Loose Ends

I seem to be starting my new year at somewhat loose ends. While 2011 was a very good and productive year in terms of work, and certainly beat 2010 in terms of emotional issues (yay for nobody close to us dying), I was left feeling that I didn’t accomplish very much.

This whole food writing thing, you see, well it was/is somewhat of a diversion. My original goal in “becoming a writer” was to write novels, or lovely descriptive essays. Since 2005 I’ve had a 90,000 word novel sitting in a drawer, waiting for me to get up the nerve to send it off to an agent or publisher. I also have about half a book’s worth of food-related memoirs and essays and a list of other pieces to write…

The food writing thing happened a bit by accident. A friend who had once worked as Margaret Atwood’s assistant told me that to help get publishers interested in my fiction, it would help to have “a name”. A series of events led to job offers at a couple of publications and then Greg and I started TasteTO, and suddenly I had “a name”. (At least it seems so, based on the number of people who Google my name and hit this website.)

(more…)

Read More

From Away

You’ve gotta give Marco Pierre White credit – his whole career has been about stirring things up and being in the spotlight, even if it hasn’t been all positive. He was in town last month to promote Knorr stock cubes, a product that he’s shilled in the UK for a few years. When challenged on their use, he gets defensive, insisting that he uses the product in all of his restaurants. Okay, whatever.

The fuss this time around comes from a piece in The Atlantic that basically skewers a couple of Toronto food writers for gushing about White and his stock cubes when he was in town, making the writers (newspaper writers, mostly) out to be bumbling hicks. My opinion of newspaper food columns is not what I’m on about today, though. In defense of the individuals – it *was* Marco Pierre White. And whether you like stock cubes or not, there’s no arguing that he’s the original rock star chef. It would be like a bunch of music writers being invited to a private jam session with the Rolling Stones. Even if you hated their last album, you’re not going to pass up the experience to meet them. You might have less respect for them because of that last album, but you overlook it compared to their lifelong body of work.

(more…)

Read More

SalivAte – Toronto Beer Week Edition

By all accounts Toronto Beer Week was a resounding success. Many beers were consumed, and there were some outstanding beer dinners and other food pairing events that took place at restaurants across the city. Greg made it out to more of them than I did (stupid allergies), so many of the photos here are his (which explains why they might get a touch out of focus as we go through each course, as pretty much every one of these dishes came with an accompanying beer pairing.)

(more…)

Read More

Stirring the Pot with Chef Joshna Maharaj

Joshna Maharaj is a chef and writer and who is passionately committed to good food and ideas of sustainability. A dedicated food activist, she works to promote the awareness of the power of food to nurture, build and strengthen communities. Joshna is a regular guest chef on CBC’s Steven & Chris, maintains a blog, and speaks to anyone who will listen about the importance of good food.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I lived in an ashram in India for a year after I graduated from university, and was put to work in their very humble village kitchen. I learned so much about the power food has to transmit love and nourishment to people in this kitchen, and had the time of my life! I came home from India, and enrolled in the George Brown Chefs’ School.

What is your favourite dish to cook and why?

I don’t work in a restaurant, but one of my favourite things that I make at home a lot is a mighty BLT. The other day I made one on olive bread with avocado and chipotle mayo, and it was outrageously delicious.

(more…)

Read More

Market Mondays – Apples

Is there any fruit that typifies September and the Fall harvest better than the apple? Boy Scouts apple day, an apple for the first day of school, a roadside produce stand groaning with different varieties… we love us some apples. And despite what your supermarket might have you think, they come in more types than red, green and yellow. 7500 varieties, to be specific, with the fruit originating in Western Asia and showing up throughout history in Norse, Greek and Pagan mythology. One theory about the apple being the unnamed “forbidden fruit” in the Bible is based on the fact that the Book of Genesis was written by Romans at a time when the Christian church was trying to convert pagans. Since the pagans revered the apple, making it evil or forbidden contributed to the number of new converts.

Apples now grow in almost every part of the world. Here in Ontario, growers have focused on about a dozen common varieties, but there are over 100 heritage varieties that can be found at local orchards and pick-your-own farms. Apples are typically harvested from late July until October. Growers’ associations like the one in Norfolk County provide storage facilities for area apple growers in a climate-controlled, low-oxygen warehouse that allows Ontarians to have local apples year-round. There’s no reason to be eating apples from China (where 35% of the world’s apples are grown), when we have a great year-round variety right here.

