Book Review – Eating Delancey – A Celebration of Jewish Food

delancey

Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food
Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps
Powerhouse Books, 224 pages

In olde tymes, publishers would send a hard copy of a book to critics for review. In rare cases, this would be a galley copy, with a weird cerlox binding and double-wide pages, but usually it was something that resembled the finished version of the book. Technology has made this process much easier and cheaper – PDF files sent via the Cloud or email have replaced hard copies sent by mail, and pretty much everyone is happier for it, even reviewers who, while they often considered the reward of hard copies part of their (usually very minimal) pay structure, tended to find themselves with stacks of samples of things (books, CDs, jars of weird jams) that they really didn’t want.

The roundabout point of my complaint here is that, with a PDF file for review, I’m now going to have to go out and buy myself a copy of Eating Delancey. That’s right, even after reading it for free, I enjoyed this book so much I’m still going to buy my own copy.

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Smörgåsbord – Nuit Social

nuitsocial_meat

Nuit Social
1168 Queen Street West
647-350-6848

While Toronto is generally tired of “small plates” (which were really just a way to charge big prices for not much food), real tapas bars are still a novelty. Ones that pull off an authentic style of service as well as serving great food are even more rare, which is why I’m kind of stoked to have Nuit Social within walking distance of home.

Chef John Rosal’s menu is designed for sharing, but is completely customizable. Separate sections for meat, olives and cheese have around eight options each (plus specials) and are all available as one, three or five choices, allowing diners to create bespoke platters, and more importantly, try new selections.

An additional menu of shareable plates include sizeable portions of things like fried artichokes, arancini balls and scallops. The dessert menu is short with just three options but they are at least interesting twists on classic dishes.

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Awesome Thing – Tibetan Shabaley

shambaly

The shabaley, which doesn’t seem to exist on the Internets at all, although all of the Tibetan restaurants in Toronto’s Parkdale have their own version, is a heftier cousin to the traditional Tibetan momo.

The momo, Tibet’s version of the dumpling, can be steamed or fried, and comes with a variety of fillings, usually vegetable or beef. Momos are approximately 2 inches in diameter and are typically made from one round of dough, expertly crimped in the centre. Shabaley, on the other hand, are closer to 4 inches across, are made from two rounds of dough crimped around the circumference, are always filled with a beef, onion and spice mixture, and are always deep-fried. In terms of appearance, they vaguely resemble an empanada.

Shabaley filling (like most Tibetan food) isn’t spicy but is a unique layering of flavours that is enhanced at the table with soy and hot sauces. The pastry is thicker than the delicate momo wrapper, crisp on the outside while slightly airy inside, and vaguely, but not overwhelmingly, sweet.

Shabaley are usually served as an appetizer, four to an order, but they are extremely filling and reheat nicely the next day if you (ahem) can’t finish them all.

The shabaley pictured above come from Norling Tibetan and Hakka Cuisine (1512 Queen Street West), but most of the Tibetan restaurants in Parkdale include a version on their menus.

 

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Awesome Thing – the Tourtiere at Victor

victor_tortiere

With no family nearby and a great fear and loathing of travelling during peak times, the husband and I typically spend the winter Solstice holidays in Toronto, just the two of us. Over the years we have made up our own traditions, which usually includes going out somewhere for dinner on Christmas Eve. Last year we found ourselves at Victor in the Hotel le Germain (30 Mercer Street) because Chef David Chrystian had put his family’s tourtiere recipe on the menu as a special, and the husband, being of Acadian stock, was jonesing for some. It was fantastic;  rich, flaky pastry (thicker than regular pie crust) and a spicy filling made up of a variety of meats. We made plans to repeat the experience this Christmas.

Turns out, lots of other people liked the tourtiere too, so much so that Chrystian has added it to Victor’s brunch menu. It’s available as a single portion with fries and salad, or as a whole pie for the table.

If you’re not such a fan of tourtiere (which, really, is just crazy talk, but I’ll let it go), there are plenty of other great offerings on Victor’s brunch menu. Chrystian even creates some eggy Toronto-inspired brunch dishes with flavours and ingredients reminiscent of our various neighbourhoods.

