Lucky Dip – Friday, March 9th, 2012

In Toronto:

Bistro 990 (990 Bay Street) will shut its doors on March 17th.

Vegan chef Doug McNish‘s first book Eat Raw, Eat Well will be published on March 20th. It’s available for pre-order at various online booksellers already.

Tori’s Bakeshop opens today at 2188 Queen Street East offering vegan, organic and refined sugar-free goodies like pies, cakes, cookies, donuts and more to the folks in the Beach.

You should go:

Tonight at The Depanneur (1033 College Street) the drop-in dinner is tamales by Holy Tamale. Vegan-friendly corn tamales with sweet potato, apple, onion and spices. Plus “drunken beans” and green rice – all for $10. An extra $2 will keep the carnivores happy with some chorizo.

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Smörgåsbord – Andrew Carter at St. Lawrence Market

Shoppers who bustle about the south St. Lawrence Market building seldom look up – they’re too busy. But if they did, they’d see that there is a fantastic kitchen and event space at the northwest corner that overlooks the market proper and offers a breathtaking view of the city skyline. Equipped with top of the line appliances, the space is often used to host dinners and cooking demos and this summer a handful of Toronto’s executive chefs are taking part in a dinner series where they’ll cook and interact with guests.

On May 12th, we attended the first event in this series with Chef Andrew Carter from the Queen and Beaver Public House (35 Elm Street). I’ve been a fan of Carter’s since he started at Q&B and he enthusiastically led Greg and I on a tour of his kitchen. That he’s been known to serve up dishes like fried cod cheeks, potted duck and a venison stew made with chocolate also don’t hurt.

His night at St. Lawrence Market featured traditional English fare, and was designed to tie in with the Toronto launch of the Billy Elliot musical.

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Flowers and Chocolate

I actually came across these dark chocolate and floral bars well before Valentine’s Day, and if I had my act together, would have posted about them before now. The collection is by Belgian chocolatier Dolfin and is called The Parfums d’Eden. It features 4 different flowers (rose, violet, verviene [lemon verbena] and orange blossom), offered in 30g bars of 60% chocolate.

We found these at Aren’t We Sweet in St. Lawrence Market, but they should be available wherever Dolfin chocolate is sold.

All of the bars smelled and tasted strongly of the included flower, although I didn’t get a lot of lemon either on the nose or the tongue with the verveine. In fact, the dried flowers within the chocolate had an almost tobacco-like taste and smell. No sign of lemon whatsoever. I wasn’t familiar with verveine as a flower – didn’t know it was “verbena”, so imagine my surprise to discover that the flavour is meant to be lemony.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Chris Palik

Christopher Palik was born in Saskatchewan and lived there until graduating high school. He moved to Vancouver and attended the Vancouver Community College Culinary Arts Foundations program. After graduating at the top of his class, he decided he wanted to be a diesel mechanic instead, returning to Vancouver Community College for the diesel technician course. At the prospect of an apprenticeship in the Northwest Territories, he decided to return to cheffing. He discovered his passion for cooking after taking a job at the pub behind his house. He went on to work all over Vancouver, then travelled and cooked in Europe, and ended up in Toronto about 7 years ago where he worked for a variety of restaurants. He took over L EAT catering and Paese restaurants a few years ago.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I kinda always knew that I wanted to work with my hands. After failed attempts at construction and mechanics, I realized that both of those careers lacked the creativity that I was looking for. I was exposed to the business by working as a dishwasher during high school and I fed off the energy of the kitchens.

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On the Shelf – Good Stuff We Found in March

It’s been a while since we ran an On the Shelf column. I’m not sure why – it’s not like I haven’t been shopping. But in the past month I’ve come across some great finds that I just had to share.

Dark Chocolate with fragments of Rose – Chocolats Yves Thuries
Available at: Domino’s, St. Lawrence Market, $5.99
This is exactly what it appears to be, a 70% dark chocolate bar with little nibs of candied rose. I’ve not heard of this chocolatier before but this is a really nice chocolate with a bright sheen and a good snap, although the flavour, logically, takes a backseat to the rose. There’s also mint and lavender versions of this confection, and the lavendar one is very pretty, and not at all soapy or overpowering.

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Follow the Scent of Cookies to the Happiest Place on Earth

 

Mary Macleod’s Shortbread
639 Queen Street East
416-461-4576

Some people say Disney is the happiest place on earth. I’d say those people are wrong. I have proof that the happiest place on earth is on Queen Street East, just past the Don River, where Mary Macleod and her small team of bakers make the very best shortbread ever.

Don’t believe me? Take James’ Beard’s word for it – on a visit to Toronto in the early 80s, the acclaimed chef declared Macleod’s shortbread the best he’s ever tasted.

