Monday, December 12, 2011

Magazine Review: Spacing Fall 2011

I have already gone through some of the local magazines in the last while and I have left spacing until last.  It has been the hardest one to review for a variety of reasons.  I always look at this magazine as a blog first and I read it like I would read a blog.  

I bounce around the issue and ignore the pieces that I am not interested in and spend a lot of time on the pieces that I like.  The best blogs are conversations.  The best pieces in spacing invites disagreements and discussions.  This is where the value in spacing lives.  It is the beginning for a larger engagement.

I'll try to explain a little better with some examples.  Last year I was talking about how the best ethnic food is no longer going to be found in traditional ethnic centres (i.e. the best Indian food will not be found on Gerrard street or Italian on College.)  I was not quite sure what that meant.  There is a thoughtful piece about the move of good ethnic eats to suburbia by Sarah Efron.  It attempts to explain the migration of communities from downtown to the suburbs and it does provide a likely story.

This year, a new market started in the Beaches and I wonder how they will survive.  A piece that examines the business of the markets written by Dylan Reid appears using the St Andrew's Market as its case study.  It provides some good background information on how it came to happen and whether it will succeed.  It provides a basis to open a discussion on the viability.  Coupled with the article around whether farmers' markets are just feel good by Shawn Micallef and you begin to get the start of a dialogue.

The rest of the food related articles are similar thought probes that provide the opportunity for action, discussion and mobilization.  It makes we want to get up and be a joiner.  Something I definitely am not.  But then...  I go to the website and try to find a way to become engaged.  It seems that this may just be another magazine with no ability for readers to become more involved.  It is obvious that the people behind spacing are empassioned and informed.  They are doers.  But there is no way for me to find my way into the picture.  I am having difficulty navigating by category and finding pieces that I know must exist on their site.  Hopefully this is a temporary technical problem.

The whole idea just promises so much.  With such smart writing and good ideas, it should be making a bigger impact on our city.  You need to take the mag along with the blog and all the other social media before you can become connected and it shouldn't be as filled with barriers as it is.  Still, pick it up.  It will get you thinking and if that is all it does, then that is enough.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What could be worse?

So, I have been feeling off for the last few weeks.  My cast iron stomach has been feeling like stainless steel.  I even had heartburn.  My wife was sick a little while with a terrible cold and I believe that I may be getting it.  I was feeling sorry for myself because when I get a cold and lose my sense of smell, I do not like food.  It tastes dull and the best part is the texture.  I lose my appetite and largely eat soup and whatever because it does not matter.

Earlier this year, I had my wisdom teeth out.  (Stick with me, this is not a litany of poor me.) I only had two teeth to remove and the operation was not very painful.  I was put off my feed for a few days before getting right back on the regular meals.  There was some issues with carrots and nuts but really it was not much.  Still, I complained a little and felt a little sorry for myself for the week.

Like many people, I am at risk for heart disease, mainly because of my genetics.  I can keep the risks down but it will never bring it to zero.  It does mean making sure that I understand more about salts and complex starches and sugars.  But in reality, it means being a moderate and enjoying all aspects of food.  I have learned even more about seasonal fruits and vegetables.  I cook better without cooking "healthy".  This type of consideration makes you better at meal planning and constructing a diet that no one would consider a diet.  This I do not consider a reason to feel sorry though sometimes I wonder about inevitability.

While I am waiting for the inevitable of the cold to happen, I have been going through some old posts that I have been meaning to read.  I came across Life, On the Line which is Grant Achatz's memoir and realized that I was being a bit of a baby.  This guy had mouth cancer.  For him, it wasn't just about the inability to taste but it was about his livelihood.  I am not sure how much worse it could get for a chef or a foodie.

Last week, a link came in my email about a relative of my wife's who also has oral cancer.  It is a cool video of a novel feeding tube.  I work in healthcare research related field and I found the video very interesting.  It seems to me that more and more care is being taken to ensure that patients are being treated as people rather than a more prescriptive practice of telling them what to do for the convenience of the healthcare system.  But what struck me was the idea of not eating food but being full.

Another relative had a feeding tube and one of the things that they missed most was the sensation of chewing.  It felt odd to be full without at least partaking in the physicality of eating let alone tasting.  So, for the rest of the flu and cold season, I am not going to complain about not being able to taste.

I do wonder if I was unable to eat for an extended period of time how it would affect me.  My dad after finding out that he had heart disease (Metabolic syndrome), eventually tired of eating none of his favourite foods and began eating what he liked in moderation.  In the end, something else got him.  I guess I am glad that he did not let his disease dictate his diet wholly.  This lesson of moderation and doing what you love was not lost on me.  I still wonder what I would do if I was forced to an extreme change but I am grateful that I do not have to worry about that.  I enjoy my meals while keeping one eye to the future.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Magazine Review: dandyhorse

So, I am in a local magazine shop looking for the new Lucky Peach, and I see dandyhorse still on the racks.  That reminds me that I have not reviewed the food issue that I picked up this summer.  I am going to rectify this oversight right this minute.

dandyhorse is a magazine about bicycle culture in Toronto subtitled, Toronto on two wheels.  I have always been a secret wannabe cyclist wanting to recapture the joy of cycling down the hill like a kid.  I bought a bike two summers ago and have only ridden it about a dozen times but so badly I want to get to the point where I am at least riding weekly.  Finally, I had an excuse to pick it the magazine after noticing the covers for some time. They have always been interesting, and colourful like candy and youth.  This issue was about food and I could fool myself that I was buying it for the Bob Blumer guest editor thing, even though I was secretly trying on the whole bike culture thing.

I have followed Bob Blumer since his Surreal Gourmet days.  I was a little afraid that this issue would be overly spandexed and all hyper granola, embracing nutrition and the engagement of scientific foodism.   Of course, coffee and calories do factor in but there was more than I expected.

Sandwiched amongst those articles was an  article about food delivery around the world and in Toronto.  Tiffins and beer are being delivered here and the pictures of the delivery vehicles were cool.  But more importantly, the tone wasn't one of pedantic pedallers or eco-nuttiness but rather a worldly tone of how other places in the world do things and, gosh, wouldn't it be nice if we could too.

Most articles were short with just a few points to pique interest.  Sometimes it felt as if someone had taken a Powerpoint presentation and turned it into a magazine.  In this way, it reminded me of older 'zines that were edited by one person who wrote about stuff they liked to varying degrees of success.  Recipes from Cava and Parts and Labour were served with a side of fashion spreads and pictures of people and their bikes.  Sometimes the logic was loose and more about interest.

The marriage of food and bikes seemed a little fanciful and forced like when my five year old takes his favourite stuffy to school and describes all the things that his stuffy did that day.  Much like I enjoy the whimsy of my child in these moments, I kind of enjoyed this zine in the same way.  It doesn't hold enough attention for me as a non-cyclist but when I finally get on my dandyhorse and pretend that I am looking through the ears of a pretend stallion, then maybe I will give this magazine another chance.  If you like serious fancy then maybe you'll like this.  If you are right now baking your own granola and figuring out your calorie requirements for tomorrow while determining your optimal sleep patterns then give this a pass.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Menu: Church Supper Dinner Party Menu

Here is the working menu for an upcoming dinner party based on the church suppers of my youth.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Store Review: Sausage Partners

The new meat shop on the block opened a few weeks ago after a long spring and summer of a teasing coming soon sign.  The had created so much expectation that they had updated the sign several times with notes on what was going on.

It turns out that they ended up doing a whole renovation that required much design to meat the health codes. (I made a typo up there but I'm leaving it in.)  The problem, in my opinion, with the health codes is that they do not take into account the size of the business and sometimes this causes over design.  Even with all these codes, the big meat purveyors can get it wrong.  A small Mom and Pop shop cannot afford to get it wrong but someplace like Maple Leaf can take a six month hit and still find a way to survive.

Anyways, now that the digression has run its course, onto the review.  I live in a Marvelous Meat Triangle.  I am now as close to Royal Beef and Close to the Bone as this place.  Sure, there is Meat on the Beach and the Chopping Block but one isn't quite what I am looking for in a butcher and the other just falls out of that easy area for walking.

The Sausage Partners is open near Greenwood on Queen Street East. It is a small shop that has home canned goods on one side, local produce displayed in the middle with the meat counter at the back.  It reminds me of the old Farmer's Daughter on Kingston road was setup but Sausage Partners is focused on meat instead.

The are similar to the other places mentioned above in that they are butchers.  They get huge slabs of meat (hanging meat) and break it down.  This means that there is only so much in the counter but you are only limited by your imagination and knowledge in what you can get.  Also, sometimes you will not be able to get what you want.  This is where the second common thing happens.

These are butchers.  I know that sounds like the first thing but go with me.  This means that given the application that you are doing (grilling, braising, high and hot  or a particular recipe), they can give you suggestions or substitutions with out too much trouble.  Try that at a grocery store.