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Awesome Thing – Scones from Baker & Scone

bakerScone

I am so addicted to the scones at Baker & Scone (693 St. Clair Avenue West) that I have started to make up excuses to go to the Hillcrest neighbourhood. Thankfully there’s often something going on at Wychwood Barns, so it’s easy to make a stop on the corner of Christie and St. Clair West and come home with a box of Sandra Katsiou’s flaky, layered delights.

Arranged in the bright, pretty shop in tall apothecary jars, the fresh-baked delights come in 35 sweet flavours and 8 savoury, with around a dozen sweet and one or two savoury versions available at any time. So far, Toasted Coconut and Salted Caramel are my favourites, with the Old White Cheddar, Dill and Chive scones winning my favourite savoury flavour.

Why are they awesome? Katsiou’s got a great technique (folding and re-folding the dough like puff pastry) that creates high, layered scones, and her flavour combinations are fantastic. The scones are slightly cheaper by the dozen, which is just a great excuse to try one of every flavour in the shop. (Yes, I have done this. It was awesome.)

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Awesome Thing – Soma’s Birch Branch

soma_branch

Two secrets that I will admit to you about today’s awesome thing – I have been known to break into the log song while cutting slices of this delicious treat.  I have also been known to cradle it in my arm like the log lady from Twin Peaks (timely, huh?), except you can’t do that for too long because it will start to melt.

Alright, technically, the folks at SOMA Chocolatemaker consider this treat to be a branch because the mould was made from a birch tree branch from the forests of Lindsey Ontario. Either way, it’s one of the coolest chocolate treats you’ll come across.

Filled with a sour cherry jelly and hazelnut crunch, it’s a really lovely and unique creation that typifies the quality we’ve grown to expect from SOMA. And given that it might cause you to break into song, it definitely qualifies as awesome.

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Awesome Thing – Modern Tea Cosies

flockofteacosies

At first glance, they look like hats. Beautiful, thick, felted wool, with nifty little flowers or fringe at the top. And then Flock of Tea Cosy creator Michaelle McLean pulls one up to reveal a teapot underneath. Or a bodum.

For tea drinkers with modern decor, grandma’s knitted tea cosy might look a bit out of place. But McLean’s felted works of art offer clean lines and quality, eco-friendly materials to fit into sleek kitchens and dining spaces. She also offers trivets and table runners, as well as coffee cosies to fit over French press coffee pots.

Why are they awesome? First of all, they’re art, and add a bright, cheerful touch to a table with none of the twee usually associated with tea. Second – eco-friendly, renewable resources. Third – they keep your tea (or coffee) warm so the second cup isn’t gross.

 

 

 

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Awesome Thing – Rose Hot Chocolate

cacao_vanrose
Photo from Flying Bird Botanicals website.

It’s fairly common for rose flavour to appear in tea. But outside of the UK, it seldom appears in candy. To the North American palate, it can go a little soapy. The funny thing is, this hot chocolate mix from Flying Bird Botanicals in Washington state flavoured with vanilla and rose is lush and sweet without being overpowering – absolutely no soapy flavour here, just pretty floral notes. The balance of flavours is such that it makes me think of the French author Colette, having her morning chocolat at a table in a window overlooking a garden.

This hot chocolate would be a lovely option at an afternoon tea, or to enjoy right now, in early autumn, as the last of the summer’s roses fade. There’s a lavender mint version as well.

I found the line of Flying Bird Botanicals chocolates at Zebuu (1265 Bloor Street West), a charming shop just east of Lansdowne on Bloor Street. While their website is stark, Zebuu owners Craig Williamson and Geraldo Valerio have filled their shop with lovely art, books, handicrafts, food and bodycare products, mostly from small artisans. Valerio’s artwork and children’s books are featured as well.

