Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Drunk Review: Square-Boy

I went to my local, The Only Cafe, hoping to land the triple quad like Elvis Stojko and ended up doing a triple tripel like Patrick Chan on a bad day. (Piraat, St. Martin, and St-Feullien + a few others). Before I get into the review of Square-Boy that sits almost opposite at 875 Danforth, I just want to mention how awesome Hopfenstark brewery is. It is awesome, that is all.

So, after the aforementioned trips, we tripped on over to Square Boy to take a peek. It is a standard family style greek restaurant with gyros and chips and homemade hamburgers. Don't make the mistake of getting anything not labeled homemade. The square in the square boy refers to the shape of the burger, square. In order to ram in the point in a "it goes to eleven" type of way, their motto refers to the fact that you get four bites more. Now, four bites more of crap is just four more shitty bites. Maybe it is my inebriation or my bonhomie at being let loose on a Wednesday night but the Homemade banquet burger with fries and gravy tasted really good. I ate it with all the fixings and the flavour of the pickles cut through my last saison of the night. There was a great char on the burger with a soft grayness of patty that suggested that this was not just a beef burger. Frankly, I could not care what this meat was because it was delicious. Hey, you can also order another round while you are waiting for your order to come up. How cool is that? Keep your buzz on while waiting for your food. THAT is freakin' genius.

My partner in crime cringed a little at the bun wishing that it was a little better but I am not sure that I would have it any other way. \It fit what I expected from this type of place. The toppings were no more or less what is expected. There are sharp raw onions, vinegary pickles, mustard, ketchup and stuff that evaded my discombobulated vision. It freaking tasted awesome to the alcohol addled taste buds. This is the type of food that drunks love. Soft, easy to eat with just enough acid and salt to cut through the previous hours inebriant. As some would say, this is some next level shit.

I am not sure how this would taste sober and frankly, I am not sure I care. There are some food that is meant to be consumed while the time is right and this is it. In the words of the sloppy drunk, I love you guys.

Square-Boy Drive-in on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Waiting for Westy 2012

This post is going to be self indulgent but this is a personal blog after all. I started this blog for a bunch of reasons and one was to help me figure out my relation to food, food issues, drink and the general new food movement. Be forewarned.

I spent a few hours last night trying to decide if I should go to my local LCBO and wait for the Westvleteren 12 (Westy 12). A confluence of events had made it just possible for this to happen; a kid who the doctor said couldn't go to school for a few days, an understanding wife and a release to a store within walking distance.

I am a forty something with a good palette who has had a chance to try Westies three times (Westy 12x2 and Westy 8x1). I brew my own beer at a local U-Brew-it, (Fermentations), attend beer festivals, frequent beer bars (The Only CafeBar Volo) and have a basic knowledge of homebrewing. In short, a mid level beer geek.

In my early middle age, I find that my ankles hurt when I stand on a hard surface for too long and my hands tingle from some RSI connected to either computers or cooking or general wear and tear.  I sometimes have to increase the size of font on some websites. I am mostly in good condition like some reliant automobile. In short, an average male for my age.

Why the hell would I want to stand in some line for a rare beer like some kid at a Justin Bieber concert? I didn't think there were that many mid level beer geeks in Toronto. The last time I went to Sessions, there were a wide variety of people from the young neatly bearded to the old and unshaven bearded. It was easy to see how the craft beer movement had started to move from strangeness to hipness. At first, I was a little anxious at seeing this safe haven for middle aged obsessives being taken over by these fresh young things that I likened to being a long time Star Trek fan that goes to the rebooted series by JJ Abrams. The irony of outhipstering the hipsters is not lost on me. We used to call people who drank a lot of beer alcoholics, now they are just beer geeks.

But, by virtue of having more people willing to hang out at brewery restaurants and support local cask and one off beers, it brings the whole market up. Without the young folks getting into beer in a non-ironic way, it allows for smaller innovative breweries to exist. There is also the chance that once they have tasted good Belgian, they will never go back. This statement brings us to the issue at hand, Westy 12.

I was unable to line up the first day due to the fact that I have a job. The second day was described as above. The LCBO was going to open early to accommodate the expected lineups. I walked down and arrived around 7:40 to discover three people ahead of me. One was the expected young lad with the first vestiges of winter beard, clear eyes and expectant looks. The second was an older gentleman who was shaking his head and clearly there for some reason but already looking slightly dejected. Another man was hovering nearby. His demeanor was serious as his sideways stance indicated fight or flight, leaning heavily on the flight. He was the one that looked most like my demographic and he was leaving.

In conversation with the remaining two, I discovered that this location had not received the Westy on last night's shipment and the staff had just spoken to them about this fact. What was more telling were the stories that each told about why they were there. The first man that had buggered off, I will assume was a beer geek that was already on his way to the next known location using twitterlocation and strong cellfu.

The young man had been drawn in by the romantic description of the rarity of the beer and the exceptional mythical qualities of a perfect beer. The older gentleman expressed his misgivings about the fact that he thought he wouldn't like the beer but he was getting it for his son for bragging rights. The older man talked about having other strong (tripel, quads) beers from Belgium and not liking them. This is the factor that many people miss. My drinking companion often finds the trips and quads that I drink too boozy and reminiscent of malt liquor which they kind of are. He did not like the Westy 12. These two waiters are the regular people in line.

In one way, I am glad to see them there, in another it shows how much beer culture in Ontario has to grow. The fact of rarity doesn't seem to apply to all the casks, one offs and great limited beers that we have. Once again, I bring up the Venskab. It is an awesome beer based on a Belgian triple but with champagne yeast. It was available through the brewery and through its small distribution chain. It was also one of the best beers I have tasted. If the Westy provides a market for these rare birds, maybe our local industry will produce more of them.

The second opportunity for learning (as opposed to problems) is that beer is still being treated like a second rate product by the LCBO. In large, I don't mind how they do things but it's these little things that can make it unpleasant for all of us. They could have used a lottery system or some type of futures based system that they use for other products but I believe the perception of beer drinkers is still warped to those with poorer tastes and therefore poorer pockets. I have yet to see the champagne drinkers lining up for the latest release. Let's make the system the same for all products.

I left the store and walked home in the early morning, composing this blog post in my head, and trying to figure out if I was going to line up tomorrow. I know that I can get this beer around town for around 25 to 45 dollars at a time. I have had it. I like it. There are other good and great triples and quads out there (St Bernardus, Konigshoeven/La Trappe, Orval). The short answer is, if I get a chance, I would like the opportunity to lay some down and drink one every six months to notice the changes in the beer. It is strange that those timings would also echo the chances to stick my head out at various beer events and note the changes in the beer community and beer consumers. Maybe this waiting for Westy will be the birth of a wider audience for some of the local breweries who I believe have the ability of producing a great beer and not just another marketing campaign that worked.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Beer Glazing for Beer Cinnamon Rolls

Okay, so @cdnbeer  has been talking about his beer based cinnamon rolls again. I am not one for the sticky toffee cinnamon rolls. I prefer those rolls with the white glazing. So, I have come up with an alternative.

The thinking was to get some beer with spicing to complement the basic yeast and cinnamon combination found in most cinnamon buns. My first thought was to use a Belgian beer with strong clove and banana notes. Alas, that was not what was available at my local liquor store. I suppose I could have went with a chocolate, coffee or vanilla porter but I wanted to stick to a more sedate beer for the first time through. Of course, I ended up with a Danish strong beer Nogne O - Underlig jul, a spiced Christmas beer and for contrast, Schneider-Weisse Unser Original, a traditional German beer with notes of clove, banana and nutmeg. It was the closest to my original intention.

I took around a half cup of beer and reduced it by half (1/4 c or so), added a pat of butter (1 tsp) to cut some of the bitterness. Added mixture slowly to 1 cup of icing sugar. Mixed until dissolved and goopy. Now, here you kind of have to wing it a bit. A lot depends on how thick you like your glaze. Add until you get it to the consistency you like. Add a little milk or cream if the flavour is still too sharp. Add 1/2 tsp of vanilla. Now comes the hard part. Taste it. Adjust seasonings as you see fit.

What worked or didn't work for me. When I tried this with the Underlig jul, it brought forward the black molasses flavour and jumped all over the spicing. It brings to mind gingerbread and might be a good pairing to a more yeasty note in a bread depending on the beer used for the buns. My wife preferred this one in spite of the bitter aftertaste.

The Schneider, when reduced, had winey notes that reminded me of old citrus and mushrooms. That sounds as if it would be bad but when you added the sugar, those notes softened back into the clove esthers with a really mild lively flavour that tastes mores like the traditional vanilla cream glaze. I liked this one.