The last commonality is the bits they add.  Carmen at Royal has all sorts of gourmet goodies that she gets in because she wants to try it and is curious.  Often, they take off at other larger stores.  I got my first vanity salts there.  Mary's partner at Close to the Bone does smoking so you can see chips, rubs and other stuff there.  At the Sausage Partner's, I believe that it is Lorraine's preserves that will carry the day and set it out from the crowd.

I have had some of the sausages there and they are good but not the standout.  It is the bacon.  That is good bacon.  Real good bacon.  The package of chips says hickory but this don't taste like no hickory smoked bacon I have had.  It may be the freshness but it tastes like one of my best memories of bacon.

So, even though I have two go to butchers, I am looking at finding a way of adding a third.  It makes me feel like a sixteen year old boy again.  Maybe that's why the name sounds like a bad porn from the '80s.

Cafe Review: T-ShirtGuys/Plan B

I hesitate to write about this shop because I have set out a few rules when I do these reviews.  I try not to read what other reviewers have written so that I do not react to them and so that I can form my own opinions.  One of the other guidelines is not to know too much about the owners so that my relationship with them does not impact my writing.

So, I read a bunch of comments and blogs.  I also talked to the owners about their shop and what I liked and didn't like.  I don't think it makes a difference in my review but there it is.

This cafe is located at 401 Logan at the corner of Logan and Dundas.  It is situated in the old Woods building at the south side.  It is set in an old loading dock a with garage door opening on one side, a door to the road on the other and of course, you can get to it through the T-ShirtGuys retail front end.  There is an outdoor space that is converted to something like a patio.  It kind of reminds me of the front of a firehall on an open house day.

The inside has the feeling of a general store.  There place feels mismatched in a good way.  You are walking into a working environment with a cafe that serves Mountain View coffee for a reasonable price on one side.  One of the cheapest prices for a middle of the road coffee not found in a place with the name Tim's or Mac.  But it is much better.  There are other zones within the area.  You can browse their tshirts or buy flowers or penny candies.  It is just under the clutter mark and above the visually interesting.

When the development around the corner is finished, the working from home thirty somethings will have a comfortable location with people they can relate.  The cafe will be bringing in goods from Knead bakery and maybe even getting a store front set up.  I like this type of collaboration where different small businesses or business concepts get together and provide a joint space.  It makes sense so that if something does not work, then that space can be freed up without leaving a gaping hole in the place.  Walk down East Chinatown or stretches of Yonge Street to see what I am talking about.

I would normally end my review now but this is where reading other reviews has influenced me.  I can see where people feel as if they are being ignored or treated in a lackadaisical fashion but I am not sure if they are justified.  When I have gone in, there has rarely been someone at the cash of the cafe.  You are walking into a production environment and the cafe is Plan B.  Plan A is making tshirts.

The person responsible for serving has always been there but sometimes it appears as if they are customer as they are sitting down and working on their laptop or some other such thing.  This is where I wonder if it is a generational thing.  I recognized this casual approach to service from living in a rural area.  I meant when I said it is like a general store.  They get to know you quick, in both the good ways and the bad ways. This is not the way employees act but rather people who are running the business.  I think it is inconsiderate as a consumer to expect that someone is waiting to take your order in a mom and pop shop.  Especially when, as these people are, they are social enough to ask how your day is going and make appropriate inappropriate comments (I was called crazy for wanting raisins in my butter tart).

Would I recommend this as a great coffee shop?  No.  Would I recommend this for someone who wants a community vibe and have a place to do some work and hang out?  Yes.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Magazine Review: ACQTASTE

Over the summer and early fall, there have been a number of food themed special issues from Lapham's Quarterly, dandyhorse, Creative Nonfiction and spacing (No link available yet).  These are one offs that try to marry to varying degree of awkwardness, their niche with food in general.  Then there was a BIG launch of Lucky Peach, the McSweeney's entry into food starring David Chang followed by their first recipe book, Mission Street Food.

Food is hot right now.  Food issues are now becoming reasons for municipal debate in areas such as food regulations, food carts in Toronto and the whole Stop the MegaQuarry.  There has been a growing food literature but it all seems disjointed.  The above magazines fall into one of two types, niche magazines that are putting out a special issue that loosely cleaves to their interest (food as fuel, food as fodder for thought or a miscellany of food related facts) or very focused, hyperfocused on one topic of food (Ramen).  These have all been entertaining and eye opening to some degree.

Along comes ACQTASTE with the acqward title, (see what I did there) that is probably to be read acquired taste.  It is roughly the size of Kobo or Kindle with a distinct layout mix of photos and text.  The articles cover people cooking your food, what a chef's brunch looks like, Jen and Grant and other pieces including two thought pieces at the end.

This magazine is largely a product of Chuck Ortiz, if the published piece bylines are to be believed.  This magazine reminds me of another first issue that I read a long time ago.  It was another high concept and specific magazine that many thought could not make it.  Wired was the magazine that came along at the advent of the web and wrote about technology culture.  It was nebulous at first with a design aesthetic that eventually influenced web design and other magazines.  A good portion of the magazine was electronic and connected.  It was a San Jose Mercury for the world but told in small stories with big thoughts.

ACQTASTE could be the Wired for food.  I believe that acqtaste could be the advent of magazines for portable readers.  It is the first magazine that really gets the format and how stories need to be told for a smaller screen with limited attention.  Not the small twitter feeds but rather the blog sized pithiness with weight in few words that can be given.

Looking at their website is required for understanding acquired.  Yes, the writing can be a little clunky and quirky much like blog writing but there is one opinion piece at the end that makes me believe that there is a need for overarching stories about food.  'The Space Between' begs to be unpacked liked a McLuhan koan into its component parts.  It reminds me of a finished dish where you can taste the components but know that underneath the simplicity of sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, there lives some serious technique of thought and writing.

The electronic bits are less expensive than the paper bound magazine and some thought should be given to creating a decent digital version of the magazine after the fact.  The extra content on the website follows the same design as the mag.  It fits. I am not sure how one makes this work as a business model but as a paying customer, it is immensely satisfying and I look forward to the next issue.  I will pay because I understand the worth.  Like a simple dish ordered from a good restaurant, you know good when you try it.   It is not simply an acquired taste.  (oops, see what I did again?)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Restaurant Review: Lazy Daisy's Cafe

This cafe opened up on Danforth and Coxwell just over a week ago.  This corner is the beginning of Gerrard Bazaar or more colloquially, Little India.  The area is sorely lacking in family focused eateries with a middle income focus.  This strip needs a little life that will change the current trend of collected for lease signs interspersed with businesses that have not changed in a while.  It needs to serve the community that lives and works here while maintaining its roots.

There was a buzz and excitement that was created by the owner in a number of ways.  Firstly, it is one of the first few businesses in the area that is not focusing solely on South Asian culture or clientele.  Secondly, when it was being renovated, local people were invited to look inside and talk to the owner.  Facebook also played a huge part as updates about the pace of work going on and what the whole thing was about.  On the first day of school, Bowmore parents were given a free coffee at the school.  These are all ways of engaging community and more importantly potential customers.  People hope for success for things they like.  Look at the mania around the Toronto Maple Leafs every year as they begin the season.

The interior of the place plays heavily on the mix of cafeteria and rustic cottage with high gloss wooden tables with a hint of rough bark edges.  Wooden crates act as shelves holding preserves and pottery.  There is a train playtable in the corner that makes its clear who is the primary clientele.  It is an urban cottage by way of IKEA.  It looks like many shops and roadside restaurants along the highways of cottage country.

During some mornings, shell shocked young business people look surprised to see a small tumble of sub five year olds noisily playing.  Maybe the look is due to lack of sleep or due to the realization that a prime cafe embraces non paying customers in this way instead of acting as a office away from home.  Or maybe I just find the whole thing funny.

On the weekend, it was busy as it appeared that anybody with kids came in to try the affordable sandwiches and baked goods.  The sandwiches are made with bread from Knead Bakery, as are all the goodies.  The theme of the cafe is local first and they largely deliver.  The sandwiches that we tried included the "Wandering Ouef" and a cheese melt that contained a curry chutney.  The kids loved it all.  All the sandwiches were not something that you could make easily at home but they were done well at a price that allows you the luxury of having someone else make it.  I tried their chili and found it lacking in depth of taste.  It was good but the flavours had not developed.  It was more tomato and not enough spices but given the focus, it is easy to see why those choices were made.  Importantly, all sandwiches were sub ten dollars and we, as a family, didn't spend more than fifty dollars for the lunch.

The coffee that will act as a lifeblood for morning service is from Te Aro.  The milk is sweet and perfectly warmed.  However, the coffees lack coffee punch.  The milk dominates.  It is strange to contrast this coffee against a coffee from the Bandit up the street.  While the Bandit is more serious about its coffee, Daisy is serious about delivering a decent fresh meal to local residents and their kids.  It should do well and I wish it the best.  I just hope they fix the small problems as they move forward.

Lazy Daisy's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Recipe: Christmas time's acoming!

Okay, maybe Christmas is still a ways away.   We are just finishing Thanksgiving and getting ready for Halloween.  I am one of those people that dread the coming holiday consumer rush as each store outdoes itself to be first with the decorations and advertising pressuring one to find the gift that you cannot live without giving or receiving.  There are some things that have to be done in the proper time.  Christmas cake is one of them.