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Vive Le Québec Dîner at Biff’s

biffs_scallop

The Oliver & Bonacini Group is a diverse collection of restaurants, many of which serve a specific niche, and a specific style of food.  Biff’s Bistro is well known for their French bistro cuisine, but the food tends to be more France-French than Quebec-French. Fortunately, O&B also gives their chefs creative license to do special events and dinners, which is how we ended up at Biff’s earlier this week for their Vive le Québec Dîner – a five-course dinner in which Chef Amanda Ray created a menu of the best French Canadian cuisine, all paired with Quebec beers (pairings by Peter Campagna, Certified Ciccerone) and ciders (paired by Mel Hilton).

These dinners are one-off events and most dishes don’t show up on the regular menu, so they’re worth checking out as they really give the chefs the opportunity to offer items and ingredients they they might not normally get to work with or serve. The Vive le Québec Dîner was $85 all in, and included five dishes with drink pairings as well as a welcome drink.

For more info on upcoming dinners, check out the Oliver & Bonacini website or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

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Review – Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried

Book_FictitiousDishes

The sign of a good writer is whether or not the imagery they commit to the page elicits a response in the reader. Can they make the place, the character, or the event vivid and real to the person reading the story? Oddly, one of the most difficult things for fiction writers to describe is food or meals, especially if the scene is integral to the story. But when the writing is well-done, the description of a repast (sumptuous or otherwise) not only progresses the plot but can be so vivid that the reader can almost taste the dishes described on the page.

In Fictitious Dishes, New York Graphic designer Dinah Fried thought to take the process one step further – she cooked, styled, and photographed foods from great works of fiction. Amassing a vast collection of props along the way (plates, tablecloths, cutlery), she chose 50 works of literature and set about bringing a meal from each to life.

Holden Caulfield’s Swiss cheese sandwich and malted milk from The Catcher in the Rye grace a Formica diner table. The potato salad and coconut cake from East of Eden adorn a picnic table and make the mouth water. And the spread of hors d’oeuvres from The Great Gatsby will have every reader wishing for an invitation to the party.

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Awesome Thing – Blueberry, Vanilla & Coffee Jam

preservationsociety_jam

I know. But it works. No, wait, just listen… it shouldn’t. It should be awful. But it’s not. It’s actually quite lovely.

I met Camilla Wynne Ingr of Preservation Society a couple of weeks back at the Well Preserved Kitchen Party event at Harbourfront Centre. She was one of the vendors set up selling various types of preserves. Her company does a variety of small batch jams and pickles, and she had an array of really interesting flavour combinations. We tried a few but this one really knocked our socks off.

The blueberry and vanilla is pretty standard, but the coffee gives this jam a kick. I’d compare it to drinking a really hearty red wine, or a stout or porter if we were comparing it to beer. It might not be for everyone – it’s not a wallflower, as far as jams go. I’m looking for a way to pair it with chocolate, which I think will balance the assertiveness.

Preservation Society products are sold mostly in the Montreal area, but in Toronto can be found at The Pink Grapefruit (106 Queen Street East) and BYOB Cocktail Emporium (972 Queen Street West). Products are also available to order via the website.

Even if the blueberry and coffee combination isn’t for you, the other products are very much worth checking out.

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Awesome Thing – Charley Harper Pint Glasses

harper_glasses

Have you ever come across something that you needed desperately but didn’t know you needed desperately because you didn’t know it existed? For me, that thing was this set of bird glasses by artist Charley Harper. I’ve been a Harper fan for years, and my dream sleeve tattoo (come on, everyone has a dream sleeve tattoo… that ink work you’d get if money was no object) is actually a series of Harper-esque birds.

Harper’s nature artwork, done originally for school textbooks, is pretty much the epitome of mid-century modern art, and although the artist passed away in 2007, there is a great deal of renewed interest due to the fact that designer Todd Oldham has been working with the estate to create some great books and lines of houseware products.

Besides the typical prints and artwork, Harper’s work now graces mugs, Christmas ornaments, phone cases, tea towels and dishes. Many of the items were created in conjunction with New York housewares shop Fishes Eddy, but the full collection can be found on the Charley Harper web site.

I actually found this set at Cookery, the newly-opened cookware shop at 303 Roncesvalles Avenue. Reasonably-priced at $36 (glasses are also sold individually for slightly more), the glasses are a full 20-oz pint, making them perfect for stylish beer drinkers.