Mcleod emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1955 when she got married. She shares a story of meeting her mother-in-law for the first time; her reputation for being a great cook had preceded her, and her mother-in-law had asked that she bake an apple pie. Not used to the differences in North American flour compared to the softer, more delicate products used in Europe, Macleod’s pastry was a disaster, and she set about researching the different flours and how she could add other natural ingredients to manipulate the dough to work more like the European products she was used to.

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Thinking Outside the (Heart-Shaped) Box

I kind of hate Valentine’s Day. In a world where we should all be saying “I love you” any chance we can get, or where buying a partner flowers or candy should/could be a regular occurrence, there’s just way too much pressure to fill one particular day with a year’s worth of romance and caring. And because most people are out of practice when it comes to showing others that they care about them, they fall back on “tradition” (aka. the tacky and clichéd). So while, in truth, I don’t have too much problem with a heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates (I actually like the orange creams), so much of what falls into the standard Valentine’s Day gift list (a dozen red roses, champagne, romantic dinner for two) sort of makes me retch. Or at least roll my eyes and groan – and not in a good way.

Now while I can’t help readers with the other issues aside from advising that a gift that suits the recipient’s tastes is better than a gift that is simply “traditional” (ie. buy a cool plant or a bouquet of their favourite flower instead of those tacky roses; skip the teddy bear unless the giftee is under the age of 10; and wait until Sunday and go for a lovely brunch instead of getting shafted on an overpriced V-Day dinner…), I am able to recommend some non-traditional sweets and candies that show a lot more thought and creativity than a gift picked up at the gas station.

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Cooking the Books

localflavourwastenotwantnot
Waste not, want not: Toronto Public Library (TRL)

In an era when restaurants and food shops come and go, it’s difficult to remember food trends from even a couple of years ago, let alone decades or centuries. But everybody eats – preferably three times a day – and over the years, the changes that have taken place in terms of food in Toronto are vast.

Until January 11th, 2009, the Toronto Reference Library (TRL) is offering a peek into the history of food in Toronto through an exhibit in their gallery space called Local Flavour: Eating in Toronto, 1830-1955.

Curated by librarian Sheila Carleton of the Special Collections, Genealogy & Maps Centre, the idea for the exhibit came about because of the opportunity to restore some historical cookbooks in the TRL’s collection. “In 2006, the Toronto Reference Library was invited to apply for a grant from the Culinary Trust for restoration of up to 4 historical cookbooks in our collection,” explains Carleton. “Our application was accepted and two local conservators were commissioned to carry out the work. As it is an honour to be invited to apply for the grant, we thought that the public would be interested in seeing these and other cookbooks in our collection.”

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Where Can I Find – Kitchen Scale

scaleA friend contacted me recently looking for advice on where to find a kitchen scale. He was making beer and needed to measure various ingredients by weight.

The average home cook doesn’t really need a scale unless they’re working with dishes that need precise measurements or do a lot of baking. In chef’s school, we measured all baking ingredients by weight instead of the Imperial “cups” system to help ensure a level of quality control on our finished products. In countries that have fully adapted to the metric system, all recipe ingredients are measured in grams, so a kitchen scale might also be useful for people who cook from any UK cookbooks.

The other and more popular use for a home kitchen scale is for health and nutrition purposes – to measure out exact amounts of foods to help in following a specific diet.

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A Tour of St. Lawrence Market, Part 2

slms2kebabs

As noted in Part 1 of our tour of St. Lawrence Market on Monday, the south market has just about everything needed to fill a pantry. But the fruit and vegetable stands, bulk goods and bakeries tend to mostly fill the perimeter and basement of the space. For most visitors to the market the first thing they see when they enter the main space of the upper level is meat. And that’s where we’ll begin part 2 of our tour.

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A Tour of St. Lawrence Market, Part 1

slmsouthdanish

Recently in a Market Basket column, we explored the north section of St. Lawrence Market which hosts the weekly farmers market. But there’s a whole array of tasty stuff in the south building where vendors are set up at permanent kiosks and shops.

Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, the south market building, located at 92 Front Street East at Jarvis, is like the high street in a small town, with a selection of butchers, bakers, cheesemongers, greengrocers and bulk and dried goods stores. Many vendors have been at St. Lawrence since the 70s and 80s, making them a longstanding tradition for shoppers here.

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Where Can I Find – Red Fife Flour?

multipleflourThe “Where Can I Find?” column is a new bi-weekly feature here at TasteTO starting this week. We’ll research and track down hard to find items and let you know where they’re available. Got a question for the “Where Can I Find” lady? Drop us a line.

I see red fife flour showing up on restaurant menus that have a local food theme, but where can I get this product to bake with at home?

The hot ingredient this summer is most definitely red fife flour. Restaurateurs and bakers from Jamie Kennedy and Marc Thuet to St. John’s Bakery are using this wholly Canadian product, and articles about the history and near extinction of the grain are popping up in a variety of publications from MacLean’s and Toronto Life to Edible Toronto.