So many people remember the brick of cake that becomes the foundation of many jokes.  They are funny because they are true.  Think about the fruit cake that must have been regifted.  Every year. The one with the marzipan topping?  Remember it?  Good.  Now forget all that.

Last year, I began to make my own Christmas cake based on a recipe from edible TO.  This post is really about breaking down a recipe and rebuilding it in your own desires -- Six Million Dollar Man style.  The basic recipe ratio is: 3 cups dried fruit : 1 cup liquor : 2 tsp or so of spices (depends on strength of spice) : 1 cup nuts (substitute something else if you want) : 1 recipe of batter.

The recipe at edible TO require a minimum soak of 24 hours followed by 5-6 weeks of curing before serving, so the cupcakes, yup that's right, this recipe is about muffins, go into the oven 2nd week of November to be ready for a Christmas meal or gift.

There are a number of different options for flavouring the cake.

Choose the booze and accent:  Use fruits that are in the alcohol that you are using.  For instance, using Grand Marnier, amp up the mixed peel and add extra lemon or cranberries.

Choose the booze as a base note:  Dark rum as a base for figs, currants, and prunes with toasted hazelnuts as the nut components.

Use a spice palette as a guide:  Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves with dried apple, raisins, and pear with light rum, or try coconut rum, papaya, mango, dried coconut, macadamia nuts, nutmeg, allspice for an island taste.

I am thinking about trying a coconut, curry, ginger combination with maybe a ginger liquor but I haven't quite figured it out.  

The point is that any recipe can be used as a jumping off point if you allow yourself some latitude in trying to discover what makes the recipe tick.  Let me know if you try some combination that rocks or doesn't.  Sometimes failure is more informative than success.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ontario Provincial Election: Is Voting for Food a Single Issue?

So, at the last municipal election and federal election, I was so disgusted at the opportunities presented to me that I decided to become a single issue voter.  Food was going to be my lens through which to view candidates.  A funny thing happened.  It turns out that food is a very interesting and eye opening way to look at parties and candidates.

Firstly, let's start by my leanings -- I am a fiscal conservative coupled with a social progressive bent.  If I was to identify with any political leanings, it would be social anarchist.  It is helpful to note that this can put me on the far right (small to no government) to the far left (belief in collectivism but not necessarily unions or communes).  This makes it difficult in the current political climate to find a candidate let alone a party to vote for.

Last elections, I had to do all the work myself but this time a great website, Vote ON food, put that all together.  What struck me when reading this report card is just how much you can learn about a party and its tenets by reading their particular view on food.

Before we go too far down that road, let me address the idea of food being a single issue.  It is as much a single issue as Healthcare or the Economy.  Food means food security, agriculture and food processing jobs, international trade, trade deficit, food safety, cost of food (inflation measures), healthcare, environment and so much more.  Food is a necessary condition for life; it is a cornerstone issue like housing and income.

I am surprised at the attitude of the Conservative party in terms of supporting a Buy Local movement  Firstly, the support of this could be seen by the international community as a subsidy and an unfair trade practice.  Secondly, it requires a bigger government policy and represents an intrusion by the government into the marketplace.  Thirdly, it runs counter to free trade practices.  The shock is at the counter conservative approach at the strongest or the rejection of some neo-conservative values at the weakest.

The Liberal approach is more of a market support to grow markets.  An investment and marketing strategy.  Basically, they are bragging about a more robust Foodland Ontario.

The NDP, of course, in this topsy turvy world agree mostly with the Conservatives.  One of these things is exactly like the other.  Politics and bedfellows.  This one issue also shows how little difference there is fundamentally between the parties.

Go through the platforms yourself.  Inform yourself.  I am really impressed with the group that did this.  They do not have answers but only hope that we, as a voting public, begin to hold our political masters or servants to account.  As long as these issues are put on the table then we, the Ontario family, can sit down and discuss food.  It is one of the most fundamental things we can do.

Recipe: Hot Sauce

I should just start calling these recipes non-recipes and be done with it.  GOOD magazine put out a call a few months ago about redesigning recipes and there were some brilliant ideas about how to change the standard recipe so that it better reflected how to cook.  I could steal a few of those approaches but in the meantime...

I guess I will start by what I did and then put down a receipt that more or less follows what I did.  I took just over a handful of mixed hot peppers including habaneros and thai chiles, put them in a small pot.  I took off the stems but if you wish you can chop them and take out the seeds and other related membranes.  Added a bit of salt and some sugar.  The sugar isn't necessary -- sometimes I add it, sometimes I don't.  Put enough vinegar (cider in this case but any can be used) to boil them in.  Boil the chiles long enough for the rawness to come out of them.  You will know when some of them become too plump or wrinkled.  Take them and mash em up.  That is all.

Too thick: Add vinegar.
Too thin:  Mix in other stuff like pickled peppers (hot or red), pickled carrots or fruit.  Any raw additives may reduce the shelf life depending on the acidity.  You are just making a quick pickle.
Too salty: Not much you can do but use it as both a salt replacement and a hot sauce.
Too hot:  See the too thin piece.

85g peppers
1 tsp salt
2 tsp pickling spice
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1. Remove stems from peppers.  Remove seeds and veins for a milder version.
2. Add all ingredients to a small pot over a medium high heat.
3. Simmer until peppers become plump and some may wrinkle (10-15 minutes)
4. Let cool slightly and then whir in blender until desired consistency is achieved.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: Mission Street Food

I don't need another recipe book.  My wife states that categorically when we look over our 60+ cookbooked shelf squatting in the corner.  This does not include the boxes of magazines, coffee related fiction and other food fiction.  They are magazines and therefore do not count.

So, I did not want to like this first book in McSweeney's new food imprint called Insatiables.  It was so quick on the heels of their new "Lucky Peach" magazine.  What to expect from those crazy kooky crew from McSweeney's?

Well, the book is about an innovative restaurant that started out as a pop up taco truck restaurant that then morphed into a once weekly restaurant within a restaurant that eventually became other food related venues such as a hamburger joint and a full fledged restaurant.  These entrepreneurs gave the profits from their first few ventures to charity while creating innovative ways of starting food ventures.

The book is separated into three parts; taco truck, restaurant and recipes.  I became really pumped when reading the first two sections.  In inimitable McSweeney's style, there is a mix of structure when telling the story from fake business plan to interview style to comic book.  The design of the book seems to capture the spirit of the words from Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz.  The writing is snappy, irreverent and funny.  It matches the high style - high concept food ideas that are brought to bear on everyday good food.  It is what I expected but with less pretension.

This gives me some inspiration.  I having been trying to figure out a concept for starting my own food related business and these first two sections have fanned the spark once again.  For this alone, I would and will buy this book.

The last section on recipes is interesting.  It continues the current trend of header notes but with more of a difference.  I am not lead down some family reminiscence of southern hospitality or notes on what to do while my chicken is cooking. (Ruhlman!) I am given an insight into how this cook thinks about food.  The essence of which begins the section "Decision-making is more important to cooking than exact amount, temperatures, or times".  This is evident in the recipes which also, strangely, mimic the step-by-step photo setups of 1980's learn to cook books -- Pierre Franey is the first one that comes to mind.  But of course, it is showing how traditional French and modernist ideas can be adapted for home cooks.  It is a brilliant way to match high and low culture that reflects the overall mindset of Anthony Myint.

Anyone who includes a manifesto styled after the KLF and K Foundation of "How to Have a Number One the Easy Way"  and does it well has my attention.  They will also get some of my bucks. See!  That was easy... Oh and there is a reference to Toronto cuisine being a reputable city where no one's familiar with the food.  I am always tickled pink at backhand references that are also so very true.

So this is a long way of saying that I guess I will have to find a way of sneaking a new cookbook on myself...Since it is only 1/3 a cookbook maybe it should go on the nonfiction shelf.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Restaurant Review: Holy Chuck

After three burgers, three shakes and some sides, I have decided how I feel about this place.  This place being the Holy Chuck restaurant the replaced RetroBurger at St. Clair and Yonge.  The marketing and design all point to irreverence and a serious meat jones.  The logo of a burger headed cow holding a platter with cow's head reminds me of Douglas Adams' Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  On the wall there is a mural of a cow urinating and a place to put your shameful mug if you attempt to eat the "Go Chuck Yourself" in six minutes and fail.  Of course, equal space is available for the win but it ain't gonna happen often.

The menu is enough to make most meatatarians blush with the list of possible suitors.  There is a little confusion and a bit of stunned recognition when I first realized that you get your burgers from $5.99 for a jr cheeseburger to $19.99 for the GCY mentioned above AND then you order your combos for an additional $4.49 to $9.99.  Big meat costs.  A standard lunch will set you back $20.00.

I am not above spending a lot for lunch if I think it is worth it.  Over the past week, I have bit the bullet for a chance of superior beef or chicken or lamb or pork.  Oh, I forgot to mention the lone vegetarian burger, the Animal Feed.  Panko Portobello stuffed with cheese and topped with aioli.  Vegans need not even look in the general direction of this place.  Smelling the fumes from outside may qualify as too much meat drenched scents for one day.