I would definitely try this riff with the porters and stout mentioned about. The Belgian beers with the more pronounced flavours would work nicely, as would the cristall weissbier from Schneider. The important thing would be to taste it with some of the dough and determine what spicing to add. There is a subtleness to the glaze that I didn't expect. The glaze would work great with cookies, guinness cake or spice cakes. Explore and experiment. The worst thing would be to waste 1/2 cup of beer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pairing Pumpkin Beers

I haven't been able to come up with a good opening, so I am going to give you a choice of two lackluster openings.

Option 1:

By the third week of October, I had enough of pumpkin beers. I was tasting quite a bunch for the tasting that I had done at The Only Cafe. So many of them seemed the same. There were a few bright lights and I was going to share them on the blog but never got around to it. Then last week, my interest was recharged when I found that Chatoe Rogue's Pumpkin Patch Ale was released late to the LCBO. Now, I have been roused from my pumpkin stupor enough to share what I learned about pumpkin beer pairings over the last month.


Option 2:

Every year it is the same thing. I receive too many feeds from the States giving me pumpkin recipes that are too late to use. They are past their best use for Canada. So, to teach those myriad of 'Mericans a lesson, I am publishing my advice after THEIR Thanksgiving so they can see how it feels. So there.

Like I said, neither opening is particularly strong. I have learned some tricks and made some observations regarding pairing pumpkin beers and I will share that with you now. has some great resources that largely boils down to if it feels good then do it. Much like wine, there are some helpful guidelines out there. 

Look at some traditional pairing charts. Weissebier goes well with seafood, porters and stouts go good with dessert and chocolate. That gives you a start. Adding pumpkin gives another challenge but we will get there.

Take a look at the national cuisines where the beer comes from... Belgians have a whole culinary tradition based on cooking with beer. German styles go well with German food palate - altbier with mustards, sausages and sour cabbage. Think about where your dish comes from and see if you can think of a beer from that culture or country.

Now sometimes flavour profiles transcend or inspire a particular eater. I think that Indian cooking and their meat and carb heavy meals with reliance on sauces seem to mirror the traditional American Italian style of cooking. So, I would pair an IPA with a penne arrabiata.

The thing is the pumpkin. Pumpkin beers come in a variety of guises as can be evidenced by some local bloggers Hops and Malt tasting notes.  I would characterize the pumpkin beer flavours as roasted, spiced, vegetal or raw pumpkin. Now when you mix these profiles with different styles, you get some great beers that were available this year such as Beau's Weiss O'LanternBlack Creek Pumpkin Ale, and Great Lakes Brewing Saison du Pump. Most of the pumpkin ales use an amber ale base and so it is important to match the spicing rather than the style when the beer is labelled as an ale with no further designation.

So, if you have a roasted characteristic that is present but not forward such as St. Ambroise's pumpkin ale then you can pair it with an earthy dish that will make the pumpkin jump out. It will also showcase the delicate hand that they have on the spicing. I usually use buckwheat with this beer for that reason.

Let's take the Weisse mentioned above. Weisse goes with fish and seafood. Pumpkin goes with coconut. So, a coconut shrimp soup or chowder would go well. Sometimes, the flavour pairing is the hardest part. If you think of both the beer and the food as one dish, then it helps to figure out what has to be added or taken away from the food to balance or accent the flavours that you want.

The first rule is to taste it. If it is good to you then it is probably good. I hope this blog post has given you a few rules of thumb to take away those first butterflies and allow you to take a leap to try to pair a whole Thanksgiving meal. Seafood appetizer with Weissbier, main meal with a St Ambroise or a saison and pumpkin pie with a chocolate stout. Why not? You can always put the beer away until after the meal if a particular match doesn't work. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book Review: A Taste of the Sun

I'm pressed for time and although I wanted to write about Pumpkin Beers and Thanksgiving dinner matching (well sort of), I haven't collected my thoughts. Instead, I am going through my notes on one of the Penguin Food Books I just read.

 Cookbooks are a type of literature. Food writing is as well. I am not sure that it is some monolithic type of writing like poetry, mystery or horror. Sometimes, I find those genres not so monolithic neither. A good example of food writer that has been held up as a good writer in the recent past is Elizabeth David. The book that I read was A Taste of the Sun. There were three ideas that caused echoes into the future. Granted, our author has only been deceased in 1992 and that is not too far distant. Mind you, looking at photos from the 80's might seen incredibly foreign at this time.

Anyways, the first idea that caught my eye was a thoroughly modern way of cooking pasta. Bring the water to a boil then turn it off and let the pasta cook. This method has been recently making the rounds in blogs but it turns out it isn't as modern as we would like to believe. This piece was just before a bit on the Italian Futurists.

Now this is an extremely timely piece given the emphasis placed on Modernist Cuisine. The Italian Futurists are best looked up on Wikipedia and given a lot of thought. They were a political, artistic and social movement. Think reactions to modernity, cubism, Art of Noises (that begat the group Art of Noise) and fascism. Really, if you are a fan of modernist or molecular cooking, you owe yourself a chance to read some of these grandfathers.

Anyways, my point is that there is a small bit on these futurists that echo some of the same discussions that is being had about modernist or molecular cuisine. We have seen the impact of science and chemistry on food since the 1930's and can extrapolate what effect the modernist movement will have on food in the next fifty years. Is it important for everyone to understand? Only if they have a stake in maintaining the present skill sets. In general, if we are only reheating, finger dialing, microwaving or de-packaging and arranging, we will be safe with what the future brings. However, if you are one of the recent believers in bringing back old skills such as canning, brewing, scratch cooking or anything that your grandmother would call cooking then you may want to pay attention to the effect that these technologies have on your kitchen.

The last idea that grabbed me was a quote on picnicking. I posted a blog on cottage food a couple of months back, in which I described two approaches to making cottage food. Of course, Elizabeth David  has greatly outflanked me in a more apt description. She was describing picnics in this way:
"Picnic addicts seem roughly divided between those who frankly make elaborate preparations and leave nothing to chance, and those whose organization is no less complicated but who are more deceitful and pretend that everything will be obtained on the spot and cooked over a woodcutter's fire, conveniently to hand; there are even those...who wisely take the precaution of visiting the site of their intended picnic some days beforehand and there burying the champagne."
I find myself firmly in the weasel camp. The modern world of the internet makes this subterfuge of discovering the area less of an arduous chore so making me less deceitful. I always fess up to looking for things on the internet when someone asks how I found this little place in the middle of nowhere. I used to use phonebooks for the same tasks.

I think this is the last of the Penguin Food Books that I will read. I hope that you have enjoyed the reviews that you have visited. I'll probably post a linked page and relabel all the reviews, mainly because I think they show some value in revisiting old cookbooks and food writing. Most of the way forward to new food is to reflect seriously about where we have been. As has been said about science, politics, war and history, we must look backwards in order to move forwards.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: Love in a Dish or MFK Fisher: First Food Blogger

This isn't really a book review. It is more of a rambling monologue after reading another of the Penguin Food Series. This time is it is Love in a Dish ... and Other Culinary Delights. The reason this isn't a book review is because I had already prejudged this short collection.

You see, about five years ago, I finally read a substantial amount of the canon of M.F.K. Fisher. I had been reading a bunch of chefs on cooking and writers on writing and her name kept cropping up. When I hear about classics, I often get turned off by the hyperbole and the quest for deeper meaning by the reader. With Fisher, I found that the reviews did not matter. There was a deeply personal tone to her work that resonates today. She admits primal urges and explores food in a delightful way. Food is not just nourishment and cooking is not just technical. At the same time that she recounts great meals or discusses her mother's cooking or her grandmother's dietary needs, she is communicating a deeper interior relationship with food.

My wife has a visceral reaction and compulsion with sweets. The fact that something has a sugary taste and a starchy base makes her happy. This physical act of eating a cookie drives her to take another and another. These personal stories were not shared much in traditional food writing (think of restaurant and lifestyle sections in the early twentieth century).

Many of Fisher's pieces are small. There are mini essays that differentiate between gourmand and gluttony or personal recollections like when she travelled with her uncle on a train. It is precisely these vignettes that make me think that if Fisher was alive today, she would be a food blogger.

Online food writing sometimes relies too much on shortcuts; pictures, memes (OM NOM NOM), and opinions without consideration. It is refreshing to see someone do something special. Some of my nominations for bloggers that seem to be using the tools of irony or new media to create this same feeling would include Nadia G., My Drunk Kitchen, Epic Meal Time, and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. I am not saying that these are at the same calibre but what I am saying is that they are showing their relationship with food in a visceral and personal way. I like that. I can only hope to achieve that level of honesty whether it is slathered in humour and bacon or not.