(more…)

Read More

Stirring the Pot with Chef Brian Morin

Brian Morin grew up in Toronto, where he studied at George Brown College, and then moved on to working in small restaurants like Napoleon and Truffles. In the 1980s, he moved on to work in hotel kitchens such as The Four Seasons, Sutton Place, and the Intercontinental. He then became the executive chef of Prime restaurants, and in 2003 opened his own restaurant, beerbistro(18 King Street East).

What inspired you to become a chef?

I loved cooking from an early age, probably about 10 years old.

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

Hard to say because it would depend on my mood. I think our mussels are some of the best things we do and are the best in the city.

Three ingredients you couldn’t live without and why?

Beer, butter and cheese.

(more…)

Read More

Stirring the Pot with Chef Tawfik Shehata

Tawfik Shehata was born in Cairo, Egypt, and grew up in Scarborough. He did his apprenticeship at Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Place), and attended George Brown College and The Cordon Bleu cooking school in Ottawa. He has worked in a variety of Toronto restaurants including Auberge du Pommier (4150 Yonge Street), The Rosewater Supperclub (19 Toronto Street), Winston’s, Truffles at the Four Seasons, and Boba. He also lived in Bermuda for two years and worked as Sous Chef at Cambridge Beaches, which was voted one of the top 5 spa hotels in the world during his time there, and later (after a return to Toronto) went to Jamaica where he worked at award-winning restaurants including Grand Lido Negril. In late 2005 he took over as Chef at Vertical Restaurant (100 King Street West) where he has been cooking food that is inspired by Italy and the Mediterranean, using local and sustainable ingredients.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I have always loved food. When I was quite young I used to love going grocery shopping with my mom and she was always very in tune with the seasons. When it was time for Seville oranges she would make marmalade and chocolate dipped orange peels for two weeks straight. Same for when other fruits and berries were in season. She made the best strawberry jam in the world!

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

I love the grilled or braised whole fish. For two reasons, first, the fish itself is fantastic, but more importantly, the accompaniments change nightly so it is always paired with the most seasonal vegetables. When I go to the farmers market and can only find a small quantity of something it will invariably find its way on one of those dishes.

(more…)

Read More

SalivAte – September 2010

 

Oh we ate some tasty things this month, my friends. Despite being sick for the past month, I’ve managed to drag myself out to a few places for a bite to eat (I know, the sacrifices I go to for this website), and have documented them all for you lovers of the food porn.

The above dish is not a pizza, or a tart. Rather it’s the very intriguing presentation of the duck and foie gras ravioli at Scarpetta (550 Wellington Street West). Drizzled with a marsala reduction, it was earthy, homey and sweet all at the same time. Possibly my new most favouritest thing.

(more…)

Read More

Market Mondays – Spinach

I’m a little late to the game with spinach – it probably should have made my list earlier in the year, seeing as it’s considered a spring vegetable. But it’s definitely still going strong at the markets, so better late than never.

Like our friend Popeye will tell you, spinach is a nutritional powerhouse, providing more nutrition, calorie for calorie, than any other food. 1 cup of cooked spinach offers over 1000% of our daily required intake of Vitamin K and 377% of our required Vitamin A. It’s also high in manganese, folate, magnesium, iron and Vitamin C. Spinach may contribute to heart health, better eyesight, better brain function from the high levels of Vitamin E, and better gastrointestinal function. It’s also got anti-inflammatory properties. Cooked spinach also provides energy, mostly in the form of iron.

Thought to have originated in Persia, spinach made its way to China via traders (roughly around 650 AD) where it came to be known as the “Persian vegetable”. Spinach was introduced to Italy and the Mediterranean in the 800s and from Spain made its way to Northern Europe. Catherine de’Medici was so enamoured of spinach that during her reign as Queen of France, she insisted it be served at every meal. Named after her hometown of Florence, to this day, dishes that feature spinach are typically called Florentine.

(more…)

Read More

Market Mondays – Corn

Poor old much maligned corn. It gets a bit of a bad rap these days, seeing as how it ends up in so many processed foods, and how it’s been genetically modified up the yin yang. And then there’s the whole ethanol issue. It’s too bad, because there’s nothing that says summer more than ears of sweet corn with the silks still wet, shucked, kissed with some boiling water and then slathered in butter. Made better only by the accompaniment of a lobster or two… but I digress.

Maize, as corn is properly known (the term “corn” is an English word for any cereal crop), is native to the Americas where it has been used for some 12,000 years. Maize made its way to the eastern seaboard and Canada somewhere around 1000 AD. Native Americans planted corn alongside beans and squash, a system known as the Three Sisters, as the plants were all complimentary, providing shade, nutrients and support in a system that provided optimum growth potential.

