from Jersey Shore.

It's taking a long time for me to get to the burger, eh? I'm liking the sound of my own typing today.

But lo, amidst much darkness there lies a gleaming jewel of food and beverage known as Brothers Beer Bistro. There you may delve into an artfully-crafted beer menu and order yourself artfully-crafted brew served with a side of artfully-crafted food. Located in the digs formerly occupied by a Japanese restaurant at 366 Dalhousie, Brothers has a slick yet understated decor and offers some of the best service you'll ever have. The kitchen serves up gourmet spins on comfort food, including one of the best burgers I have had in the capital.

This should not come as a surprise. After all, Brothers was up for one of the OpenFile/Ottawa Citizen best burger awards, despite it being a horse too dark for the proles. To many it seemed like this place came out of nowhere to earn accolades without even concentrating on the burger as a medium.

Just how was it so good? Read on after the jump. Unfortunately the dimness of the place meant that the pictures aren't very good. Sorry!