I guess this goes a ways to say, read M.F.K. Fisher if you are an aspiring blogger. There is a lot of good that can be had by watching a masterful chef or writer. You may not be able to do the same in your kitchen but you will get a few hints to make you better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Restaurant Review: Shawarma Fresh

Shawarma Fresh is co-located with a pizza parlour at 1444 Yonge Street which is just south of St. Clair and Yonge. I've waited a while to review this place for a variety of reasons. The first is that it had been shut down for a week a while ago due to the sewer backing up in the basement. Public Health closed it for that reason. The closure had nothing to do with the restaurant and more to do with the owner of the building. I know I am mentioning the closure here but if you researched on the City of Toronto website, you may not get both sides of the story.

Another reason was that it is a five dollar sandwich. It is hard to review something that is such a great value that you have a hard time being objective. A friend had lamented about the lack of five dollar lunches or even any cheap lunches in the area. The best value that is not some fast food menu item starts at around ten dollars. Those lunches are often starchy containing an overload of pasta, rice or noodle and not so healthy.

I am here to praise the five dollar sandwich. In this city, there are many "ethnic" sandwich like items that fit the bill, whether it be hotdogs, hamburgers, banh mi or tacos. The middle eastern entry is the shawarma. Most come in around five dollars and consist of spit roasted chicken or beef in a pita with fresh vegetables, pickles (especially beets), and some sauces. You cannot expect free range animals and organic vegetables at these prices but you wouldn't figure there would be much variety.

Unlike the overabundance of Shopsy carts in the city, it turns out that many of these places vary. One of the noticeable differences is the texture of the meat. After being on the spit, some do nothing else but cut and stuff the meat into a flatbread. Many others want to ensure that they fully comply with Toronto regulations and reheat the meat in a variety of ways (flattop, microwave, oven and fry pan are common). Sometimes the meat is crusty or dry or inedible. Another difference is the pickles. I like pickled turnips but they can be a little flaccid. The tahini and the hummus can vary quite a bit.

To Shawarma Fresh's credit, the sandwich they serve is the right amount of meat to vegetable to bread. The sauces are garlicky and tangy and cut by the vinegar of the pickled turnip. There is a nice contrast of warm bread against the cool veggies and hot seasoned meat that make each bite different enough to provide variety but not so much as to be jarring. When the veggies such as tomatoes are not in season, it is easy enough to ignore them and add extra lettuce. As I mentioned before, if you are a true hardcore foodie, then you will have a hard time eating in a place like this but for a tired and hungry office working counting the pennies, this is the type of neighbourhood place that makes you happy.

Shawarma Fresh on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Drunk Review: 7-Eleven Taquitos

This is the first time I am doing a drunk review while sober. I did try the food while being slightly happy and made some notes. Reading those notes has been fun and I vow only to do drunk reviews while drunk. Who knew your handwriting could get so bad and still legible in one state? I guess I could always drink a bit and see if it begins to make sense again...

I am not unfamiliar with the meals provided at 7-Eleven. We have a history. I lived in Ottawa for many years and survived and thrived in the winters provided. Working late shifts, I often found myself walking through the Experimental Farm paths at two or three am, tired, slightly chilled and a bit hungry. The funny thing about walking across a field with no protection that late (or early if you are a farmer) is that the wind has died down and temperature has dropped sub minus fifteen. Exposed flesh is a problem but as long as everything is covered and kept under wraps, you can take your overstuffed body across the crunchy ground. The noise of the snow is the only thing you hear but it is so loud.

Anyways, at the edge of that large field there was, and probably still is, a 7-Eleven. I would stop for one of those hot sugary milk based drinks disguised as coffee and something microwaveable in plastic wrap. The coffee would take the edge of my tiredness so that I could get to sleep when I finished the twenty minute walk from the store to my house. The meal would warm the exterior of my gloves and eventually seep to my fingers that had a touch of cold. It would also save me the time of rooting for leftovers in the fridge and waking my housemates when I got home. Those are kind of fond memories.

So, now, how does that compare to my experience on Friday night after an outdoor beer event at The Only? We drank a few beers and had a slight mellow buzz going on. This was probably not the necessary level of inebriation for enjoying those vast, fast food cravings that strike people of a certain level of intoxication but it was close enough. The night was cool but not cold. The sign on the convenience store provided more than enough warmth to chase the chill away but still I had committed to trying the taquitos.

I must of been drunk enough because it took me three sweeps of the store to find them. They were right beside the cash where they kept the rotating wieners. The taquitos were rotating with the wieners. I have never liked those wieners, that should have been a warning sign. The value for the puchased goods was good. Three of those cigar sized deep fried taco things for five dollars. I began to wonder why I didn't come here more often. Remember I was on the edge of drunk. Don't judge.

The taste test comprised of the spicy beef taco one, the buffalo chicken one and Monterey Jack and chicken. They were all a little salty but after the hoppy beers, it was one of the flavours that came through. All three had this shell that vaguely reminded me of cannoli or those chocolate rolled cookies that everyone eats at Christmas. I wouldn't have recognized the hermetically sealed container (the wrap) as being a taco. The temperature was quite hot. Hot enough that I was glad for the paper bag that separated me from them.

The taco one was spicy but it was hard to figure out the flavour. Cumin was high and the crumbly beef gave me enough information to determine that this was indeed the taco one. The second one was misinterpreted by my colleague of tasting like Campbell's chicken soup. I am not sure which variety he was speaking about but I can see how the buffalo chicken could be mistaken for cream of chicken with a touch of vinegar. The third was a flavour that tasted like processed cheese and chicken because that is what it was. I would not eat these drunk again. However, if I find myself in the middle of field late at night in the winter in a northern city anywhere in the world and the last of the tortilla wraps had gone, I would cast my wary eye to these heated poles. They serve a purpose.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: Coffee Life in Japan

There are people who like to read cultural anthropological studies about specific niche areas and I am one of them. These books intrigue, especially when you are part of the phenomenon they are describing. In this case, I am not Japanese nor a Japanese cafe goer. However, I am an ardent fan of coffee and have studied some Japanese history. The throw away part of the phrase about being a subject refers to reading a bunch of studies on cyberpunk and other subcultures in the 90's while being on the edge of some of these cultures. Sometimes, they got it right and other times, the nuances of meaning were lost while the researcher tried to boil down multiple experiences into something wrought with academic meaning. Sometimes, it just doesn't work.

It was good that I had some passing familiarity because there are some unexplained terms and some descriptions of Japanese everyday objects and concepts that may challenge someone with no background. I am getting too far into the criticism without covering the basics. The book is, of course, Coffee Life in Japan by Merry White. It is a cultural history of cafes in Japan.

Japan opened their first cafe in 1888. They are the third largest coffee consumers in the world. They bring a special approach to the brewing of the beverage. There is a concept of craftmanship called kodawari which the author notes definitions of obsession, fastidiousness, disciplined dedication of a personal passion to pursue something. Based on her observations, it kind of like a nerdy hackerness where repetition to get something perfect for the sake of perfection and the craft. It feels like a deep curiosity. The kodawari  lives in the thing that is being crafted. It is like a elegant hack or a beautiful piece of code.

There are very few shops that sell espresso drinks, favouring the more delicate preparations of pour-overs, siphons and sumiyaki (charcoal roasted coffee). Some of the shops, the masters are referred to as coffeemaniakku. The other great Japanese word that floated through this book was koohii meaning coffee.

Another theme was how coffee places social places had changed over the years to evolve into a place where you go to not have the pressures of the outside; in a cafe you are not mother, daughter, employee, boss. This is a place of no obligations rather than a liminal place that the cafe serves in American culture. Japanese cafes are not for waiting or being something (no posing in the corner with your laptop as a famous writer or having loud conversations showing your erudition) but rather for being free of all social obligations.

I am not doing the coverage justice.

I wonder if it would be possible to take that most Japanese of ideas and translate into a North American location like Toronto. Toronto cafe culture often feels forced. When I moved here around thirteen years ago, the only cafes worth visiting were few and far between. There was so much emphasis placed on the commercial aspects and not as much on the social reasons for the cafe. That has been evolving and now there is a type of independent cafe that rewards visitors with both an atmosphere and a good cup of coffee.

After all that, if you are interested in the role of cafes in society, this might be a good book to read. Sure, it is a foreign culture but it is often when we take a look at someone else that we can start to see our similarities and differences.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Drunk Review: Subway Meatball Sub

So, I am walking home from one of my locals (The Only Cafe) after having a couple of good beers and a half decent one. I had been tweeting earlier with a person who remember Ottawa in the 90's as a land of shawarmas and Imperial Pizza, so I had a hankering for a donair.