(more…)

Read More

Sunday Brunch – Milestones

Milestones Festival Hall
132 John Street
416-595-1990
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $45

Regular readers will notice a dearth of references to mainstream chain restaurants on this site. When we started TasteTO, that wasn’t our intention – our aim was to cover anything and everything related to food, including the mid-range family-oriented chains, because we wanted to reflect how real people eat. Somehow the middle got lost between the two extremes of cool, high end places, and “hole-in-the-wall, best X ever” low end joints. And, well, because the middle more often than not ends up being mediocre. This isn’t always the case – I once had an outstanding steak at Jack Astor’s, and both Greg and I recall having had a passably decent meal at Milestones, which is how we ended up there on a recent Sunday morning when we had errands to run nearby.

The first thing we notice about the place is just how big everything is. The menus are huge and we joke to the server that she never needs to lift weights, she must get a workout just carrying around these huge books. The ceiling is high – meant to be soaring and impressive, no doubt, but then the light fixtures are also massive. The coffee cups, glasses, cutlery and plates – also huge, and I can’t help wondering what the psychology behind this is. Because places like this are designed with an intended “experience” in mind. Are we supposed to feel that everything is lush and grand? Or is there some psychology that is supposed to make us feel small and insignificant?

(more…)

Read More

Market Mondays – Summer Squash

Summer squash (aka. zucchini) can be both a delight and a bane to home gardeners. A delight because zucchini are a fruitful fruit (while treated as a vegetable in the kitchen, zucchini and all squash are technically fruit) – they’re easy to grow and the fruit grows quickly, they’re also a bane because they’re almost too prodigious and home gardeners tend to find themselves with more zucchini than they know what to do with. In the peak of the season some will even take to leaving bags of summer squash on their neighbours’ doorsteps under cover of night just to get rid of some of their harvest.

Curcubita pepo is a member of the melon family, with distant relations to the cucumber. Squash originated in the Americas and was introduced to Europe by Columbus. The zucchini that we know today is a variety of squash that was developed in Italy. While there are a variety of different shapes and sizes of summer squash (ranging in shape from the spaceship-looking patty pan to round fruit the size of billiard balls), they can all be treated as one would a zucchini for cooking purposes.

While it’s tempting for home gardeners to let their zucchini grow huge (and they will get massive if you let them), the squash actually taste and cook best when picked at 20cm in length or less. Overly-mature fruit can be both fibrous and watery.

(more…)

Read More

Sunday Brunch – Frida Restaurant

Frida Restaurant
999 Eglinton Avenue West
416-787-2221
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $50

We know our readers love the brunch reviews, but after a while it can all get a little tedious. Hollandaise sauce now runs in my veins. So we were delighted to head up to Eglinton Avenue and check out the brunch offerings at Frida.

This upscale Mexican restaurant is run by chef Jose Hadad, and besides a really interesting dinner menu, offers a diverse brunch card full of Mexican favourites.

We start with some of Hadad’s famous guacamole and chips ($10) – both made in house and available for sale to take home. Beautifully presented and drizzled with chili oil, it’s easy to see why Hadad’s Mad Mexican line does so well. Our server also brings us each a small dish full of chunks of melon and pineapple, a fruit amuse bouche, which is a lovely touch.

(more…)

Read More

Market Mondays – Apricots

Like our friend the plum from last week, the apricot is from the family Prunus. Originally thought to originate in China from as far back as 3000 BC, the apricot came to the Western world via Armenia. Apricots are now cultivated in all parts of the world, but are still an extremely important crop in the Middle East, particularly Iran where dried apricots have been an important commodity for centuries. Check the packaging on dried apricots you purchase in the supermarket – they likely come from Iran or Turkey.

Apricots are high in beta-carotene as well as Vitamin A. They are high in fibre and the dried version of the fruit is considered a good treatment for constipation. High in the anti-oxidant caretenoid,  apricots may help lower bad cholesterol and protect against cancer. The kernal or pit of the apricot also has many uses; dried and ground, it becomes the basis for the Italian amaretti cookie, and apricot kernal oil is the main ingredient in the liqueur Disaronno Amaretto. Apricot kernal was also once incorrectly thought to cure certain types of cancer, but because it contains toxic levels of cyanide, it was not considered an effective treatment for that disease.

