Lucky Dip – Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

In Toronto:

The Group of Seven Chefs have announced that they’ll be doing a James Beard dinner on September 12th. Congratulations to everyone involved, it’s quite a coup.

Banh Mi Boys (392 Queen Street West) expects to re-open on March 26th.

You should go:

Boehmer (93 Ossington Avenue) holds their weekly lobster boil tonight (and every Tuesday). $18 gets you your own tasty crustacean with garlic butter.

Montgomery’s Inn (4709 Dundas Street West) hosts a St. Patrick’s Day tea on Saturday March 17th from 1pm – 4pm. Featuring tea-time specialties from the Emerald Isle including porter cake, shamrock cookies and more. $10.

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Lucky Dip – Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Wait now… people lined up to get into a grocery store? And they weren’t even giving away anything good like a free turkey? And there wasn’t anything like a natural disaster or an alien attack about to happen? Toronto really has turned into a city of consumer-driven sheep, hasn’t it? [The Grid]

I am utterly over the cupcake trend to the point of annoyance. And I never got into the Star Wars thing… but this cupcake is allowed to exist because it cracks me up. [My Food Looks Funny]

Why we’re all over the daily deal sites and why you should support local indie restaurants, just because. [Bon Appetit]

Nutty as a…? Grandma Deb’s might be the benchmark of fruitcake, but I’d still pit mine against all comers. (Actually, if you can get your hands of a piece of fruitcake from the recipe Chef John Higgens used at Buckingham Palace – THAT’S the benchmark of fruitcake.)[Toronto Star]

The interesting history of Vernor’s gingerale. [Serious Eats]

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Lucky Dip – Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Has science found a way to turn off food allergies? Even more interesting to me is the similarity/comparison  to multiple sclerosis. I have a friend who swears that her MS gets worse when she’s suffering from food allergies – she literally can’t walk if she eats wheat. Really intrigued to see where this goes. [MSNBC: Vitals]

Is the now-ubiquitous Italian trattoria replacing the doughnut shop and pub? [The Grid]

Are we pushing the holidays or is everybody just excited to find out what “pine sugar” really tastes like? Heston Blumenthal’s mince pies go on sale in the UK this week. Last year they were fighting in the aisles and selling them at a 300% mark-up on eBay. [Guardian]

The pizza in a cone thing is not new – but it’s new to Toronto. The Mad Italian offers it at both Toronto locations. [Toronto Star]

8 ways to cut your food waste. [Culinate]

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Lucky Dip – Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

If chefs are the new rockstars, does that mean they get to have egos the size of Bono’s? Apparently it means that they think they’re going to change (feed) the world by serving up self-congratulatory elitist dishes that the starving masses could never afford. Remember folks, when it comes down to it, it’s all just cooking. [The Guardian: Word of Mouth Blog]

Pass the Dutchie, and I don’t mean the donut. It seems that pot smokers, despite regularly getting the munchies, are less likely to be obese than non-smokers. [National Post]

Okay, don’t call it “Black Label” because that’s a beer, but Loblaw’s new high-end gourmet food line has labels that are… uh… black.  Also, only PR companies use the term “influencer” with any seriousness. The rest of us use it as a way to make fun of PR companies who think they’re getting away with manipulating bloggers. [Toronto Star]

Think working the floor of a restaurant is easy? Many chefs do, compared to standing over a hot stove for hours. But being a server takes a certain kind of personality. [National Post: The Appetizer]

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Our Elite Clubhouse, Made From Peaches and Tomatoes

Oooooh, Loblaw’s you bastards!

How dare they?? I mean, really how DARE they try to sell local produce? Don’t they know the rule about how you’re not a good, conscientious consumer unless you buy it directly from the farmer? You icky supermarket shoppers, you can’t be in our special club! Yes, sure, we preached at you to buy local produce and support local farmers. But not from an (ewwww!!) supermarket!

Yes, Loblaw’s is at it again, for the third year in row they are setting up stands within and outside their stores with a farmers’ market-style booth featuring locally-grown produce. This is good, right? Because we want people to buy and eat more local food. And since, despite the proliferation of farmers’ markets in urban areas, most people still buy at least some of their fruits and vegetables from supermarkets, it’s better to have it be local instead of imports. Any switch is a step in a positive direction, right? Good things grow in Ontario?

Apparently not.

Because Robert Chorney of Farmers’ Market Canada seems to think that Loblaw’s is just trying to capitalize on the markets’ success. Well… yeah. But that’s a given. And food activist Anita Stewart says “For generations, all across Canada, farmers markets have been embedded in our collective food culture.” Really? I’m thinking Stewart has/had a very different food culture than the majority of Canadians, because my informal poll indicates that most people grew up with supermarkets, only occasionally visiting a farmers’ market.