I stopped at Fuzzbox and had a donair and continued on my way. There was still a little space for a little something something and so I decided to stop by the Subway. When I was younger and poorer, if that is the right term, I used to order a meatball sub with veggies, especially jalapeno peppers. For old time sake, I order one of those beasts and got the creamy smoky sauce, hot sauce, jalapenos, green peppers and red onions. After the bitterness of the hops, I find that spice can cut through it and provide some type of decent flavour.

 The problem was that all the additions tasted great but the meatballs tasted of mush. There was a vague meaty taste but it was the type of preformed meatishness found in cans of Puritan meatballs and gravy. I know that the hoppiness of the beer that I indulged in earlier kills some of the more nuanced notes found in food later consumed but it would not kill every note. Think of it like going to a loud concert. When you get out, you get that strange form of ringing in your ears. Usually, you can still understand what is on the radio as you drive away from the venue. You could recognize the band and even hum along. This would be the equivalent of not even realizing the radio was on. The meatballs tasted of nothing. I would be hard pressed to let you know what the meat was.

In some ways, I guess this is a good drunk snack. Not offensive with enough breadiness to quell your stomach and slow down the absorption of alcohol. In another sense, it does not punch through the alcohol numbness. It is a toss-up if you are a youngster but as a more seasoned foodie, I think I probably should have ordered some fried pepperoni with my donair.

  Subway on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Store Review: Bonne Journee

This new store is another addition that is starting to fill in the row between Coxwell and Greenwood along Queen Street East. It joins Sausage Partners, Queen Margherita, Rakia, The Film Buff serving ice cream and the Sunday farmer's market as a growing local food destination. That may be stretching it but for the longest time there was not much in the area.

So, a boulangerie opens. Boulangerie is basically a baker that does not specialize in fine pastry. It is often contrasted with patisserie which is a fine pastry shop. There are no claims from this shop that it is a fine Parisian pastry shop. It does feel French because it is. However, it does have some of the goodies that you would expect including mille-feuille and Paris brest. I happened to show up on opening day by accident. The accident involved going for chicken at Sausage Partners but that is a digression. Sticking to the point, I entered the shop and was a little surprised to see that it was barely noon and only two types of bread remained. (Here comes a major digression).

<DIGRESS>As an aside, a friend of mine went to Glory Hole about a week ago, shortly before noon where he was greeted by a rack of four doughnuts. There was one person in front of him and a few people lined up after him. The person in front takes the last of the doughnuts and the counter person told him there were no more doughnuts. A similar thing happened to me at Paulette's where a number of different types were finished.

The problem that we have with this is that both of these places have been in business for a little while and so they should have an idea of what their daily sales will be. The second is the response is a little shrug and sorry. The third is that they seem to trade on this shortage - when they are gone, they are gone and aren't they precious? There is a slight weirdness in TO food culture where shortages are managed to create buzz. Maybe this is because these places are worried that their products would not live up to the hype? I know, a little catty but...</DIGRESS>

The server was so apologetic and stated to everyone she served that they had made a mistake on their first day and should have made more bread. She assured every one that this would NOT happen again. It may have helped that she said this with a slight french accent belying the rudeness of the French. I got a bunch of stuff and headed back home to test the tastes on the hoard.

The demi-baguette tasted fine but the crumb lacked the large bubbles that I expect. There was a pain au lait sprinkled with sugar but I felt the sugar chosen was a little too coarse. It made the bread taste more like a sweet rather than a sweetened bread. A finer sugar sprinkled less liberally would make all the difference. Fundamentally, it tasted fine.

The pastries were another thing. The flavour for all of them was quite good. It tasted as if an experienced baker had made them. A complaint could be made in the lack of refinement; some of the crusts were unevenly browned, the cut of the brest allowed the cream to fall out.  Once again, the filling and the crusts tasted like they should. It was the texture and the crunch that was oh so slightly off.

You can always tell something about the make of a place during its first few days and I can tell that the pastries will become more regular and refined with more days to come. The bread situation will result in availability. This place will survive and make good on its promises because you can see it in the servers and taste it in the food. They aren't only here to make a living, they want to please their customers. I do have the choice of going to the patisserie down the way but I think that sometimes the raw, young desire to please will win me out sometimes, especially if I am only looking for a few loaves of bread.
Bonne Journee on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Review: Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving

I have over 100 cookbooks. My wife often asks why do I need another cookbook? Don't I have enough recipes? There are few cookbooks that I need at this time for the recipes. Most recipes can be found on the internet and if you know the technique that you want to use then you can find that as well. What is not often found easily are the little serendipitous moments when looking at an array of recipes or at the particular words of an author and get that AHA! moment.

This small cookbook from the Great Food collection at Penguin written by Hannah Glasse provided a few of this interesting moments for me. It was excerpted from a book that was to teach servants to cook. Glasse goes on about how food should be simple and local. Now, with our eyes this seems like a very modern take on food but as we continue to read her introduction, we realize what her intent was. It also begins to show some of the problems that I wrestle with around locavorism.

It seems that our Hannah, being a good Brit, has a problem with the French. The French style required more; more ingredients, more flavours, and more sauces. Her views may be more anti-French than they were a celebration of local cuisine. It was slightly xenophobic and maybe even a bit protectionist. I know that this isn't quite what happens in cities and areas such as Toronto. We have a litany of interesting ingredients from different cultures being grown locally such as Mexican chilies, Chinese and other Asian greens, and island ingredients like callaloo. Still, is the growth of locavorism pushed by a slight conservative bent?

Despite the reason behind the sentiment, I tend to agree that things that are grown closer taste better. This is not because they are inherently better tasting but rather that the ingredients don't spend a long time on trucks, boats, planes or trains. They require less gilding but I am not sure that I agree with the intimation that simple food is better or that all complex preparations should be shunned.

Another interesting note is the sheer amount of different meats available. In today's modern grocery store there is only a few options whereas in her day, there was an amazing array. I have seen the stores starting to carry more options but it still is not anywhere near the many that an ordinary householder in London would get at the turn of two centuries ago. Mass production has lead us to cheaper meat through picking the meats that are the fastest growing that can be tamed. It has lead to a truism of meat all tasting like chicken. Maybe that statement should say truthyism...

Two small moments stopped me dead in my tracks to note the pages and think about the recipe. The first was a common biscuit recipe (p.62:)
Beat up six eggs, with a spoonful of rose-water and a spoonful of sack, then add a pound of fine powdered sugar, and a pound of flour; mix them into the eggs by degrees, add an ounce of coriander-seeds; mix all well together, shape them on white thin paper, or tin moulds, in any form you please. Beat the white of an egg, with a feather rub them over, and dust fine sugar over them. Set them in an oven moderately heated, till they rise and come to a good colour, take them out; and when you have done with the oven, if you have no stove to dry them in, put them in the oven again, and let them stand all night to dry.
I'm thinking that rose-water and coriander seed might make a really good cookie. I am definitely going to get my wife to do this one or maybe even attempt it myself.

The second moment is seeing a recipe for quince wine. I love quince, a relative of the rose, when it turns the lovely pink-red after being boiled in sugar and water. It has a delicate flavour that does remind me of roses and apples. I think that flavour would make an interesting ale. You would have to cook then dry the quince before adding it to the beer. Alternately, maybe there is something in a rosewater beer but I think it would require cumin or something to offset the perfume taste.

Dieu du ciel does a beer based on Hibiscus.... and that is why I have over 100 cookbooks. The good ones send you off into the great blue making all sorts of connections where there were none. I will not be buying this book. The full transcript is available on the internet. I may revisit the link from time to time when I feel as if I am getting bored with my simple cookery.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cottage Food

It may seem like a weird time to be reflecting on the summer and cottages but early fall is the perfect time. The kids have settled into school and the weekends have calmed down a little. Some days are rainy and the notion of colder days is becoming real. These are the days when I schlep around the house and almost have the chance to be bored. Naturally, boredom leads to thinking about food.

We went on two different cottage trips this year. The first was with my extended family which consists of three other families for a total of seven adults, two teens and two young ones. The second trip was just us.

It takes a lot of planning to get the large bunch of us to agree on food. Two of the families are avid foodies with two strong cooks. We have tried a variety of ways of doing these meal planning activities and they more or less work. The most telling part of the process is that each family tends to bring everything that they want to eat from the city where they are coming from. This leads to cramped fridge space and many leftovers.

Most of my extended family tend towards barbeque, potato salad and buns. Beans and smoked stuff always make an appearance. In the summer I like quick simple meals of a few salads or vegetables and just a touch of something protein like. Sometimes this is not meat and sometimes it is.