Okay, great guns get to the food already...

Folks, do you want the good news first or the bad?  In general the burgers are passable.  For all the bad cow antics, this place cooks its meats on the paler pink to white side.  For beef and lamb lovers, this is an issue but one that can sometimes be overlooked.  However, most of the non-lean, non-white meats leave too thick a residue of grease that can soak right to the edge of the bun.  A little grease never hurt nobody nohow, so maybe that would be fine.  The fries are thin frites like beauties that are salted like ordinary fries and that means overly salty.  The beer chocolate chili tastes to the char side of smoky and needs to be finessed a little more.

The good:  I liked the shakes.  Wasabi, green onion and fresh ginger, Nutella and salted caramel, and bacon, fudge and sea salt.  These were all good.  The flavour consistency wasn't quite there.  Sometimes chunks of wasabi or frozen nutella would make the trip in a concentrated flavour hit and produce an off note.  But like with any punk bank, you can take it delivers that raw punk sound.  The flavour base is a little sweet but if the problems with the consistency get fixed, then this issue would disappear.

So, a mixed review.  Would I recommend it?  Well, the real crime is the price to taste ratio.  I have had really good burgers in Toronto and really innovative burgers at a lesser price.  For just a little more, I could go up the street and get an amazing meal at Didier's.  There are other twenty dollar lunches in this area that taste better.  Delica, Petit Thuet, and TOGO can all put together a twenty dollar lunch that one can justify easier than a burger and a drink.  If the burgers were just slightly better, using homemade or superior buns for instance, then this place might have a chance.

The other thing that might save this place...every time I have gone in, the staff/management has checked in on my order.  i.e. the flavour of the wasabi milkshake.  If they listen to their customers, maybe that will be enough to either improve the product or readjust the prices.

Holy Chuck on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Restaurant Review: The Bandit

The Bandit is a new espresso bar on Upper Gerrard just east of Woodbine.  Aside from serving Te Aro coffee, they have taken the design aesthetic wholesale.  There is a large post industrial table with a menu board written with grease pencil on the window panes of a repurposed door.  High tech stainless steel meets high touch wood.  A carousel selling pounds of coffee sits in the middle of the floor.  This could be Te Aro but North Eastier.

Starting with good coffee beans from almost tops in North America roasters is always a good idea.  The baristas were trained by -- you guessed it, Te Aro.  So, there is nothing wrong with emulating a good franchise, especially in this area where the nearest Starbucks is far enough to be unwalkable for most people.  I am happy to have this cafe so near to me.  But it would be nice if they could develop their own roast or give me something more unique.  Maybe I need to cut them slack while they get their land legs and get a good survey of their clientele.

I have tried various espresso based beverages that they have made and one of their baristas is definitely more tuned to my tastes than the other.  I got a really long espresso which is something that always makes me happy.  Much preferable to Americanos.   See my rant against Americanos.  I have tried many other of their beverages as well.  The steamed milk was never the biscuity flavour of too hot milk but rather the velvety and sweetness of a good foam or froth. The only thing that I would see as somewhat negative is that they are using milk in their cortado and too much of it.  The cortado needs to be creamy and about 1/2 and 1/2 with the espresso.  So, either find the elusive 6% milk (It is out there) or add cream to whole milk. That is a quibble.

This cafe should do well, and I sincerely hope that it does.  It is nice to have quality coffee within walking distance.  This will be a destination for mommy and baby dates and home workers looking to get out of the house with the computer for a while.  It is a comfortable and, dare I say it, hippish place to embibe.  Maybe instead of going to the Beach for a Starbuck hit, the SUV set will walk the dog and buggy show here.  I'd be willing to have this place get really popular, even if it does mean that I will have to drag my cup back to my porch to drink in silence.

The Bandit Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 9, 2011

Magazine Review: Alimentum - The Literature of Food

Alimentum is a semi annual literary magazine that focuses on food.  The issue that I picked up was Issue Twelve. The magazine was a mixture of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interview, and art.  The theme of this issue was supposed to be on first foods but this was very loosely adhered to and provided distracting.  Some of my reading time of these mainly short pieces were spent waiting or looking for the connection to first foods.  On my trip back and forth to work, the pieces were generally short enough to finish during the commute.

Some pieces that I found interesting...
Stollen by Phillip Sterling is a series of small remembrances around the ingredients of stollen. This is a device that allows for little bits and nibbles of interesting tidbits and crumbs. Like the stollen, the little pieces are what makes the whole. An enjoyable read with coffee.

Interview with Amanda Hesser -- She's the writer of Cooking for Mr Latte and co-creator of Food52.  It provided some insight and was a lot of fun.

Having our cake but not eating it by Lois Rosen is a great carvesque story of the human condition. It has all the sorrow and goodness with a little something that isn't always found in these type of stories.  At its heart is a mother trying to cook - love and being rejected by daughter. However, the piece that is often missing is the reason for all of the brokenness.

There is a second story about a mother being a failure by loving her daughter too much and feeling a failure as her child gets fatter (Goldie's Gold by Faye Snider).

I was going to write off this magazine but after reflecting, it is a we'll see. There is some good writing in here but ten dollars can seem like a lot when you have so many choices of magazines on the market. But if you find yourself picking up food themed novels, then this is definitely a refreshing change from the celebrity chef food porn out there. It is more like a Victorian romance to a hustler mag.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Restaurant Review: Aravind

I once had a girlfriend who introduced me to Indian cooking via 50 Great Curries of India.  I made a few dishes and my love of Indian food grew even as ours fizzled.  Often, I am disappointed with eating restaurant Indian food that has neither the subtle flavours nor the well thought out balance of ingredients.  Instead, I am left with sweet butter chicken and a plethora of meat dishes with the same gravy served with basmati rice of indeterminate spicing.

On the menu of Aravind, (nothing on the website yet), there is nary a meat dish or "India -- The Greatest Hits" dishes available.  Rather there are dishes made from local ingredients coupled with eastern ingredients mainly in the vegetarian realm including fish dishes.  All dishes were beautifully composed and well thought out.  The presentation of the dishes by the servers reminded me of the early eighties when Indian food was still fairly new to Canadians and would be described in familiar terms that would underline their exoticness.

This is a new type of Indian restaurant food that I have tasted.  Aravind makes no bones about this being a restaurant that celebrates the Kerala area of India.  While I still suspect that there is much more to the great continent of India, I now feel as if there is a little more joy and understanding of this old culture and cuisine.

But is it authentic?  In a previous post on a family run Italian restaurant, I begged off on answering questions of authenticity.  Authentic can be broken down in various ways such as; 1. Made by someone from that culture (e.g. if an Indian makes it, it is Indian food), or  2. Made the "traditional" way (This argument generally falls down when looking at older cultures such as Italian.  Does traditional Italian food include tomatoes?), or 3. Evoking the techniques and flavours while using the best available ingredients.  I can safely say that Aravind fulfills these criteria while being modern and exciting.

Little revelatory touches such as the table water with cumin or cucumber and ginger water with mint leaf or a  bourbon sour with tamarind... These were eye opening.  If the water can be like this, then imagine the food. We had a bread and dip plate that had four breads, all different variations on rice bread, chickpea flour and  three dips; eggplant, kale/spinach and lentil.  The breads largely tasted different and it made sense to have these to contrast and compare with the dips.  We also enjoyed a crab curry with coconut and a dosa with three relishes/sauces and served with a sambal.  With the menu rotating depending on availability, not all of these will be available.  There is very little justice in this world as everyone should be able to taste these foods.

The only false note was the palate cleanser of watermelon, ginger and honey.  It was not as  harmonious compared to the other dishes.  If the ginger was stronger or the watermelon had been infused with the flavours ... it was good but the tastes jarred against each other.  What a quibble!

Listen, at the end of this longer than normal review, I say... Go!...Now!  I really enjoyed a meal here and I would recommend it without reservation.

Aravind on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why I hate Americanos

I don't like the drink they call the americano.  It makes me sad to add water to an espresso and getting charged extra.  So, I took a friend whose drink is the above mentioned americano with the express goal of getting him to switch to a long espresso which is just an espresso with more water poured through the extraction process.  We went to three different places, two of which he was fairly familiar with and tried the cups of black gold.  It is helpful to note that he does drink his coffee with sugar probably to counteract the bitterness of the coffee.

I wasn't able to convince him otherwise but did figure out a few things about what he likes about it.  It largely comes to a less intensity and more liquid, never mind the fact that the liquid is just added water.  I find the coffee thinner and it doesn't seem that the flavour is consistent the whole way through.  We tried espresso with a side of water and while he was happy with the coffee it wasn't the same experience.  He found it too strong.  So I have failed at the primary objective of making him a believer and I am unable to recommend my process to americano lovers.  Just note that you are paying 50 cents more for water that you could get free for the asking from the same coffee shop.

