Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of the World-Canada

The Location: Canada
Continent: North America, North
Capital: Ottawa
Current Head of State: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Form of Government: Federal Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
Official Language: French and English
Ethnic Groups: Like the US, Canada is made up of immigrants and First Nation's Peoples. Nearly every ethnic group is represented.
Population: 36,048,521
Independence Day: July 1, 1867
Main Religion: Roman Catholicism, though the country does not have a national religion. They are a secular state.
Famous Canadians: L.M. Montgomery, William Shatner, K.D. Lang, Alanis Morissette
National Anthem:

The Food: Poutine and Butter Tarts
I have heard of poutine my entire life but have not had a chance to try it before. I am sad that I waited so long because it is a fantastic dish! I could have been enjoying it for years before now. People might make fun of it because it's a rather humble dish, but some of the best foods in the world are the simplest dishes.

Poutine, for those of you who have never heard of it before, is French fries with cheese curds on them, smothered in brown gravy. You definitely need a knife and fork for these fries. This presented two challenges for me from the start: I can't eat the cheese curds because I am lactose intolerant, and I cannot eat brown gravy, because I don't eat beef. So, a dish with only three components isn't going to be much of anything if you take two of the three away. I had to replace them with something different that would still keep the integrity of the original dish. I managed to do so, and it turns out it's not that hard to do at all. Chicken gravy was an easy and obvious replacement for the brown gravy. I decided to make gravy from scratch, though, rather than use a packet of gravy mix, but use a mix if you are so inclined. The harder item to replace, were the cheese curds. I found the solution on the internet: vegan cheese curds. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it works. It's tofu that's been flavored to mimic cheese curds. Tofu already has a texture akin to cheese curds, so it's a natural fit.

This recipe has several components that I made individually. I will write it out as I made it.

French fries(I chose to make homemade oven fries with garlic, but you can use whatever French fry you want. You can deep fry them or use frozen or even tater tots if you like. Just make sure they're nice and hot and you should be fine!)
Cheese curds(You can use regular cheese curds, as is traditional, or make the vegan cheese curds, like I did. Here is how I made the vegan curds: 1/3 cup lemon juice, 4 tsp. kosher salt, and torn pieces of firm tofu. Mix the juice and salt and stir for a while until the salt dissolves. Mix the tofu in and soak for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse and set aside until ready to use.)
Gravy(Brown gravy is traditional, but I made homemade chicken gravy. I actually roasted chicken breasts for my dinners this coming week and used the drippings, and some chicken broth for the base. I splurged and made a roux to thicken it. Roux is equal parts melted butter and flour. You cook it on the stove until it's thick and smells nutty. Then slowly pour the liquid into it and let it come to a boil. Stir very well with a whisk and season to taste with salt and pepper. But you can make a mix if you want to instead. I'm sure it would be fine as well.)

Cook the French fries and put them on a plate. Top them with the cheese curds, and pour gravy over that. You will need a knife and fork for this.
The "cheese" curds have a nice salty, lemony tang to them and it all mixes really well with the gravy. I had garlic on my fries so there was a garlic flavor in all this too. This was ridiculously amazing! I will absolutely have to eat these more often!

To go with the poutine, I needed a dessert. One of the desserts that came up over and over again was "butter tarts". This sparked a memory and I ran to my own personal recipe collection where I found a hand-written recipe card my grandmother had written out for me for butter tarts. My grandmother, and her whole side of the family is Canadian. So, I feel that using her recipe makes it even more authentically Canadian. The recipe was pretty easy and since both dishes were pretty simple, I wanted to make my own pastry. I just couldn't stomach the idea of store-bought pastry for these. I found another recipe in my collection and tried it out. Both were huge successes! I will write them out as I made them:

Pate Brisee
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4-1/2 cup ice water(I needed nearly the full 1/2 cup)

In a bowl, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or forks. Slowly add the ice water and mix until dough comes together. Knead gently a few times to combine and pat down into a disc. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. You can also freeze it for later use as well, if desired.

My Grandmother's Butter Tarts
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups brown sugar(Or do what I did: 1 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla

Combine all the ingredients except for the dough, in a medium bowl.
Roll out the dough to about 1/4" thick and using a 2" cookie cutter or a drinking glass, cut out as many dough rounds as possible.
These work best with mini muffin tins. Place the dough inside each cup of a mini muffin tin and fill with a spoonful of the filling mixture. Bake at 425 degrees for 8 minutes and then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 10-15 minutes longer.
I think these things are filled with crack or something, because I cannot stop eating them. The pastry was fantastic and it will definitely be my go-to pastry recipe from now on. It's buttery and flakey and is everything pastry should be.The filling is slightly like the filling in a pecan pie, but not as gooey or sweet. The walnuts work really well in this.

I shared these with my Canadian grandmother and grandfather and also my Canadian dad and my mom, who is technically a Canadian citizen as well, because her mother was Canadian. I too am technically Canadian, due to my father. I think that's what made these dishes extra delicious, because it's not just amazing food, it's also my heritage.

While eating these, I of course had to watch a few episodes of one of my favorite Canadian tv shows: Road to Avonlea. I have several Canadian shows I love, but this one just sounded right today. If you've never watched it, you really should. It's by the same people who made Anne of Green Gables and is set in the same town. Visiting Prince Edward Island is on my bucket list. I'd like to visit all my Canadian family one day, maybe I'll do all of that at the same time! I'll bring them some butter tarts to try...!

Vegan Cheese Curds Recipe

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National Anthem Video

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