Each of our families eat slightly differently when we are at home. It is sometimes hard to get these styles to match. It is a week of compromises where meals are traded off and you sometimes eat something that you have never tried or don't like. It offers a sense of adventure that is not directed by yourself.

On the cottage trip that we took by ourselves, the meals were a little different. I looked to see what local food specialties existed and made note to try them, if we got a chance. The week was rainy so we decided to go out to the nearest town for a few meals to prevent cabin fever and to delay another inevitable and interminable UNO game. We discovered a local meat market that had buffalo tortiere, elk pepperettes and some gamey sausages. Also, we ended up finding a decent 1000 day old gouda from the area. Yes, this meant that the holiday was not all at the cottage but that was fine given the weather. If the weather was good, this type of food tourism would not have been as welcomed by the whole brood.

There is something to be said for both approaches; eating what is cooked or cooking what is found. Both offer a sense of adventure. It is nice break from the normal way that we cook and eat at home. However, I always end up feeling a little relieved to get back to my kitchen and my pantry.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Menu: 5 Beer 5 Bites @ the Only : Pumpkin Edition

I am going to have to change dessert from kumquats to clementines. The kumquats that were around four weeks ago are no longer available but clementines are just getting here. Update: Found out that the Saison isn't ready but we'll figure something out. The cost is $20 for 5 tasters of beer and the following bites. 

I am putting on a joint tasting event at the Only Cafe on Wednesday, October 24th. Here is the working menu.

Shrimp & 'Grits' with Amarillo Mole

Chicken Satay with Saus Kacung

Roasted Squash and Buckwheat Salad

Garlic and Sage Panna Cotta

Coconut and Kumquat Clementine Cheesecake

There are a going to be a total of seven pumpkin beers on tap - the other will be Nickel brook's Pie-Eyed Pumpkin Ale. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Recipe: Shortbread with Elderberry Jam

Fifth and final pairing at the Only Cafe beer and food pairing event. This was going to be the dessert round, so one of I wanted one of my favourite beer Péché Mortel from Dieu du Ciel.

What is it? 
A vanilla blackpepper shortbread with Nutella and homemade elderberry jam served with an imperial coffee stout.

Why did you choose this?
Can't leave a meal without some dessert and coffee. Vanilla and chocolate bring out the nuances in coffees. Often my wife will add a little instant coffee to chocolate desserts, not enough to taste, but it enhances chocolate really well. Since this was about small bites and pairing things that might not be obvious, cookies seemed like it could be a good choice.

Why this tasting?
The coffee stout is roasted, bitter with a strong coffee taste. There is some vanilla notes that I wanted to play off. So, added vanilla and black pepper to a standard shortbread recipe. The black pepper was to break up the sweetness of the whole bite. Nutella has hazelnuts and chocolate. Both of those flavours are a great match it espresso. On top, added some elderberry to add some tartness. I am not sure it was necessary but I was thinking about LU Pim's cookies - the pear in particular. So, I was shooting for that type profile.

So, what is the recipe?
I'm not a natural baker so I ripped off Leiths Baking Bible again. I adjusted their recipe to add cracked black pepper (enough to see) and about a teaspoon of vanilla. Here is a recipe that someone else has done based on a variation of Leiths. Put down the biscuit. Spread some Nutella. Take a spoon to put on some elderberry.

So, you could change the jam or jelly to match the porter or stout. If you have a raspberry porter, think about adding raspberry jam. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Recipe: Cold Noodle Salad

Fourth pairing at the Only Cafe beer and food pairing event. The beer that this salad was paired with was St. Ambroise Pumpkin Ale.

What is it? 
Soba noodles with green onions, ginger and an asian type dressing.

Why did you choose this?
Fourth course and there had been no "potatoes". No starch. Every meal needs a little starch.

One of the first craft beers I had ever tried was St. Ambroise's Apricot Wheat Ale. This was the gateway beer. These beers are seasonal. So, when we were planning this event, no pumpkin beers had showed up yet and we thought it would be a good way to bridge the gap between summer and autumn. Autumn is the time for pumpkins. I had made a cold noodle salad with slightly different ingredients in the summer with sweet potato noodles to go with a seasonal wheat beer and I thought this might be the time to make another buckwheat noodle salad.

Why this tasting?
Pumpkin is a savoury ingredient in most areas of the world except North America. Here we jam it in a pie shell with lots of sugar and call it dessert. Asian cuisine treats it like a squash. I had tried the sweet potato soba noodles as a test but they got lost with the dressing that was needed to bring out the pumpkin in the beer. Round two went to a plain noodle. It worked. This was one of the only ingredients in the whole night that I bought. Just feeling a little defensive I suppose. Anyways, in order to amp up the pumpkin flavour, ginger was added to the noodles.

By itself, the pumpkin in the ale is subtle and only shows up as an aftertaste. When paired with the pungent ginger and the toasty, earthy taste of buckwheat, the pumpkin jumped up and saved the ale from being overpowered. What seemed like a mild ale turns into a more intense brew. 

So, what is the recipe?
Do up the soba noodles according to package. If you feel like trying it yourself, here is a recipe that looks like it will work. Cool off the noodles quickly. If you are making the dish ahead, add pumpkin seed oil and sesame seed oil to coat. This will keep the noodles from sticking. If you are doing it right ahead, add less of the oils. All the next are to taste. Add some chopped green onion. Grate ginger and lemon into noodles. Add ponzu (yuzu based sauce), mirin (rice wine), lime juice, small amount of fish sauce and some salt. Add a little at a time and taste until you get to the point where you put your whole face into the bowl of noodles. That means it is good.

If you can't find ponzu, make a lime based sauce with lime, soy sauce, rice vinegar and a little fish sauce. That will come close to tasting right. You just want to boost the moreish flavour. Moreish is the english word for umami. Click the link, check ze google and whatever else to figure that out. I can think of a lot of variations that work. You could vary those to match the profile of the beer you are having. This could replace beer and wings. At least I think so.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Recipe: Poached Scallop with Coconut Raita

This was the third pairing that was offered at the Only Cafe beer and food pairing. The beer that was paired with the scallop was Denison's Weissbier.

What is it? 
It was a chilled poached scallop topped with smoked salt and served on a dollop of spiced coconut and yoghurt sauce.

Why did you choose this?
We were into the third course and this is where you generally have your main. Since we were doing tastes, it made sense to have a nice small protein that didn't have to be heated (remember no kitchen). Fabian at the only originally suggested scallops and I balked a  little bit because I wasn't sure that I could sear off site and expect the sear to maintain its texture for an extended time. I knew that I really liked Denison's and white beers and seafood really go well. So, I tried poaching the scallops in a few liquids and too many left the scallop flat tasting. Then I remembered wine poached scallops, so why not beer? 

Why this tasting?
Witbier, weisse, and white beers tend to share some common attributes. Banana smells with clove tastes. These flavours seem to go well with the subtle tastes of fish and seafood. To further the tropical spicing and notes, nutmeg, cinnamon and fresh coconut were mixed with coconut milk. For many people, these spices are banana bread spices that I feel deepens the beer. After all, beer is bread. Often with a lighter tasting brew, there is little notice of anything more than the hops, malt and obvious spice. This was my favourite pairing of the night.

So, what is the recipe?
Poached Scallop
Get a quantity of scallops. Cover scallops with beer (drink the rest). Poach until firm. Timing depends on size of the scallop but ten minutes is probably too long and 1 minute is too little. Do this step by feel. Chill the scallop. <aside>I often use the poaching liquid as a stock or reduce it, adjust seasonings and make it into a sauce. </aside>

Coconut Raita
Take about 150ml of coconut milk. Add 2 Tbsp thick yoghurt. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Let sit overnight in fridge. Taste again and adjust sweetness/sourness to your palette.

Putting it all together
Dollop of raita. Scallop on top. Drop or two of lime juice. Few grains of smoked salt.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Drunk Review: McDonald's Big Mac (tm)

After a good meal at Pachuco, I stopped by Sauce on the Danforth for a few cocktails (old fashioned, gin fizz and a Sazerac). The next few blocks after leaving reminded me that there may be too much liquid in my alcohol system so I repaired to the local fine restaurant to use the water closet. In order to be inconspicuous, I decided to try my first Big Mac (tm) since 1999.

That was the year I found myself in Florence, Italy on a Sunday. It turns out that that part of Italy is still fairly Catholic and the only "restaurant" open was the heathen Scottish restaurant. It tasted like home.

Ever since then, I have not availed myself of their culinary delights. Lately, I have been questioning my food snottiness. Is McD's really evil incarnate or have I hyperinflated its regressive and unholy tendencies? Full of alcohol and uric acid, I decided to find out. The sandwich that has generated ear worms of all beef patties lived up to my memories.