However, this same friend has been turned on to using a stove top espresso and adding just a little water at home.  The Moka pot makes a superior cup of coffee to most inexpensive espresso makers and costs just a fraction of the price.  I am not against americanos per se but rather the fact that you are being charged for water.  There is no extra coffee, just water.  You wouldn't order a milkshake and then ask for water and pay for it... and that is why I hate americanos -- the drink not the people.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review: Man with a Pan

I just finished, Man with a Pan, a book of collected essays, recipes and tips entitled in the trenches.  There are very few original recipes that you haven't seen before.  Only Mexican Chocolate Pie and Vegetarian Bobotie, a type of South African curry caught my eye.  The reading is entertaining for a father who cooks, allowing for a male perspective of domesticity that is seldom talked about.  It allows for comparison of strategies and thinking about what it means to be a male cooking for our families.  I was able to see myself in some of these essays and was encouraged that they were not all polished and perfect, much like I feel fatherhood and cooking can be.  The essays felt genuine.

Some standout essays included an essay about gender bias in cooking by Shankar Vedantam and Mark Bittman's Finding Myself in the Kitchen.  Matt Greenberg, a screenwriter known for his horror, writes a screenplay that reads like a B movie centered around a grill that kills with a few gross out moments at the end.  It is a lot of fun to read and reminds me of Strange Tales or the Cryptkeeper.

Mario Batali's essay is interesting in that he is talking about a lot of what appears to be high end dishes but when you break it down, he makes simple but good fare for his family.  Tripe, cardoons, duck testicles and even truffles are just ingredients that need only a little prep and nothing more.  These may seem gourmet but they are just vegetables, leftover meat parts and mushrooms.

The essay that I connected with most was Keith Dixon's Alternate Side Cooking.  It clearly articulated why I cook for my brood.  It captures the phenomena of your spouse cooking every now and then to rave reviews.  There is a description of the inherent jealousy and and fleeting resentment due to the fact that you do it all the time and it is the way that you use to connect to your children and spouse.  Your cooking is expected to be a certain caliber and your efforts are generally unappreciated.  This is no knock on my family but has been going on for millennia.  Man bites dog is a headline but dog bites man is rarely one.

All in all, this was a quick fun read with a few essays that really spoke to me.  The short pieces were personal and seemed honest and sometimes raw.  The book was like a series of small meals where some things worked and others didn't.  It was still a dinner party that I was glad to have attended but maybe I won't be back...except for the company.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recipes: Cold Brewed Mocha Coffee

Last year around this time, we went to a cottage and I tried making a New Orleans Style Iced Coffee.  It worked out great. It was a cold brewed style which is just a fancy way of saying left out on the counter overnight to brew without adding any heat.  It tasted of chicory and coffee with no bitterness that you often experience with iced coffees found in cafes that use hot coffee and ice.  It was kind of like Camp which you can still buy in select locations.  Being from a possible slavic background (it's complicated), means enjoying a roasted chicory flavour.  They did it for economy -- couldn't grow coffee in Eastern Europe and too expensive to buy it from Ethiopia.  So, the history of the English based Camp and the French based New Orleans style are a result of colonial times.  Coffee was short and so they found ways of adulterating it.

So what does this have to do with the title and mocha... whatever it says up there? Well, the chicory based one worked so well that I substituted or adulterated coffee with some cacao nibs and some vanilla.  In order to make the most of the chocolate flavour, I had to mix half milk with the resultant filtered liquid.  It tasted like a mild mocha with a little cacao bitterness and no coffee bitterness.  It was even better than the chicory one.  I think that varying the adulterants along with the coffee beans could provide some interesting options.  Using a bright Kona and accenting the citrus notes with ginger or an Ethiopian Sidamo with pronounced vanilla to raise the blueberry so on and so forth, etc, etc, etc.

It is so easy to make and requires very little extras that it is a good summertime drink.  And if you add booze then you are going so many other places.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Coffee Shops Along Gerrard Street

There are two new cafes that are set to open up on Gerrard Street East in the next while.  There addresses are not separated by much but due to the jog that results in Upper Gerrard, they are considered being in different neighbourhoods.

The history of upper Gerrard Street is centered around the railway and streetcar tracks.  It used to be a major thoroughway through the area.  Pictures up until the late '60s show a vibrant community including banks, butchers, grocery stores and the like.  That all disappeared for a very long time.  Now the stretch just east of Woodbine and Gerrard is starting to see a glimmer of life, as new cafes, condominiums and other more service oriented businesses start.  It is in this block that a new espresso bar will open up.  Up until early this year, you could get an espresso at the Upper Beach Cafe on your way to work.  However, the cafe is trying to remake itself into a bistro serving lunches and suppers and now opens too late for the morning rush.  The new espresso cafe does not have a name listed yet but you can see the metal lights hanging from the ceiling through the kraft paper barrier.

The second cafe, The Lazy Daisy cafe is opening at Coxwell and Gerrard, at the edge of Little India.  This set of blocks is also seeing a metamorphosis.  It has been for around 30 years, the epicenter of Eastern Asian culture in Toronto but like all ethnic quarters has seen its inhabitants move to the suburbs and only show up for nostalgia.  There is a resurgence of Indian and Pakistani restaurants to replace some of the for rent or lease signs but the newer restaurants are becoming more attuned to area tastes.  In some cases this means a dumbing down of the cuisines while in others it means serving a niche in terms of food tastes.  The first indicator of this movement seems to be BJ Supermarket which is more like a traditional western supermarket in terms of design, signing and organization that happens to carry a lot of groceries from "back home".  There is now a hakka restaurant, an ice cream shop and a refurbished Lahore Tikka House.  Other bits of excitement that fit into the more reflective of the area are the new pet shop, an upcoming fruit market that looks more traditionally western and the upcoming cafe as mentioned.

Does this mean the end of India Bazaar?  I don't think so.  If you go down any evening in the summer, there are many people walking the streets.  Many of them are suburbanites out for an evening of shopping, eating and catching up with old friends.  What this new wave does is to fill in the gaps of morning, midday and the cold winters with local consumers and more importantly local friends and neighbours.  In this new Ford city, it is important to remember lessons from Jane that it is the messy interactions on the street that create vibrant communities rather than the sterile drive from house to work.

Update: The new coffee shop on Upper Gerrard is Bandit Coffee and opened.  See review here.  Review of Lazy Daisy's here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Food Trends: Ontario Craft Beer

The beer scene in Ontario is like finding a band in the 1990s before record labels began creating false indie labels or buying small record labels for the cachet.  Of course, you can say that Molson is already starting to do the former but this movement has not quite hit critical mass.

It is only a matter of time before Ontario has its own beer star gods like Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery.  Already there are some notables that have been very good drinking.  The Flying Monkeys in Barrie is an example of a brewery that is doing all the right things.  It is presenting flavourful and slightly off kilter and clean brews.  Their Smash Bomb Atomic will be in LCBO shortly after dealing with the label police there.  Having had it from their brewery and on tap several places, the citra hops used give a wonderful fruity flavour to a decent base.  Definitely worth a try if you like an India Pale Ale.  So if you are an Alexander Keith's drinker and used to their brew of IPA, give this one a chance.

Another brewery that will not be having anything in the LCBO for a while but definitely worth finding a tap is Spearhead.  Their first regular offering is what they are calling a Hawaiian Style Pale Ale.  It is a difficult to describe beer and one that we avoided when it first came out due to the marketing.  It didn't seem like a serious beer but I was really wrong.  The flavour of pineapple is there but not in the 1970s "polynesian" way.  It is subtle and adds a refreshing edge to an already good beer.  When talking to some of the brewers, it is apparent that their intention is to have beer that goes with food.  The beer is more of a sipping and engaging drink that helps and compliments meals.  I am really excited to hear that they have many more recipes that they will be looking at releasing shortly.

These are only my current favourite breweries in Ontario.  There is a revolution that has been happening in Quebec especially around Montreal.  The idea of supporting local and looking for the next best things has to extend to drinks as well.  Get out there and find some of these gems.  This time, I don't even care if they sell out -- I'm looking at you Fugazi.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recipe: Two Rhubarb Ideas

At the end of the rhubarb season is when I finally get around to trying new things with rhubarb.  After several pies and various sauces, including the requisite strawberry and rhubarb something can I turn my mind to doing something else with rhubarb. 

So, I have reading about all these fruit vinegars and I have one stalk of rhubarb reserved for experimentation.  Rhubarb vinegar, why not?  Chop up one stalk (1 cup or so) and put it in a small saucepan and cover it with apple cider vinegar.  Boil for 10 minutes.  Strain.