When purchasing apricots, look for fruits that are a rich orange colour and that are slightly soft to the touch. If eating apricots for their health benefits, note that the riper the fruit the higher the level of anti-oxidants.

(more…)

Read More

Babaluu – More Than Just Salsa Dancing

Many Torontonians have walked past it without even knowing that it’s there. Maybe the people who go there for the salsa dancing also have a bit to eat. But for the most part, Babaluu Supperclub (136 Yorkville Avenue) flies under the radar when it comes to dining. Which is too bad, because owners Nubia Solano and Pilar Galvis have put a lot of work into the “supper” part of their Latin supperclub.

Opened in 1994 in a space on Bloor West, the restaurant moved to its current location in 1996 when the original building went bankrupt. Solano, who was working with Trevor Berryman of Bersani & Carlevale fame, had put a lot of work into the decor of the original space and brought many of the gorgeous glass murals with her when they had to move a few years later.

(more…)

Read More

Stirring the Pot with Hubert DMello

Hubert DMello was born in Mumbai, India where he graduated from Hotel Management in 1984. He ran a catering business in Mumbai from 1985 to 1990, when he moved to the US and joined Carnival Cruise Lines as a bartender. He eventually moved to Atlanta and opened an Indian restaurant and then moved the business to Jackson Heights in New York. After a successful run in New York, he moved to Toronto to be with his wife in 1996.

Over the years he travelled to India and learnt new Indian cuisines and cooking techniques.

After few stints in the food industry, he opened his first vegetarian restaurant in Toronto called Udupi Palace in September 2001, and is now in the process of opening a second restaurant on Gerrard Street called Nitya, which should be open by the end of July 2010.

What inspired you to become a chef?

Since the age of 16 in the catering business in India, I fell in love with food and cooking. I always wanted to experiment and learn; the kitchen has been my comfort zone, so to speak.

(more…)

Read More

Market Mondays – Plums

We’re still in the family Prunus as we move from last week’s cherries to this week’s plums. Plums are eaten from Asia to Europe and are well known for their variety and flavour – from the first tart yellow plums to red, black and the purple varieties most popular in Italian cooking. Worldwide there are over 2000 varieties of the fruit with about 100 available in North America.

Plums are a versatile fruit; they can be made into jam or used in desserts, but can also be made into wine, pickled, dried and salted, or dried into prunes (although the black prunes available in stores are from a specific type of plum). They even work well on pizza with cheese and prosciutto in place of the traditional figs.

Considered one of the world’s healthiest foods, plums are high in anti-oxidants, Vitamin A, Vitamin B2, fibre (prunes are a recommended treatment for constipation) and potassium.

(more…)

Read More

Sunday Brunch – La Palette

La Palette
492 Queen Street West
416-603-4900
brunch for two with all taxes tip and coffee: $45

La Palette is now considered a Kensington Market landmark, serving up classic French food in an adorable little bistro. So fans were rightly pleased when owners Shamez Amlani and Brook Kavanagh announced they’d be taking over the old Taro location to open a second La Palette.

The space is far more open than during the days of Taro – gone are the heavy booths; wooden tables are draped with pretty fabric and the exposed brick walls are covered in French posters and prints. The back skylight makes up for the lack of a patio, as the room is filled with sunlight.

Our server is friendly and patient, particularly given that I’m visibly upset since I’ve just had a run in with a man on the streetcar who was convinced that everyone attending the Pride parade was going to hell. (No… really. And no, despite my better judgment, I didn’t clock the guy.) Coffee and glasses of water arrive swiftly, and we’re able to settle down and peruse the menu.

(more…)

Read More

Goodbye Mimi

It is with sad hearts that we pass on the following obituary…

BRAIDBERG, Miriam (Mimi) April 1956 to July 2010. Suddenly at home on Sunday, July 4th.
Dear daughter of Pearl and the late David. Beloved sister and sister-in-law of Ann and Gary Posen, and Shelly and Gerry Merovitz. Wonderful aunt to Sara and Russell Posen Johnston, and Leslie and Daryl Parat. Former colourful proprietor of Mimi’s Restaurant and recognized as Toronto’s Blintz Queen. A graveside service will be held at Holy Blossom Memorial Park, 40 Brimley Road (south of Eglinton) at 1pm. Shiva, 3600 Yonge Street, Suite 424 on Thursday evening only.

Torontonians who frequented Mimi’s will understand what an important contribution she made to our city’s food scene.

Thanks for the blintzes, Mimi – you will be missed.

Read More