Before I launch into my review of the revered sandwich, I wish to let you gentle readers know that the first time I acquainted myself with this most North American of restaurants was on a field trip when I was in grade 8. That was the first time I had ever had McDonald's. We were travelling to Toronto for a big trip to the zoo. The highlight could have been the food or the blue footprints, I can't rightly remember which.

Anyways, back to the current time. Sponge like bread with accents of of slight creamy sourness gave way to crisp lettuce and salty granularity that was almost beeflike in flavour. A slight pause where my teeth break through the pickles and the saline vinegar that provides a break in texture.

Still there is something comforting about the consistency regardless of your location on the Planet Earth. There is no despair when eating the burger. There are calories, carbohydrates and sodium chloride. My mouth tingles and my nerves buzz with the final swallows. There is an aftertaste of unremembered onions. Maybe there are specially bread alliums to prevent sharp tastes or rather a quick bath in overhot water to remove their distinctive aromas and taste. Regardless, the pieces are too small to distinguish on the Mac and blend with all the other small bits of matter. Only the chlorophyll remnants of the iceberg lettuce fix themselves in my memory.

There is no satisfaction in completing this 'wich. Only the profound sadness of knowing that the 5.30 spent could have gone a long way to providing a more complete umami experience elsewhere. However, I remember my cold student days when three hamburgers could be had for two dollars. It feels that the slight incompleteness of the burger is what keeps you coming back. Each time, you wish that you could finally reach the promised land of the advertisements and the smell. However, each time, it will fall flat. Maybe it is the reminiscence of young unrequited teenage love walking back from a night on the couch with a nubile young woman with blue balls. McDonald's is just an immature cocktease. As I have gotten older, I have learned that there are more rewarding experiences with a more mature woman.

McDonald's on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Arugula and Basil Salad with Berliner Weisse

So, salad and beer as a pairing? This post will not really be about the recipe itself but it is the pairing that makes this work. This is from the beer and food pairing that I did at the Only Cafe.

What is it? 
It's a freaking salad served with a beer! More importantly, it tastes good.

Why did you choose this?
We were looking for a second course. I was looking for a way to put a sour beer on the list. Also, I have messing around with some of the micro-*shudder*-greens from Cookstown. Although I don't like the name and hesitate to call it a micro-salad, I really like the intensity of the baby greens and sprouts.

Why this tasting?
I have only tasted about a handful of Berliner Weisse but have had plenty of sour beers. The flavour ranges anywhere from an almost SweeTart to a downright lemon puckery. Nickel Brook made a sour called Green Light Berliner Weisse. I suspect that the green light name came from the colour. It was somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. There was a soft lemon tart taste. There are some that would label this a fairly one note beer. We wanted a salad course.

The thing is, there is more to this beer. It is supposed to be refreshing and really quaffable at around 3-4% alcohol. The few comments were around how people had tried this beer and didn't really like it but I thought we could use the lemon in a good way and find a way to somehow neutralize it so that the wheat beer underneath could get a good taste. Most of those that thought the beer was meh before changed their opinion when trying the pairing. The two worked together to make each other taste better. Good sign.

So, spicy arugula and the aggressive peppery basil pair well with lemon. The salad was dressed lightly with salt and a buttery macadamia nut oil. The acid in the beer completed the vinaigrette and the carbonation on the beer lifted all the tastes. Ripe pear was added to provide a little sweetness and to add a classic pairing or arugula and pear.

So, what is the recipe?
Another salad recipe. The second in a week. Friends are going to start thinking that I have become vegetarian and the beer swilling, barbeque crowd will shun me or at least demand that I bring the salad. So, equal parts baby arugula greens (mild bitterness), basil seedlings (peppery and slightly sweet). Toss with macadamia nut oil or some other milder oil. Add salt to taste. Garnish with some pear slices.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Restaurant Review: Andrea's Gerrard St. Bakery

There are some foodie things that I am a complete nutter about. Butter tarts. I have had very many in my life growing up in Eastern Ontario. The Platonic ideal is a lard based shell that is flaky and put into one of those muffin tins. The filling is two thirds up; gooey with raisins and crust. There is always a few loose strands of the filling that caramelizes along the shell. There is buttery goodness with the sweetness broken up with currant raisins. That's it.

There are no good butter tarts in Toronto. I know, now many people are going to say well you haven't tried so and so, and who likes raisins anyways. Save it. The closest to the ideal are in Apsley at Swiss Bear Restaurant.

But Andrea's Gerrard St. Bakery has me rethinking Plato and his Theory of Forms. Look at the tart sitting on the pedestal; it doesn't look like a butter tart. There is a French crust and traditional French tart form. A thin layer of butter pastry with a rather dark and slightly crackly surface looks a little like a small indentation in a slough. TRUE butter tarts don't look pretty either. The whole filling to crust ratio is off and there is no raisins. This has to be a failure.

My God, I am so wrong. The filling is rich because it uses real butter. There is a slight firmness that is just past gooey but way before firm, kind of like a perfectly scrambled egg. This is topped by the slightest of crusts. Hints of brown sugar make the appearance as the fine filling coats your tongue. The ratio of the buttery and flaky crust is perfect. Even though the filling is probably just a smidge past twice the depth of the crust, any more filling and it would be cloying, any less and it would taste of tart shell. I am wrong. This makes me rethink what I love about the traditional butter tart.

Oh yeah, it sells a bunch of other stuff. Some good - none horrible. If Andrea does nothing else in her life but make those butter tarts, she's good. Guy Fieri remarked that they often picked only the best dishes to show on the triple D and that often he wasn't fond of the other dishes. I wouldn't say that about Andrea's. The bakery makes a decent savoury scone and I would love to try her sandwiches but I may never get past the beast that made me so skeptical.

Andrea's Gerrard Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Recipe: Gazpacho with Cold Grilled Cheese

Here is a recipe from the beer and food pairing that I did at the Only Cafe a week ago.

What is it? 
Aside from being a poor artist's rendition, mine, of a sandwich sitting atop of a cappuccino cup, it was a roasted gazpacho served with a speck and Jarlsberg cheese sandwich that paired with Creemore's Altbier.

Why did you choose this?
My grandmother used to drink lager and tomato juice. Altbier is a lagered ale and I thought that would be a good play. Fabian from the Only and I decided that we would structure the tastes like a mini meal and so soup would be the first course. The Only doesn't have a kitchen so all food would have to be cold or room temperature. So cold soup and sandwich it was. 

A little afraid of the cold grilled cheese sandwich, especially after finding out it was a thing on the urban dictionary, but still went ahead with it because who doesn't like tomato soup and grilled cheese.

Why this tasting?
Creemore's altbier is pretty balanced. Many altbiers play up the maltiness but this one has a nice balance of bitterness and malt. When it was tried with a traditional gazpacho, the soup didn't hold up to the malt and it tasted watery so I roasted most of the vegetables and added a little raw tomato to retain the fresh flavour. 

The bread was made with the beer and when tasting it alone, it brought out a lot of bitterness. So, added some salt in the form of speck and when eaten with the roasted tomatoes, it provided a balanced dish that mimicked the beer.

So, what is the recipe?

Take 1 pint of tomatoes, couple red peppers, 2 - 4 poblanos or jalapenos and roast them. I took a hand blender and got it chopped so there was still a little bit of chunks like a fine salsa. Added half pint of raw tomatoes and 1 English cucumber or 2 garden cucumbers. Added 2 tbsp sherry vinegar. Blitzed it again. Put it in the fridge overnight then tasted. Added salt and balsamic vinegar to achieve desired taste. This recipe made around 8 cups. Of course, this is one variation, there are so many more... Hmm, maybe this would make a good post for How to Read a Recipe.

Beer Bread
Modified a recipe that I found in Leiths Baking Bible. It was on p.514. So, about that copyright... It is a standard recipe where I substituted brown ale for the altbier and then split the wholemeal flour into Red Fife wheat and rye. 

Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Really? So, I got some speck, Jarlsberg cheese and the bread. Made a grilled cheese and chilled it. Brought it to room temp to serve. The slight nuttiness of the cheese accented the bread and the nuttiness in the beer. It worked.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How to Read a Recipe: Watermelon Feta Salad

I sat down with a friend for a quick bite the other day and I scrounged about a little unsuccessfully. Eventually, we put together two salads; a slightly ordinary green salad and a salad of plum, feta and basil. He was quite happy about it and it tasted quite good. Of course, he wanted a recipe. So, it is time for another How to Read a Recipe moment.