What to do with the drained bits?  Throwing out rhubarb is a phrase of blasphemy and an heresy.  It is also wrong.  Spotting almost off cherry tomatoes on the counter gave me an idea for Tomato Rhubarb Chutney. I really should stop calling these recipes but rather compositions.  <ASIDE> A friend of mine is an improvisationist who does jazz sometimes and we argue about whether this is music written down or whether it is in the performance.  Positively a post modern take on whether utterance is music and the only true music or written music and written performance directions constitutes music. I feel that this argument could and should be extended to cooking. </ASIDE> 
So, anyways, for the prep, take some quantity of tomatoes (1 pint in this case), 1 chopped green onion, 1 chopped green garlic or clove of garlic, olive oil, 1 tbsp of brown sugar or to taste, salt, spices (used apple cider vinegar with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper that was from a homemade ketchup experiment -- so very little spicing) and the aforementioned rhubarb dregs.  Cook the onion and garlic in the oil until softened.  Add tomatoes and cook until split.  Add water if tomatoes are not spilling their guts soon enough.  Just enough to ensure that pan doesn't burn.  Add salt, spices and sugar.  Cook until blended and then add the rhubarb.  Taste and adjust to your take on sweet and sour sauce.  It is okay if the sauce is just a little too strong because you will be pairing it. 
We used it with trout and potato salad.  This sauce has been used as a condiment for sandwiches.  It tastes like an amped up sweet and sour sauce that acts like lemon in terms of boosting flavour.  Since we do not use enough acid in most of our dishes, this can be used to help bring out the flavours of fish, rice, potatoes or any other starch or protein,

The rhubarb vinegar tastes sour and I am looking forward for the eventual harsh to mellow.  I think that dressings with sweet bases such as maple syrup, simple syrup or fruit purees will work well.  The types of salad that we are looking forward to using this vinegar on are simple slightly sweet greens with fruit (spinach and strawberry, romaine and orange, mixed oak leaf with blueberries and so on.)  Hopefully, we can keep some for winter when I dream of rhubarb.  Seriously, I have dreamt about rhubarb. Also don't bother looking up the interpretations as they are based on your own rhubarb experiences.  Bizarre...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Store Review: Patisserie La Cigogne

Finally, a great french pastry shop along the Danforth opens up.  This is the second location of the patisserie.  It has opened up in a location that was used briefly by an Italian restaurant and before that it was a long time Greek family restaurant.

The place is set up like a pastry or doughnut shop.  You want in and see the display cases across the back with ample room for sitting and the requisite Van Houtte carafes.  It could easily be mistaken for a Montreal style mom and pop bakery but the pastries are more refined.  On the day that I picked up some danishes, it had been very humid.  Even in that weather, the pastry was light and very tasty.  There was not a lot of crunch to the outside and therefore little in the way of contrasting textures.  The weather gives them a pass for that.  The only issue was the filling. It tasted too sweet and too similar to the type of filling that can be found on store bought pastry.  However, this turns out to be my only real criticism.

The cookie that needs no name did not spawn recollection of my childhood at my aunt's drinking tea in the cool of a summer afternoon nor did it devolve into crumbly letters and phonemes to extend to seven volumes of recollections and end unfinished in 1.5 million words.  It was good.  Bit dry.  Needed tea.  It was probably just as good as Proust's mother's madeleine -- which also needed tea.

The impressive bit comes with the slices or gateaux or goodies.  The part that I am always struck with french pastries is the use of different textures and flavours that are layered or filled or constructed in some architectural and interesting ways.  Jelly is placed on top of delicate cookies and mousses are extruded and covered in nuts.  Some times it is all a bit precious.  We tried four different gateaux and any with mousse were fantastic.  These guys can do mousse well.  My family loved three of the four slices that we picked (Symphony - three chocolate mousses layered with a fruit puree on top, The Flute  -- lime mouse and pistachios on a rum soaked cookie and Bacarra  -- pistachio and peaches.)  None of these felt overly precious.  The fourth just didn't appeal to my young sons or my wife.  I found that the flavours were a little jarring but that is probably more due to the alcohol, fruits and chocolate.  Done well but not one that I liked.

If I could imagine that a middle class in Vienna could go out to the opera with their kids and end up in this type of pastry shop drinking coffee and relaxing while the kids wolfed down these slices then it is not so far to reach to think that this is the perfect place to do the twentieth century equivalent.  After Karate, Kumon or seeing some street event, this is a great place.  Hell, even before or better yet ... during.

I haven't mentioned that they do sandwiches, crepes and tortiere.  We, as a family, will be going back to try some of this.  Who doesn't love a meat pie with ketchup?  That is the most important part of this place.  It lets you feel comfortable and eat as you like without talking down to you in terms of its food.  There are many gourmet shops that could take a good lesson from the end of the day, it is food.  Meant to be eaten and enjoyed.

Patisserie la Cigogne on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Beer Session 2011

The life of a food obsessive is never easy especially if they are a list maker as well. Later this afternoon, I am off to Session 99, a craft beer festival held at 99 Sudbury in Toronto (hence the moniker).  I am as giddy as schoolgirl waiting for Bieber or as manic as a middle aged man waiting for beer. 

There will be 37 craft breweries, some of which I had not heard of today who collectively brew enough beer lines that it would take days to taste them all and not get snockered.  I started by making a short list of brews that I would like to try.  The magic number for those is 67.  So, from that I have a short list of 12.  This seems doable but there is a surprise element here.  The brewers often bring special casks for the event.  Of 37 breweries, you can bet that a good third of them are bringing something special...

I feel like a kid in a candy store or a hipster at the Drake.  Too much choice... But here is my shortlist, in no order...

Phillips - Skookum Cascadian Brown Ale
Howe Sound - King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen
Mill St. - Helles Bock
Beau's - Festivale Altbier
Le Trou du Diable - Saison Tongka or Tracteur or whatever saison they have
Trois Mousquetaires - Maibock
Railway City - Sham Bock
Nickelbrook - Special Edition Uniek Sour Cherry Ale
Garrison - Jalapeno Ale
Garrison - Spruce Beer
Spirit Tree - Crabapple Blush Cider

Now that the list is up, I will change my mind.  Hopefully (Hopfully) I will be able to remember the beers I drank and some of the flavours but it is a long event and I have short arms.  It means that I can drink quicker because the bend at the elbow is shorter ... ah, never mind.

Update: So, after all the list making, most of the brews that I wanted to try were not there.  However, I found some new favourite breweries and the possibility of getting hard to get beers in Toronto through K6.  The one off beers need to be tried and that a great reason to go to one of these.  These experimental brews included Saisons from Flying Monkeys, an awesome Maibock from Duggans, and an anniversary Festivale from Beau's.  Places that did not have product in the LCBO but are definitely worth finding include Granite Brewery from Toronto and anything that K6 is pumping...mainly Quebec breweries like Dieu du Ciel and Trou du Diable.  The short takeaway is support fresh beer, go to a craft festival and if you don't like it, at least you will have tried it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Recipe: Pancetta and Caramelized Pineapple

This was the dish that was on menu listing for the 1960s/70s bash held earlier this year.  I ended up not using pancetta because I saw some Capicollo from Niagara Food Specialities.  It fitted the origin idea better.

The taste that I wanted people to remember is the old fashioned baked ham with pineapple rings. Originally, the idea was to crisp up rounds of pancetta and serve caramelized pineapple on top.  As the responses grew to the invitation list, the original execution of freezing then cutting and frying the bacon seemed a little too fussy especially if the dish was to be served warm.  So, the more traditional ham idea came back on the table but rather than be too literal -- put pineapple on ham and bake -- I decided to caramelize the pineapple, cool, then wrap the capicollo around the pineapple and hold in play with a toothpick. 

The presentation was ugly and in fact, it was the last dish on the appetizer course to be tried by anyone.  It lacked beauty but it was easily the dish that most people loved.  This was largely due to the Pingue's ability to turn the magical pig creature into a salty silky piece of love. 

Once again, this is not so much a recipe as finding the right flavours to put together.  The only real cooking was the pineapple.  Just chop pineapple into pieces that can be wrapped by the ham.  Take the pineapple and place into a pan with a sprinkle of sugar.  Use the most flavourful available.  I used brown but palm would be better and white will do.  Cook the pineapple on medium heat until sugar melts and caramel process begins.  The time will depend on the juiciness of the pineapple but when the sauce is sticky and brown and burns your skin when touched, it is done.

Be careful when cooling.  I didn't leave it outside the fridge for long enough and condensation built up and watered down the flavours.  Once it is cooled then put in fridge.  Also, just a small tip, raw pineapple breaks down meat and can change the texture.  This is the same reason that raw pineapple cannot be used to make gelatin using animal gelatin.  To play it safe, wrap your pineapple just before the party starts.  (That's what she said.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Restaurant Review: Retro Burger

As stated in an earlier post, Retro Burger is opening an outpost in the east side of Toronto, near Danforth and Coxwell.  When Retro Burger opened up at Yonge and St. Clair, it was with great fanfare.  There are few affordable and quick options for lunch in the area.  The burger scene consisted of Hero Burger, McDonald's and Wendy's and  since that time, Harvey's has joined the fray. 

For the first months, the place was always packed.  I went about a half dozen times to try everything on the menu and hope that the ordering kinks exhibited in the first few days were fixed.  Well, I went back a few weeks ago to prepare for writing a review for the new one.  It is not as packed as it was earlier on.  For the past few weeks, I have been wrestling on what to say about it. 