The short version – red fife wheat was first planted near Peterborough in 1842 by David and Jane Fife, and it became the backbone of the Canadian wheat industry, giving Canada the nickname “granary of the world”. Immigrants were given free seeds to encourage them to settle on the prairies and become farmers. Over the years, red fife fell out of favour as other varieties derived from the red fife strain became more popular because of shorter growing times and higher yields. The original strain was on the verge of extinction by 1988 when a seed-saver activist named Sharon Rempel got her hands on a pound of seed and planted it in Keremeos, British Columbia.

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The Dog Days of Summer

We didn’t take the dogs to Woofstock, Toronto’s annual dog festival, this year, which sort of defeats the point, yes, but it was way too hot. Hours of walking on hot asphalt is not so great for fluffy black and brown pooches. And in fact, we noticed a significant decrease in the number of dogs, especially larger ones, at the event. Waiting for the streetcar home we encountered a boxer that so hot he was foaming at the mouth. Not good. However, lots of effort was made by organizers and vendors to ensure there was water to be had, plus a cool down station that consisted of a fountain and a bunch of wading pools. Most everyone seemed to be having fun, despite the weather.

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Berry, Berry Good

It’s October 24th and I ate local strawberries for breakfast this morning. This is crazy.

There are a few farmers who grow a variety of strawberry that is ever-bearing. That is, the plants produce fruit continuously from June until the first frost. Usually that first frost comes in early October, but this year, October has set record high temperatures, with days in the mid to high 20s. Thanksgiving hit 32′C, with a humidex of 40′C.  This is good strawberry weather.

I happened across this box at one of the fruit vendors at St. Lawrence Market yesterday. I stopped to buy a fresh fig and ignored the berries, figuring they were from California. Then I noticed the sign that said they were Ontario strawberries, and despite my mostly frugal ways (priced at $4.99, they were considerably more than the $3 to $3.50 I had been paying at the Farmer’s Markets all summer) I figured they would be the last berries I’d get until June, so I splurged.

Usually the ever-bearing berries tend to lose their flavour by the fall. They’re still better that the hard woody imported strawberries from the supermarket, but they’re just not as sweet as the first crop of the summer. These, however, taste like June berries. The warm weather and a decent amount of rain has made them plump and gorgeous and sweet.

We ate them with a vanilla-infused rice pudding sprinkled with grated chocolate. It was the perfect way to celebrate the last strawberries of the year.

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Cooks of the World – Spice Up Your Life

arvinda_preenaIndie Food Artisan – Arvinda’s

The number one most intimidating aspect of cooking Indian food is the spicing. Although every Indian family creates their own masalas for certain dishes, these recipes are often closely-guarded secrets, and for folks who didn’t grow up blending and grinding their family’s special recipe for curry or garam masala or chai, getting the proportions just right can be overwhelming enough to make them want to toss the whole thing and head to Gerrard Street instead.

One woman was confident enough to share her masalas with the world, however, and through her cooking school and a family-run business selling her spices, Arvinda Chauhan’s name has become synonymous with Indian food.

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Proscuittotarian

I’ve fallen off the wagon. I blame Greg – he fell first and dragged me down with him.

I did make a resolution that I would “sample” things when I had the chance, just for the sake of expanding my palate and increasing my knowledge about food. I’ve been doing that when the opportunity arose, but with little enthusiasm; the proscuitto and salami I had at the Green Link event didn’t wow me, the burger Greg ate last week grossed me out (I spit out the tiny bite I tried), and the massive brontosaurus-sized ribs he ate for lunch on Saturday made me think that I had maybe just lost the taste for meat. I got them down and it wasn’t gross, but it wasn’t a pleasant taste – just kind of… dank. Maybe that’s why ribs need so much sauce – to cover up the yukky grey taste.

Then we wandered into St. Lawrence Market and a nice man handed me free proscuitto.

I always had this running joke that I’d like to be a proscuittotarian. Pescetarians are folks who eat fish, but are otherwise vegetarian, pollo-vegetarians eat chicken. I wanted to be able to eat proscuitto. And somehow I always knew that proscuitto would be my downfall.

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Living Out of Boxes (of Food)

It’s been quiet in these parts, and the food has been unexciting. Too much stuff out of packages and too much stuff out of take-out containers. There’s two more weeks of this to go, and I swear, once we get moved and settled, I never want to see another frozen pizza again.

I mean, it’s not as if we’re moving far – a whole five blocks east. But it’s still easier to weed down your kitchen cupboards and buy new, rather than moving all your groceries, particularly perishables. So we’re trying to use up and clear out, which means no trips to Whole Foods, or the markets (Kensington and St. Lawrence), or swank and lovely Pusateri’s.

Instead, we eat the crap. Salads out of tubs, the ubiquitous frozen pizzas, store-bought frozen vegetarian lasagna, and many things from soy made to resemble parts of dead critters. The plan is to eat the crap for now, and once we’re in the new place, unpacked, and have had time to hit all the grocery places for fresh grub, to do a two-week detox to clear all the gunk out of our systems.

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