The idea of the soft fruit salad comes from a standard recipe for Watermelon Feta Salad.  This salad is taking three fresh ingredients, mixing them together and maybe splashing some olive oil and/or vinegar and maybe some salt if your cheese isn't salty enough. That's it.

What I find interesting is that this approach of fruit, salt, herb and cheese plays out in many other classic salads - the granddaddy being Caprese Salad. This is a helpful frame of reference when you are going to start thinking for other salads like this. How would you begin to pair and create these type of salads?

Essentialist: Watermelon, feta and basil. These are the classic. I will add a little olive oil if the watermelon is a little sub par or dry. This recipe works because of the feta and watermelon pairing. The slight saltiness of the feta makes the watermelon taste more watermelon-y. Salt is to enhance flavour. In this case, because the base flavour tends to be err-watery, you don't often get much flavour.

Locavore/Seasonal: I have replaced watermelon with soft stone fruits fairly successfully (Peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries). In the winter, I am not sure if Ontario is the right place to try this. Maybe it is best to walk away from these type of salads in the winter.

Replacement Approach: Just as it says. Take one ingredient and replace it with a like ingredient. Watermelon for another type of melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, etc).  Feta for another cheese - just make sure that the cheese is salty or you will have to add a little salt (bonconcini+salt, parmesan chunks, aged gouda, blue). Change the herbs - parsley, coriander/cilantro, arugula. Change watermelon for other type of soft pulpy fruit (strawberry, cherry, halved kiwi berries).

I know that some are now saying, well I really like melon with parma ham or strawberries and black pepper really go good. Wait a sec, hold on. That idea explosion is supposed to happen but if it doesn't, just note each experiment and remember or write down the stuff you like. If you are unsure, try a little bit of each of the ingredients together before mixing a huge bowl that gets ignored on the table. I won't do that again. So to address those people who have started to wander off into ham/melon or any other classic variety way ...

Classic Flavours + 1: This recipe is three flavours that work together. Another way to look at it, is that there is a classic pairing with an additional taste. So, take any flavour match that you like and go at it. If you can add a third flavour that works as another pair, all the more likely that it will work. So, that prosciutto melon thing - add mint. Strawberry, black pepper - add basil and balsamic. Pears, blue cheese and watercress. I often use The Flavor (sic) Bible to get a pairing and add on from there.

Utilitarian Approach: What is a salad for? What are dangling participles for? Both, often mark a digression from the main point and they are often a result of an afterthought or poorly thought out article or meal. It is just something you are supposed to have. I realize that there is a whole other bunch of reasons but I am ignoring those right now.

Salads are a refreshing course that often help to reset your palate. So, change your salad to a sorbet. Watermelon ice with feta crema and basil. Kiwi granita with thai basil and vanilla ice cream. You could flip it around and make the ice cream with soft cheeses - blue ice cream with applesauce and walnuts.

Reductionist Approach: We are starting to get very far from that watermelon or Caprese salad at the top, so let's start getting to really basic. Take fresh fruit, dress with a good olive oil and salt. Done. Take fresh herb and toss with good olive oil and salt. Done. Take cheese -- oh hell, you get the message. Enjoy. Play with your food. You don't have to have the same green salad from the bag every day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: Fermenting Revolution

Christopher Mark O'Brien is pulling our leg. Maybe that statement is only partially false or potentially true but it goes a little towards describing what it is like to read his book, Fermenting Revolution. This book is a manifesto, history lesson and full of frank pranks.

The style reminds me of a Robert Anton Wilson book or something by a Discordian. There are ways of telling a story using dissonance and hyperbole to jar readers - especially those that agree with you, out of their stupor. Discordians love to use this method like a good koan. Even the Dalai Lama talks about humour and the divine.

Now moving onto the divine. One of the early thesis is that beer is divine - both literally and figuratively. It is only in an industrial, consumerist society that beer has been delinked from the traditional brewing by women for ritual and tradition. Beer was and will be the glue for community, hearth and home. This new/old view of local brewing tradition in season leads to better lives; health, happiness, local, organic and eco-friendly. I have broken the book into an earnest plea but it is told in the more humourous style that I noted above. It bombastically claims that the removal of beer from the home has caused many ills.

Like I said, there is more preaching to the masses but this book does it in such a way that allows you to raise your glasses and say "Hell, yeah. I am saving the universe, the divine, the earth and society by drinking beer. Get me another, please!". A good example of the tomfoolery that I am talking about is the incessant renaming of common ideas: Female, Globeerization, Beerodiversity and Sbeeritual. Silly but serious.

What really got me thinking is the portrayal of how conservative the beer movement really is in some ways. It is trying to push back on the modern and roll back large corporate companies. Through these ideals, there is a push towards more local employment, better environment, more sexual equality and a strong idea of community, family and the divine. It's strange to see how radical an idea that has become. Holding the fort on old ideas has become new again.

There are many examples in the book around early colonial American figures who strove for a particular view around brews. It seems that like the previous beer book I reviewed, Brew North, that there is something in terms of how alehouses work that foment and ferment good government and humane ideals.

The other thing that this book did for me, is give me a few new (to me) ideas for brewing. An all dark roasted malt beverage and using local herbs for bittering. Granted, I have already stuck my head in the alternate bittering options, (used cocao nibs for a few brews), but I am thinking now about some type of sour brew with myrtle, rose or other female named herb. Rosemary beer anyone?

I found this book fun but a little too rah rah for me. I would recommend it for anyone trying to figure out what the whole brewhaha is about the new beer order.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Brew North

I picked up Brew North at the local library at the beginning of Toronto Beer Week. There was another book that I picked at the same time and it will probably make another post. Brew North has an awesome cover that spoke to my inner hoser.

It traces the history of beer in Canada or maybe that is Canada as it was created because of brewing. The tone is light and flows. The pictures of breweriana (old beer stuff) are awesome. I often found that I was transported back to my Eastern Ontario roots as talks of taverns, cheap beer and painted barns went by.  In some ways this book is a conversation and love note to the good old days that seem to be coming back.

The point in this book echoes the point that is made in the next beer book that I will review, that the pub and beer have often been the centre of the community or small town life. There is a bit of lamentation around the tavern and how it used to be post office, hotel, community government and centre of the village in days gone by. I am not sure that Ian Coutts has spent enough time in the great vast small communities. Even twenty years ago, there was a tavern culture in Eastern Ontario that exists somewhat to now.

In Barry's Bay, there was the Balmoral where older gentlemen would drink their pints and younger ones just home from the bush or the work crews would have a quick one. Shuffleboard was still there and the requisite tables and chairs.

In Wilno, just a few klicks up the road, it has become the place for city folk to come and celebrate Kashubian (a region in Poland) culture. There is a live and thriving weekend scene that is dominated by booze, home cooking and smatterings of a language that was almost lost. You are as likely to hear a Polish dialect as English on those nights.

The second piece that struck me was his descriptions of the beer parlour. It is basically a dour place where you sit, order your beer through windows, and drink with no music or anything. I thought the description and pictures were hilarious. I think that an old style beer parlour serving only serious craft beers could make a go of it in Toronto - as a hipster post-ironic statement on the state of alcoholism and partying. It was that and the fact that it reminded me of some of the remnants of these windows that I have seen at many church bazaars and other converted restaurants along the byways of older communities.

I must thank Ian Coutts for writing this. I will be reading more from him, as the style was excellent and it took me down an understanding of current trends and where they came from. I often wondered about the disappearance of the big brewers but never thought to go further than the business pages. Thanks.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Poor Neglected Blog

I have not been posting for the last couple of weeks. Been working on the tasting menu for the Only Cafe and messing around with canning. I do have a few posts planned in the next while if I can chain myself down for a few hours.

- reviews of Absolute Restaurant @ St. Clair and Yonge, Andrea's Bakery, and Shawarma Fresh
- another dissection of a recipe. This time, it will be watermelon and feta salad
- approaches to cottage going and food
- maybe a review of Lucky Peach
- posting of the tasting menu recipes broken down.

I have more ideas than time. Just thought I'd try to keep the blog up to date with a quick post.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Menu: 5 Bites @ the Only

I am putting on a joint tasting event at the Only Cafe on Sunday, September 16th at 5 pm.  Here is the working menu.

Creemore Springs Altbier
Gazpacho with Cold Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Nickel Brook Green Light Berliner Weisse
Arugula and Basil Salad

Denison’s Weissbier
Poached Scallop with Coconut Raita

St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale
Cold Noodle Salad

Péché Mortel
Shortbread with Elderberry Jam

Monday, August 20, 2012

How to Eat Kale

I hate kale.