It is easy to see what the restaurant is aiming at.  By Retro, it seems to be talking about the 80s given the music and the menus.  It is in imitation of Johnny's Hamburgers (Scarborough) or Apache Burger (Etobicoke).   An aside, my wife was raised in Scarborough and swore up and down about the legendary burger place but when we went back she remembered it being better.  I did not grow up in Toronto and Apache Burger was my favourite until the Burger's Priest.  Aside finished. Anyways, it is attempting to be a salt crusted burger with great fries. It falls short because the patty ends up watery and salty without the crust.  The buns act as a barrier to tasting the meat rather than a stage to show off the beef. 

The second issue is the pricing.  Originally, the burgers were priced reasonable at the Yonge location and they offered late afternoon specials but the prices have continued to rise and the specials evaporated.  The food has not gotten better.  Some of the toppings are good but not exemplary.  The fried onions are what I am talking about.

Once again, the placement of this new location is an underburgerized area near a McDonald's.  I don't like writing about a mediocre place.  It is easier and more satisfying to write about a place you love and would like a few tweaks.  It is a more guilty pleasure about writing about a horrible place and coming up with an interesting way to explain your disdain.  It is hard to write about ordinary.  This place will probably do well but I would like to see better from them and every burger place.

Update Just to be clear, there is a new location of this restaurant opening at Coxwell and Danforth but the one used to review the chain was located at Yonge and St. Clair. See comments for discussion.

As of August 22, 2011, the Retro Burger on Yonge has closed shop to be replaced by another burger place.

Retro Burger on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Recipe: 1970s Cheese-y Ideas

I'm feeling a little bit like a fraud calling these recipes when they are more like construction details.  The following serving ideas were used at the 1960s/70s bash held earlier this year.  The three remaining cheese dishes were: parmesan tuiles with honey and truffle oil, aged gouda with pineapple and grapefruit gel, and manchego with guava cheese and quince paste.

The parmesan, honey and truffle combination were a riff on Bob Blumer's Bee Stings.  To make a tuile, grate parmesan onto a baking sheet.  Make piles of circles.  Remember that the cheese will spread a little as it cooks.  You can use a silicon mat for easier removal.  Put it in the oven at 400 until it is all bubbly.  Most recipes recommend 12 minutes but I have never needed to wait that long.  When they are cool enough to work with, remove the circles from the pan.  If they are warm enough, you can shape them.  For the honey truffle mixture, take honey and truffle oil and mix.  Only a drop or two of truffle oil for 1/2 cup or so of honey.  Just drizzle it on before serving.

Pineapple gel was made using agar agar.  This is a seaweed extract that is often used in Asian cooking or for creating gelatin out of things that don't set with animal gelatin -- pineapple.  The idea for this came from the half grapefruit skewered with cheese and pineapple making it look vaguely like a food hedgehog.  But I thought that the presentation could use an update, hedgehogs no longer being the culinary touchstone it once was. Make one of each pineapple and pink grapefruit jelly using concentrated juice warmed up.  Add the agar agar per instructions on the package.  Add a little more if you think that a firmer consistency is needed or wanted.  Place the jelly in a shallow container for easier removal.  Cut the cheese. (snicker) I used small rectangles and cut the jellies at about the same height and stacked them. 

I used the same presentation with the guava, quince and manchego.  The only difference is that I bought the quince and guava pastes.  The idea came from a friend who, as a child of Guyanese parents, had guava cheese and cheese and remembered it fondly.  Guava cheese isn't cheese but a really thick brick of guava parts crushed together like in an auto wrecking yard.  It slices like cheese and it is moderately sticky but intensely flavoured.  Also, I had wanted to use quince paste (membrillo) for a long time.  I love the delicate sweet rose like flavour and wanted to share it with people.  I was disonsolate thinking that I would have to drop one or the other flavour. but then...

I got the idea that they would pair together well from The Flavor Bible, a book that has lists of ingredients and pairings.  The entries for quince and guava showed that they did not have each other as complementary entries.  However, there was an overlap and the bite with the cheese would have sweet, sour, salty, and savoury (umami). Almost a perfect bite.

The first course stole the show.  We have one more entry into this course and then I will post the mains.

Monday, June 13, 2011 meat glue?

Wow!  This stuff has ratcheted the blogosphere to eleven.  At its most basic, meat glue is a binding agent that is an naturally occuring enzyme.  Transglutaminase is its name, meat glue is its schoolyard nickname.  Meat glue is similar to using whole blood as a binding agent, except with only the binding stuff.

True, many people find blood pudding disgusting but they would eat sausages or hotdogs.  Now, if you are getting any of this stuff from the grocery store and not a reputable butcher then all bets are off.  You are probably eating way more dangerous compounds than meat glue.  Meat glue is currently found in commercial applications such as surimi and chicken nuggets.  There are some better applications that can be found in stores such as this bonded pork jowl. Vegetarians may also be getting the vegetarian version in their tofu.  See the GOOD article below.  It is also found in restaurant creations from the Fat Duck and WD50 to create an effect, make protein cook better, or as a novel technique (shrimp pasta made mainly from shrimp).

So, as I see it.  Meat glue can be used for bad  (Fooling people about their cuts of meat, additive to make bad look good) or good (Novel foods, use less binding more meat, and other great kitchen tricks).  But, you need to decide for yourself.  Here are some starter arguments so that you don't need to go through the tons of conspiracy pages or apologists.

I have gone over many pages and the contra arguments are largely visceral, as in yuck.  The other main category is THEY are tricking us.  To be fair to Ms. Howard, she is trying to find a story and I may be mischaracterizing her a tad.

On the pro side, I didn't even grace the makers with their retort that amounts to "luddites".  The more balanced and thoughtful arguments come from chefs.  Cooking issues, one of my favourite blogs for doing away with bad food issue thinking has two really good articles for my purpose.  The first is a
primer and the second is basically a rant.  It goes through the arguments on both sides. 

Overall, I am more interested in the reaction to meat glue and how it is spreading like an urban myth throughout the internet.  This focus on a minor risk versus the lack of outcry around other bad food practices and how the food system is programmed to continue these practices is appalling.  As this discussion continues, essays are now beginning to ask those questions.  GOOD, whom I think is a great magazine, has started this aspect of the discussion by talking about what this means for the food movement.

While I don't believe that the food movement is generally a monolithic organized committee of like minded card carrying board, I do believe that on these issues, we need to hear from Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan and others.  I look forward to hearing a more reasoned and far fetching discussion on not only these additives but more importantly, the difference in application by the various food factions.
PS.  I was too lazy to use transglutaminase and resorted to the equivalent of calling it "Ginger".  If I have offended transglutaminase in any way, I am sorry and promise to mend my ways.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Food Trends: Sausages

I've been waiting for the right moment to write about this growing trend and it has finally come through a review of WRST on blogTO.  But before we go there...

In the last couple of years, Toronto has seen quite a few food trends centring around taking a humble (read cheap) food and doing it up so that a few extra dollars can be charged.  This is probably in response to the economic downterm.  There was the burger trend (still going with Retro burger opening a fourth restaurant at Coxwell and Danforth), waffles (Waffle Bar opened a production space beside Knead Bakery and sells its waffles at the Leslieville Farmer's Market) and poutine.

Sausages are not exactly new.  The Rebel House has been doing daily sausage specials for years.  Lately, I have become more interested in sausages, especially since local butchers are bringing out their creative sides. 

Close to the Bone starting making their Bacon Bangers, Manic Hispanic and Ćevapčići, a slavic sausage last year.  Sometimes there is even an experimental sausage such as the elk sausage they made a few weeks ago.  This year, Royal Beef has a returning butcher, Paul, who trained under Paul Estrella and is coming from a stint at the Healthy Butcher.  With his youth comes new sausages and a reinvigoration of the meat counter.  Spotted so far, Chicken Orange, Turkey Lime patties, Lamb and Stout, Jalapeno and Cheese, and Berkshire breakfast links that are really good.

I thought that maybe this trend had already jumped the shark when I saw that the Insider's Report had fresh sausages (Leek and Pepper, Tomato and Mozzarella).  These are the only products that I have tried on this page that I recommend you don't try.  They are just too salty with very little meat flavour.

It seems to me that the idea of ground meat encased, pattied, wrapped around a stick or even raw is another way to elevate a humble ingredient.  Germans are renowned for their wurst and now Toronto has a beerhall like place.  I haven't been yet but I wanted to note the trend.  I am looking forward to a variety of these humble meats making a resurgence.  Whether it is a supreme kofta, a slavic spread of sausages or just a few more choices at the street meat cart on the corner it is time to give the lowly sausage its due.  In fact, I pledge to have a sausage party before the end of the who do I invite.

Update: You know you are onto something when the fans of Cthulhu start pumping its virtues. Cthulhu weenie roaster looks like a wonderful father's day gift for an Elder One.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Alphonso vs Atualfo

It's mango season in India from where the great Alphonso mango comes.   The Mexicans being no slouch in the wrestling entertainment (see Lucha Libre) have thrown down with their own variety, Atualfo. 

