Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recipe: Liebfraumilch with Salmon and Cucumber

This is one of the recipes that was made for the 1960s/70s party.  Instead of salmon, as stated on the menu, smoked trout was substituted.  The flavours were the sourness/sweetness of the German wine with a smoky taste of the moist trout alongide the crunch and subtleness of the baby cucumber.  This is a basic layered jelly appetizer that has to be made in steps. 

Warm about a cup of Liebfraumilch, a sweet German wine, add enough gelatin to set the liquid.  Whatever the package says on it will do. 
Most gelatins need to be bloomed which means that a little gelatin has to be sprinkled over some of the wine before adding it to the warm liquid.  I am not putting all the variations in this recipe.  Just ensure that you have enough gelatin to set the liquid chosen.
Then pour into a pan.  I used an 8x8 non stick brownie pan because I was trying to serve fifteen people.  Put that pan and the mixture along with it into the fridge until set.

After it has been set, take another cup of the wine and warm it for the second layer of gelatin. 

Cut smoked trout into strips and lay it on the previous layer.  Slice thin strips of baby cucumber however you want.  If you slice it crosswise, then it is a totally different recipe. Okay, the little recipe humour is over.  Use whatever shape works for your dish.  Think of what you want it to look like.  The cucumber can be put it on top of the fish now, but remember that cucumber floats.  I did that the day of the dinner party, next time I will wait until the next step is completed.

Add gelatin to warmed wine per instructions.  Let cool so that it will not melt the previous layer.

Add cucumber and gelatin mixture and adjust pieces as necessary.  Cool in the fridge.  Now, when it is time to demold, if you have chosen a shallow enough pan with good heat conducting properties, place the mold in warm to hot water. If you have not, then I hope the gelatin just slides out.  Take an appropriate knife or thin spatula, whatever will not scratch the pan and run around the outside.  Unmold and cut into desired shapes.  Best to plate these suckers because it is not attractive looking at people trying to get a jelly piece of something from a serving tray onto their plates.

Some people liked the contrasting flavours of the sour and smoke along with the soothing cucumber.  One person found the whole thing a little too dissonant.  So...

Variations: Sweeter wine would work.  Canned fish would also work.  Other vegetables that are hard enough to give some crunch but will not overpower the wine.  Think zucchini. 

This was a hit at the party as the fish and vegetable suspended in the clear liquid reminded me of those disco shoes with live goldfish. And also most of the attendees liked the taste.  And it looked cool. This dish could easily pair with a salad or as act as a member of the appetizer crew.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shop Review: Nadege Patisserie

Yet another fine French pastry shop opens on Yonge Street just south of Summerhill.  Nadege joins Petite Thuet, Patachou, and the not quite only a patisserie, All the Best Fine Foods serving pastries and sandwiches for lunch.

While Nadege's website boasts coffee and fresh baked pastries, this Yonge location is a boutique with neatly placed goodies presented with an artist's eye. Read: No Coffee. It is easily the most artistic of the shops mentioned above.  I sampled three of the pastries and all were modern tastes using traditional techniques.  A dark chocolate pyramid cake and a bombe accented with l'espelette pepper were rich and had a daring punch not found in many traditional French pastries.  But does this area need another 6-9 dollar sandwich?

This place should take a note from the others and put in a sandwich press as their sandwiches are too cold.  Now, this might seem a quibble until you break it down.  I had two sandwiches that were served on croissants.  Croissants that are stored in the cold begin to seize, the butter hardens in the crust.  The brie and ham tasted like a cold piece of butter shoved into greasy piece of brioche toast.  My tongue can tell that the croissants are made the old fashioned folding way to create the crispy layers but the teeth feel one fused piece of bread.  Get a press to warm the delicate piece and bring back some of the joy or make it to order or make it just before lunch...maybe turn up the heat on the counter.  Anything will be better than this.

Some of the more delicate pastries such as the grapefruit and Earl Grey tart also suffer from the cold.  An instruction to the customer to let it sit out for twenty minutes may solve this problem of temperature.

So, I would recommend the goodies but skip the sandwiches.  Better and more reasonably priced sandwichy goodness abounds in the area.

    Nadege Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Food Trends: Seaberry

In the past two weeks, there have been two products that have had seaberry in them.  One was Ricola and the other was a tart at Earth Rosedale, a restaurant close to work.  The seaberry is some sort of orange berry from the sea buckthorn bush that is tart. 

Unfortunately, I can't give you good explanation of the flavour as I was only able to try the throat drops.  The tart was missing in action at Earth Rosedale but I did try their smoked sugar and vanilla panna cotta.  The server described the tart as sweet sour and one of her favourites.  They used juice from Everspring Farms from Wingham. I would guess the berry and juice would be similar to cranberry in terms of how to work with it. 