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Why I’ll Never Be a Real Insider

I understand that, for a business, marketing plays a key role in achieving success. It’s fine to make a product or write something or make a piece of music, but unless people know about it, you tend not to sell much. I also understand that most advertising, as its basest level, is about manipulation – make people want what you have. Make them believe they can’t live without it. And it used to be that advertising was pretty straightforward – run an ad in a magazine or on TV, or maybe a big billboard. Free samples, gift with purchase and other  programs that made consumers feel as if they were getting something extra also worked well.

Since the Intarwebs became popular, marketing has kind of been thrown on its head. And while it may take longer than hitting a million viewers all at once with a TV ad, viral marketing directed at “community influencers” is becoming more and more popular. Recommendations from people in “the community”, under the guise of friendship, trust and camaraderie, pull more weight than an ad in a magazine, which can seem insincere.

Bloggers are a key target area for viral marketing campaigns. Sending a promotional product or book to a blogger with high site hits is a cheap and easy way for marketers to have the (usually positive) word spread about whatever it is they’re trying to sell. Marketers depend on the blogger to be naive about the marketing machine; to be flattered, and have feelings of obligation, and in turn write a glowing review of the freebie. Since getting free stuff is fun, most bloggers know better than to rock the boat by writing a negative review, or if they do share their true feelings on a product, it’s usually tempered with political correctness and apologies for not liking it.

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The Market Basket – Coming to a Supermarket Near You

market5Chalk one up for all the folks who whined and complained advocated for more local produce in supermarkets. It seems the big chains have been listening.

One July 28th, Loblaws rolled out a programme called Ontario Grown – Picked at its Peak in which they are featuring special displays at Loblaws, Zehrs, Fortinos, Valu-Mart and Your Independent Grocer stores in Ontario that focus on local produce.

Loblaw works closely with farmers in maintaining high standards of excellence to ensure consumers get the freshest and most flavourful fruits and vegetables possible. “Ontario Grown – Picked at its Peak” produce program will have a positive impact on local economies and help revive and support Ontario’s family farms. Loblaws Companies is committed to this relationship – to consumers and to farmers!

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Culinary Mis-Adventures

Giving props where props are due, I’ve got a lot of respect for Loblaws and their President’s Choice line for opening up new gastronomic horizons for the good people of our country and our neighbours to the south. Without the folks from PC offering us everything from peanut sauce to cheesecake, mango dressing to balsamic vinegar, we’d likely still be a society in which meat and two veg was the order of the day. President’s Choice has allowed Canadians to expand their palates and learn about the food of other cultures without shrinking their wallets.

I buy a lot of PC products, and have been known to get ornery as a bear when various items that I like but which sell poorly are discontinued – hello! Wasabi rice chips!!

However, the one thing President’s Choice really doesn’t do well – at least to my taste – is their prepared foods. Their chana masala is bland. Their fish pie lacking in fish, their pad thai is a glommy clomp of noodles that tastes of ketchup.

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Manic Organic – Part 2

Today we’re looking at the organic options in the higher-end grocery stores in my ‘hood. And the options really appear to be all about location. In Parkdale proper, even the prepackaged organic items can be hit or miss, but once I headed over to Roncesvalles Avenue where the supermarkets face stiff competition from a plethora of greengrocers, the organic options were overwhelming.

Loblaws
2280 Dundas West

With 300 products in the PC Organics line, I’m not about to list them all, and I’m going to go with the assumption that the Dufferin Mall No Frills offers a good cross-section of the prepared organic products. Instead, at Loblaws I concentrated on the produce section where there was, indeed, a decent amount of organic options to choose from. Organic strawberries were posted as being $5.99 compared to $4.99 for conventional and that price must have been attractive to customers as there were no organic strawberries left when I was there.

Of the organic cabbage, beets, radish, kale and carrots, all were imported. Pineapples, grapes and pears were also sold bagged, so there was no picking and choosing. Organic onions and sweet potatoes were sold in bags only, which might make the conventional versions of those items more of an option for anyone who needed only one or two of each. There was a decent selection of loose organic fruit, however, with mangoes, oranges, pears, lemons, avocado and kiwi all represented, as well as 5 varieties of organic apples.

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Manic Organic – Part 1

A few months back I read something in one of the newspaper food columns about how relatively easy it was to get organic produce at local supermarkets. The article specifically mentioned the No Frills in Dufferin Mall, and it left me scratching my head. See, I shop at that No Frills and I can’t really recall seeing a whole lot of organic produce there.

This provoked the desire to start exploring. Maybe there were hidden gems in my local shops that I wasn’t even aware of. So over the past few weeks, I’ve been wandering the supermarkets of the west end of downtown to see exactly what there was out there in terms of organics.

You’ll notice that I stuck to supermarkets and chain grocery stores, as this is where most people shop. My own grocery shopping excursions take me regularly to St. Lawrence and Kensington Markets, Whole Foods and Pusateri’s, as well as a variety of farmer’s markets, shops in ethnic neighbourhoods and small health food stores, in addition to frequenting the stores listed below.

In my travels for this article, I looked for specific items such as milk and soy milk, eggs, produce and prepared foods.

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