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Awesome Thing – Chocolate from Sugah!

sugah

My wee niece has discerning tastes, so for my birthday recently, she sent Aunty Sheryl something wonderfully awesome – some chocolate bars from Sugah! in Halifax.

Sugah! is a confectionery shop on the boardwalk in downtown Halifax, and they make a point of using local ingredients in their unique products whenever possible. Which is how I ended up with chocolate bars made with seaweed and maple sugar.

The Canadian Maple Sugar bar is a white chocolate bar sprinkled with granulated maple sugar. It’s a nice flavour combination and an interesting texture. The Kraaken bar (available in milk or dark chocolate) is loaded with Nova Scotia seaweed. This is an odd bar and not to everyone’s taste (my husband dislikes it vehemently) – as the chocolate melts away the dried seaweed softens up and slightly expands, much like tea leaves. It can be disconcerting on the tongue but the flavour pairing is lovely and for this old Bluenoser, it’s a touch of home.

Why are these awesome? Because the flavour pairings, as well as many of the other products at Sugah! are unique, and because their dedication to using local products in their goods (Lunenburg cranberries, Nova Scotia sea salt, locally-roasted coffee, malt from a local craft brewery) means they’re supporting other local businesses and food artisans.

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Awesome Thing – SOMA’s Calamansi Lime Chocolate Bark

soma_lime

How does that song go? You put the lime in the coconut… If lime and coconut are your thing, then this chocolate bark might also be for you. The awesome folks at SOMA Chocolatemaker have come up with this great combination, pairing the sour/sweet duo of the calamansi lime (sour juice and pulp but a sweet peel) with the sweetness of milk chocolate and roasted coconut. The touch of salt rounds it all out for a treat that exquisitely balanced.

Why it’s awesome: because it’s an interesting flavour combination that uses unique ingredients.

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Awesome Thing – Well Preserved Picnic Blankets

picnic

Last weekend, the husband and I headed down to Well Preserved‘s Home Ec Big Outdoor Kitchen Party event at Harbourfront. It was a wonderful gathering of producers of preserved food, as well as a series of lectures and presentations on the various aspects of preserving. Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison at Well Preserved have done a fantastic job of promoting local businesses as well as the overall art of preserving in our city and it was a delightful and well-planned event.

One of the things that caught our eye while we were there was this basket of blankets, clearly marked as being available to borrow at the event so people could sit on the grass by the lake while enjoying some of the tasty offerings from the participating vendors.

Why it’s awesome: because Joel and Dana obviously put enough thought into their event that they not only had blankets available but also had signage made to let people know. It’s awesome because they’re trusting enough to let people wander off with what looked like some nice quality blankets. And it’s awesome because they thought about the kind of atmosphere they wanted to create and did a simple little thing that was so kind and gracious.

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Awesome Thing – The Bristol’s Chicken and Waffles

bristol_chickenwaffle

Sure, you can get chicken and waffles lots of place. The southern delicacy is pretty much ubiquitous in Toronto these days and the quality varies greatly. So what makes a dish that has otherwise been done to death stand out? Well, you’ve gotta put your own twist on it.

At The Bristol (1087 Queen Street West), Chef Davey Love has come up with a uniquely British way of presenting this dish. Let’s call it “Empire-inspired”. Rajcoe’s chicken and waffles is 3 pieces of tandoori chicken in an onion bhaji batter atop a waffle made with chickpea flour and spiced with cumin, coriander and green chilies. The maple syrup is mixed with mango, coconut and tamarind.

Why is it awesome? The chicken is super-moist and flavourful, with a double-dose of Indian spices in the tandoori masala and bhaji batter. The chickpea waffle is crisp – not soggy –  and the flavours (while there are a lot of them) are wonderfully balanced. Probably the only breakfast dish that you could justify drinking an IPA with.

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When Even Your Food Tries to Food Shame You

cupcakeWandering through the frozen food aisle of the supermarket yesterday, I spied something that made me livid. And the more I think about it, the angrier I become.