The Atualfo is shaped like an oval with a small handle at the tip.  Any five year old could make it into a handy gun but remember they can do that with sticks as well.  The mango's yellow skin telegraphs the yellow firmish flesh inside.  The taste is sweet with a finish of brightness that is reflected by a gentle almost fizziness on the tongue like the ending of a hard apple cider.  In order to get the mango pieces away from their seed, it is best to slice in half lengthwise near the seed and then score the half with the flesh both lengthwise and widthwise.  You can push the outside skin to raise the flesh and cut away the squares of goodness.  This mango is great for salsas, ice cream toppings and cooking.  It is firm with very little fibres.  This year the crop seems a little less sweet than other years which may be due to the inclement weather Mexico has been having rendering some of the mangoes small and seedless and hence, unavailable.

India has also had its share of mango growing difficulties that affected the timing of the mango crop this year.  Their seasonal entry into the mango season was late but maybe it was waiting to make a grand entrance like the wrestling villian it is.  This mango is more ovoid with a less heterogenous coloured skin.  The flesh is a deep orange.  The fragance is peachy-mango.  Here, the flesh is thinner and less firm, making it easier to just peel off the skin and sink your teeth into it.  There are some who believe that it is juicier but it is probably this softness in the flesh that contributes to that perception.  It is creamy with an almost custard texture with less assertive but more subtle variances in flavour than the Atualfo.  It is best for fresh applications.  Not saying that it wouldn't be good for cooking but I would be concerned about the texture holding up in a stew or salsa. 

Both these mangoes are worth a trip to the supermarket if only to get away from the fibrous and relatively tasteless Tommy Atkins or Haden.  I am interested in trying both the Alphonso and Atualfo, especially the pit, in a stew if I can ever manage to keep them in the house. Unlikely.

There is a Pakistani entry into the Toronto market, the Sindra, which is next on my list.  It has a longer availability than Alphonso but is rumoured to share some of the same fragrant and subtle qualities of flavour.  All these varieties are easily found in the India Bizaar in Toronto.  I am looking forward to tracking this one down.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Leslieville Farmers' Market

The Leslieville Farmers' Market starts tomorrow, June 5th.  It will be open from 9 am to 2 pm at Johnathon Ashbridge Park. I normally stop at the East Lynn Park Farmers' Market or at Withrow Park.   This one is close and convenient enough that the whole family will be going.  I am looking forward with a little bit of trepidation.

I am concerned at the balance between `Farmers`and producers.  The mix is 50/50.  While I have no problem with producers of fine foods or musicians or other stuff, I don't typically think of that as a farmer's market.  It was the slight off mixture that eventually put me off the evergreen brickworks.  They were upfront with their goal to make livable cities.  Food is only one aspect.  I love the evergreen site and recommend it to destination eaters but not so much for weekly shoppers. 

This phenomenon of destination farmers' markets feels more like a new way for producers to connect with the consumers.  It is a cheaper delivery mechanism with built-in immediate feedback.  I think that it is always admirable to get to know your food and those who make it.  It makes it harder to poison the eater.  I always wonder if the Maple Leaf executives feed their family the same food as they produce.  I wonder if their food production methods would change, and quickly if their family became sick with listeriosis.  But then again, I know people who have poisoned their families with homemade potato salad.

The quibble is the naming of this market as a farmers' market when it is really more of local market where people go to the park rather than the local mall.  The difference is that the goods are local, and it introduces more people to the park in a congenial atmosphere with revelry.  More people will get a sense of their food and how it gets there from attending the market.  But is this really just the beginning of a new type of corporatization of food; replacing malls with stalls?

This market is invitation only, meaning that the Market manager will be the one that ends up shaping the market, its purpose and the rules.  It is not run by farmers but by residents.  They are asking for local and thoughtful food and products.  This is a step to fixing the food system as it works now but care has to be taken that it is not creating a system that will undermine the more permanent and nascent changes that seek to transform the larger food networks. (CSAs, businesses selling local food, etc)  We need for consumers to break down the wall, as we all eat from the same trough.  However, it is easy for a densely populated and affluent area to demand and receive but I am not sure what effect this will have in the long term.

In the mean time, I am going to enjoy this market for what it serves and report back as always.

Restaurant Review: Gerrard Pizza and Spaghetti House

This could just be another review about a gem that has been around for just over 40 years but that would be fairly easy to write and not very enlightening.  Instead, this place brings out the uneasiness of using a short form review of authenticity.  So, let's start with a little review of what is here and hopefully, do away with the problem of real.

The restaurant is located on Danforth and not on Gerrard as the name would suggest.  This place was originally located on a bustling section of Gerrard Street and moved north to where the action moved to the new subway line.  The business opened in 1967 when the definition of Italian pizza was something different.  The Danforth subway line was finishing up construction for its official opening the next year.

The decor is not kitsch or even arriving at kitsch but rather a good reflection of restaurant culture around that time.  The plastic overlays on the table remind me of gingham and the walls are a story of place.  It shows a family that is proud of where it came from and a declaration of ethnicity that can only come from immigrants or children of immigrants who wish to regain ethnicity.  This type of genuineness of trying to convey their history with what was available later became the marketing tools of Olive Garden, East Side Mario's and countless pizza joints.   This one does conjure up the notion of a bistro that is set in Italy but in a really odd way.  It reminds me of a small restaurant that I went to in Florence set beside a vineyard.

The full menu is available on Facebook.  We went with our kids and ordered three pizzas and two salads along with a family bottle of Orangina.  I loved this touch that spoke to the family specials that you can get from chains but was distinctly European.  Maybe this is where the big chains got their ideas?  Pizza Pizza started in 1967.  We had a seafood pizza, sausage pizza and mushroom pizza with a radicchio salad and a spring mix with nuts salad.

These pies are not the pies of Florence or the trendy traditional pies.  All of these things were made with love.  They were recipes that are designed to best recreate meals from the homeland with ingredients from the new country.  For example, the funghi are the standard Darlington Whites rather than the mixed wild mushrooms of Italy or even Canada.  I am not sure that matters in terms of "authentic".

Over the ensuing forty years as we, the consumers grew up with these North American interpretations of Italian food (oooh exotic) and made them our own; we now treat these places as the authentic and real.  These are good pizzas.  This place has great value for money.  Our family ate for around eighty dollars.  Is it authentic Italian pizza or even authentic something?  I am not interested in that question or that word in this case.  A good Italian cook is making good pies that remind me of family restaurants that existed in the '80s.  Those restaurants became popular for a reason.  Many of the chains and restaurants also failed due to poor care in quality and amping up the kitsch factor and only focusing on making money.  Gerrard Pizza did not do that.  It is genuine and as Bono put it  "Even better than the real thing".

Gerrard Spaghetti & Pizza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recipe: Liebfraumilch with Salmon and Cucumber

This is one of the recipes that was made for the 1960s/70s party.  Instead of salmon, as stated on the menu, smoked trout was substituted.  The flavours were the sourness/sweetness of the German wine with a smoky taste of the moist trout alongide the crunch and subtleness of the baby cucumber.  This is a basic layered jelly appetizer that has to be made in steps. 

Warm about a cup of Liebfraumilch, a sweet German wine, add enough gelatin to set the liquid.  Whatever the package says on it will do. 
Most gelatins need to be bloomed which means that a little gelatin has to be sprinkled over some of the wine before adding it to the warm liquid.  I am not putting all the variations in this recipe.  Just ensure that you have enough gelatin to set the liquid chosen.
Then pour into a pan.  I used an 8x8 non stick brownie pan because I was trying to serve fifteen people.  Put that pan and the mixture along with it into the fridge until set.

After it has been set, take another cup of the wine and warm it for the second layer of gelatin. 

Cut smoked trout into strips and lay it on the previous layer.  Slice thin strips of baby cucumber however you want.  If you slice it crosswise, then it is a totally different recipe. Okay, the little recipe humour is over.  Use whatever shape works for your dish.  Think of what you want it to look like.  The cucumber can be put it on top of the fish now, but remember that cucumber floats.  I did that the day of the dinner party, next time I will wait until the next step is completed.

Add gelatin to warmed wine per instructions.  Let cool so that it will not melt the previous layer.

Add cucumber and gelatin mixture and adjust pieces as necessary.  Cool in the fridge.  Now, when it is time to demold, if you have chosen a shallow enough pan with good heat conducting properties, place the mold in warm to hot water. If you have not, then I hope the gelatin just slides out.  Take an appropriate knife or thin spatula, whatever will not scratch the pan and run around the outside.  Unmold and cut into desired shapes.  Best to plate these suckers because it is not attractive looking at people trying to get a jelly piece of something from a serving tray onto their plates.

Some people liked the contrasting flavours of the sour and smoke along with the soothing cucumber.  One person found the whole thing a little too dissonant.  So...

Variations: Sweeter wine would work.  Canned fish would also work.  Other vegetables that are hard enough to give some crunch but will not overpower the wine.  Think zucchini. 

This was a hit at the party as the fish and vegetable suspended in the clear liquid reminded me of those disco shoes with live goldfish. And also most of the attendees liked the taste.  And it looked cool. This dish could easily pair with a salad or as act as a member of the appetizer crew.