A friend stated that one day he just gave up trying to eat kale. He tried to convince himself that he liked it but life was too short to eat stuff that he didn't really like. Kale is one of those vegetables for me. We removed it from our weekly vegetable bin a long time ago. I thought that I would never find ways of liking it. I never actively sought it out but over the past three years, I have found three ways that I can eat the stuff.

The first way, Kale Chips. Take a large leafed kale such as dinosaur kale. Remove the ribs. Lay flat on a baking sheet. Lightly oil and sprinkle salt. Bake in a moderate oven (350 or so) until they crisp. My kids love it this way.

The second is Caldo Verde. It's a Portuguese soup that uses potatoes and chorico or chorizo as a base. I find that any sausage works. Okay, the basic recipe is to fry the sausage if raw, render if cooked. Take that fat and brown some garlic or onions. Add liquid (water, broth or mixture of wine and broth). When begins to simmer, add cut potatoes, kale and meat. Cook until potatoes are done. The reason this is such a loose recipe is that I often use different greens, sometimes omit the potatoes, add hot sauce or whatever. It is a basic sausage and greens soup. It works.

The third way is only for those who like bitter. My wife will eat the previous two but if you get the young kale or even microgreens, the mustard like qualities are more pronounced while the cabbage type stuff disappears. I like a Young Kale Salad. It is especially nice with other pungent tasting vegetables (green onion, daikon radish, spicy sprouts) and then tossed with a sweeter dressing (honey mustard or maple balsamic) to balance the heat and bitterness.

I am thinking that there could be even another way that could work. Making a small meatball and either adding cooked kale inside or creating a wrapper like a mini cabbage roll might work. I guess you could even layer kale and cabbage roll stuffing into a casserole type thing might also work.

I hate kale except when I don't.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Store Review: Moo Milk Bar

Whenever I hear milk bar I think of A Clockwork Orange but this place is more Milk n Cookies than moloko-plus. For anyone who remembers Nesquick Strawberry powder or glops of chocolate syrup into cold milk this will be a better memory. The nostalgia draw of homemade cookies and milk is evident from the young foodie hipsters crowding the sidewalk, slapping the bottom of the containers to mix the contents, who share the space with middle aged parents introducing their young ones to the joys.

The milk comes in a variety of flavours including Bottom of the Bowl, strawberry and banana. Some adult preferred flavours of vanilla bean and mocha round out the selection. I am sure given the attitude of the owners that there will be a few rotating members and look forward to what they present. I am hoping for a straight coffee, Camp, tea and others for the adult set.

Now for the cookies... Bad news first, they aren't as good as my wife's. Good news, my wife is an accomplished baker. We have often found that people have forgotten the joy of a home baked cookie. Some of standard flaws include inconsistency of texture, irregular shapes and a slight greasiness on the fingers.

Let's translate these flaws. Inconsistency of texture means that the cookies have spread and the outsides are crispy while the insides are soft and chewy. For some of their cookies, such as the ones with toffee, this translates into a slight burnt caramel taste on the outside and a softer texture and sugary taste on the inside. Not bad at all.

Irregular shapes. If I have to tell you then you have never had a homemade cookie. It means that sometimes they spread a lot, sometimes not so much. Also, what is a circle?

The greasiness comes from using good fats; butter, shortening but not some weird oleo or thing that doesn't exude grease. In cookies, this means love.

The only real miss was the sugar cookie. In my mind, sugar cookies should have a delightful snap and almost crystalline structure (crumbly). These were a little soft and not light enough. Oh, one more gripe.  When I sat down at my mother's table with a cookie and milk, I could dunk 'em.  Here the mouth of the milk container is too small. I had to wait until I got home to properly dunk my cookies in milk.

This is a great attempt at recreating the nostalgia. For those who have never had the experience, being of a generation where homemade cookies were not done, they have to have this experience. For those whose partners still bake, this could be a good second choice. I don't care for cookies but I am still looking for the moloko-plus. This will do until the future arrives.

Moo Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

Mommy, why is Daddy feeding us weeds?

What do you see in the picture above? Ignore the fuzziness and lack of composition. This is one of the reasons that I don't have pictures on my blog. I guess I should do a post about that some time.
I am talking about the bug. Well, not actually about that particular bug but that I found a real live bug on a weed in a front yard garden in Toronto. This particular weed is a lamb's quarter. It tastes a little like spinach when cooked and can be eaten raw. There is a strong chlorophyll flavour. If green was a flavour than this would be a good representation. Behind the leaves there is a dandelion whose leaves can be used for salads, roots for tea or coffee drink, and the flower can be made into wine or tempura.

All of this is made possible by the ban of pesticides in Toronto. This is not the real point but rather the reemergence of unwanted plants as foodstuffs. I went to the Leslieville Farmer's Market and bought some weeds this past weekend. The vendor didn't call them that but I recognize them from my lawn pullings. I bought some purslane and could have bought a tincture made of borage. It will not be long before we see some more of these older crops that may include lovage and other old time greens that are more in fashion for ground cover rather than culinary purposes.

Purslane is a sour green that tastes between lemon and vinegar. It can be used in a variety of ways such as salad, soup or fried. When fried, it becomes sticky and mucilaginous like okra.

Now the idea of sour in our diet is not new. I put on a medieval feast around two years ago and found that most of the recipes were more delicate and herbal with accents of sour. I really should post that menu. It was very enlightening. Other recipes called for herbs such as lovage, borage, dandelion, and sorrel.  From Absinthe to Zest : an alphabet for food lovers by Alexandre Dumas has reference to some of these being typical in a 18th century kitchen herb garden. These greens are now making a comeback. Sometimes all it takes is to look in your front yard at the weeds that are crowding out your grass. 

I dislike grass so much that maybe I will see if some of these ground covering plants can replace my grass and replenish my larder.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mister Beer vs. Six Pints Specialty Belgian Brown

Mister Beer is a Bottle Brew Brown Ale while Six Pints Specialty Beer was purchased at a new downtown Toronto brewery, Beer Academy.

Mister Beer is a do-it-yourself 2L bottle where you open the top to an already prepared liquid, add hops and yeast and let it sit for around two weeks. Chill for a few hours and then open er up and drink. It works out to about six beer and sells for somewhere around six dollars.  The idea of being able to brew a beer in a 2L bottle is like a siren call to me. If there was some way to create a picobrewery in your basement that gets around all the equipment where at worst, your experiment leaves you with five and a half beer that you can't drink then I'm all for it. I have even purchased Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz in order to take a better look at this.

As for the taste of this one... One of the things that I like about browns is the dark spiciness. In this one, the beer would definitely qualify as premium to the regular batch of macrobreweries but a little under the care taken by some craft brews. The spicing is a little muted and the overall taste was not as complex as I would like. To compare both of these brews, I pulled out one of the Belgian bruns that we made over a year ago at Fermentations on the Danforth. The one we made had a more developed taste with great smell of the Belgian yeast (still pretty banana like) and a small wine backtaste. But in defense, Mister Beer was fourteen days old and cost a dollar a beer. For that alone it deserves more considerations. Better than the majors and cheaper.

Six Pints is an interesting case. It runs Beer Academy in downtown Toronto. It talks about being a partnership with Creemore Springs and Granville Island Brewery. When you look at the story more closely, you can see that Creemore is owned by Coors Molson and Creemore entered an agreement to buy Granville Island Brewery a while back. Yes, they remain separate business units but they are backed by the majors. I wrote a little about some of these happenings as being like the alternative scene in the 1990s.

The relationship between the large corporation and its business units is really important. At this time, it looks as if this venture could work as a way of trying out new brews and maybe finding a way back to the major, like a small R&D incubator. I tried a few of the brews at the location and they were, on the whole, tasty and to style. You can see some strings when you talk to them about why they are brewing an English Style IPA (it's not as hoppy so that they can attract the ladies) but every business does their own market research in this way. I like the idea and hopes it floats.  Anything that can bring old styles to new people in a decent way has my vote.

Now, back to their Belgian Brown. The first thing that I notice is that it has the full ingredient list on the tag. I always like this because it appears a little ballsy. This is what is in it. You can watch us brew it behind us and its good. This beer is spicy and you can smell the telltale banana and cloves. There is a cleanness to the taste that verges on thin tasting. It was 13.50 for a growler or about 2.25 a beer. This is where the mathematics of taste comes in. Did I like this beer 2.25x greater than Mister Beer? Well, they were different and both could use a little aging.

 I found both of them worth it. I am going to try another of Mister Beer's flavours - it's a Canadian company and I am curious about this idea of picobrewing. I will also buy quart bottles of all the brews from Six Pints based on their current level of quality and taste. Neither of these will be my go to brew but they are good enough. Six Pints has a promising start and I will watch as it grows.