A selection of frozen cupcakes, most with cute and reasonable names until we got to… Cheat Day Chocolate Cupcakes.

I know, it’s supposed to be cute. Funny, even. It’s supposed to play into the idea that these are so good, they’re worth cheating on your diet for.

My issue is more the assumption that you’re on a diet.

Because. We’re. All. Supposed. To. Be. Always. On. A. Diet.

And therefore, if you are eating a stupid cupcake, then you must be cheating. Because “good” dieters don’t eat chocolate. Or cake. It’s too decadent, sinful, etc. etc. etc.

A “good” fatty, hell a “good” woman, must at least demonstrate some level of guilt and remorse when eating a bit of cake or chocolate (Or both!!). To fail to do so means that you’re just not making the effort. To fail to do so means that you might not have been sufficiently brainwashed by the $60 billion diet industry and might be so audacious as to have some remaining self esteem that isn’t totally tied into making you feel like shit about yourself so you will buy more crap – more diet drugs, more make-up, more clothing, more cupcakes… in the misplaced hope that this will be the thing that does the trick and makes you love yourself.

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My Friend, Steven Davey, aka Frank

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image: NOWToronto.com

I first met Steven Davey, restaurant critic for NOW magazine, more than 10 years ago. I was running a monthly dining group called Gothic Diners in which Toronto Goths gathered for dinner at local restaurants, usually in all their black finery. Davey heard about our group through a friend of a friend and invited Greg and I, along with our friend Siobhan, to join him for dinner. He took us to the newly opened vegetarian restaurant Fressen, because it tickled his fancy to take a bunch of Goths (and our supposed vampire-inspired blood lust) to the one place where there would be no meat.

We hit it off and I soon found myself in “the rotation” – a group of Steven’s friends and acquaintances who were restaurant-positive, and who he would invite to join him for restaurant visits when he was doing reviews. That is, we liked dining out, enjoyed trying new things and could follow his detailed directions on what to order and how not to blow his cover.

He would book reservations under a false name, usually “Frank”, but on occasion he’d forget, and I’d find myself at a hostess stand, perplexed. No “Frank”. Or else I’d be seated, and watch him across the room, listing off the various names he might have used to book the reservation. One night I ran into him in line at the Drake’s BBQ take-out shop, and stood in line yelling “Hi Frank!” repeatedly until I had to walk up to him and poke him.

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Lucky Dip – May 6th – Six Cool Food Things

Unelefante-Chocolate-Packaging-Mexico-AChocolate inspired by Jackson Pollack? These beautiful pieces of edible art are from Unelefante in Mexico. [Via KNSTRCT]

Das-Kochbuch-0111Can’t keep track of your best lasagna recipe? How about this one that’s printed on the pasta? [Via BoingBoing]

The story of Sweeney Todd the barber and the little pie shop next door is just fiction… or is it? In the 1380s, Paris had an evil barber/butcher combo that were brought to justice because of a dog waiting for its missing master. [Via Messy Nessy Chic]

Cristina-Burns-photography-12The sweetness of death… skulls, candy and flowers by Cristina Burns. [Via Dangerous Minds]

dali_lesdinersdegala1Before that Surreal Gourmet guy, there was the real surreal gourmet. Salvador Dali’s very rare cookbook. [Via BrainPickings]

spoonsMore skulls and sugar, this time for your coffee – sugar skull spoons. [Via This Is Colossal]

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You’re Invited! Beer and Butter Tarts Launch Party!

party11

If I haven’t been around the old blog much lately, it’s because I’ve been working on other stuff – most notably, the first issue of Beer and Butter Tarts, a Canadian literary food journal, which features work by writers and artists from right across Canada.

If you’re in the Toronto-area, please check out the details below and come on by. Otherwise, copies are available by mail-order from Stained Pages Press.

We’re having a party to celebrate the launch of our first issue!

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014, 7pm
The Rhino Restaurant & Bar (skylight room)
1249 Queen Street West
free admission

Tasty nibbles, fab beer, plus selected readings from the first issue by contributors Dorianne Emmerton, David Huebert and others.

Copies of Issue #1 will be available for purchase.

Please join us!

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