I am intrigued by the little taste that I had and I will be curious to see if this makes its way into the mainstream.  I would like to get my hands on some fresh or frozen seaberry to see how it will taste.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ramps - The Case for Sustainability

Ramps are one of the first foraged spring vegetables. My father picked these wild leeks that he found in our yard.  He would only pick a little bit and leave some for next year.  They would be eaten raw and my father smelled faintly of garlic for days.  When we moved into that house, the yard had only a small patch but by the time my parents moved, it was a decent patch that was always mowed around and cared for by leaving it alone.

Lately, there has been debate around the foodieness of this small vegetable. There is a good article in Time about the overly zealous and almost breathless catechism of seasonal foodies that even drops a dig about fiddleheads and the book, "The United States of Arugula", both which I would recommend trying.  A rebuttal, on Serious Eats gives all the right reasons to be seasonal and defends the placement of ramps in the pantheon of the gods of locavores and foodies.

On a more serious side, I am always torn about ramps.  I did have the privilege of eating them when I was young. They were eaten only in the spring because that is the only time they were around.  Every year, there is always an issue of sustainability in any of the foraged or hunted foods.  In Quebec, it has been illegal to harvest these alliums for a while (BTW, day lilies are in the same family and are supposedly edible.  Who knew?).   There are concerns about wild patches being foraged to extinction.   Often, the theory of the Tragedy of the Commons is used to show how any common or shared area will eventually be depleted by self interested individuals.  Studies show that common goods are treated more shabbily than individual goods.

The ideas around commons sharing allowed for farmer's lands to be enclosed in England creating winners and losers in land use and ownership often ignoring the management of lands that existed before the enacted legislation.  I am more interested in extended metaphors that may be a better one than all people are inherently greedy and will try to put one past you.  Let's talk about the tragedy of the rhubarb.

I have a patch of rhubarb in my backyard.  My backyard is owned by me but I am not super vigilant in ensuring that no one goes there.  The rhubarb is some new delicious variety that defies transplanting and cultivating.  I share this rhubarb with some friends of mine and over time we have a yearly ritual of getting together for a rhubarb social. Every year the circle expands and the event becomes a thing.

I am a careful steward but eventually the supply outstrips the demand so I start selling some and only keep a little bit for myself ensuring that I don't overtax this little patch. The socials stop. Some people are willing to spend quite a bit of money for a few sticks of rhubarb and I sell.  Some of my friends know about my patch and felt as if it was something that I should continue to share.  After all, they were part of the rhubarb social before.  So, they think who will know...and take a few stalks from my backyard.

Eventually, someone offers them some money and they take a few more stalks; a few more won't hurt... and you can see how this goes. 

At this point in time in North America most land is claimed.  This is not a case of the commons but rather of private property and the owners requirements of good stewardship.  I am not sure of the answer to the complicated issue of who owns wild nature products but to treat nature as a common good is a bit of a straw man.  Unless rights to nature somehow morphs into a specific right like water rights, right of ways and endangered species, there is very little recourse for those who consider that the whole of nature is a common good over private rights.  The issue remains to be one about the management of the land regardless of ownership. It isn't really that common goods are inherently mistreated by greedy people. Read the criticisms of the commons and decide for yourself. 

There is much more to say on this issue but I am sure that it will come up in the coming weeks as new wild goods comes to the farmer's market.  I hope to develop this argument as I am sure that it is still a little facile and this article is becoming overly long.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Exploding Watermelons

There are scenes of violence towards fruit located below.  Reader advisory.
First the story; Exploding Watermelons, and on the Guardian, and the Toronto Star.  All three outlets tell the same story with minor differences in emphasis.  The AP story seems to be so goofy due to the voice over that sounds like a Monty Python skit.  The Guardian focuses on "Oh dear, what are we going to do about the Chinese and their tainted milk and exploding watermelons".  Good old Toronto Star...sigh, at least their crack team has discovered that they are feeding the melons to pigs and livestock.

Aside from my concern of feeding plant growth hormone to livestock, I am left with real problem of the idea of rapidly exploding watermelons and pigs.  I wonder what the impact of these additions to the watermelon do to taste?  Of course, these are used in North America, just used correctly. But let's not talk about why the additives are there and the impact on these additives to food taste and nutrition.  So, the real crux does seem to be a little bit like the Yellow Scare.  They have no health regulations (hello rampant market capitalism). They are poisoning us (and themselves).  They are sending food to our shores (due to free trade).

I am wondering more and more, if many of these stories especially around food production are partially tinged with xenophobia.  It is not to say that exploding watermelons are not an awesome and scary thing just that maybe exploding watermelons are underreported in this country?
Update: Good just posted a scientific explanation with echoes of the concerns around future consumption.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Farmer's Market Season in Toronto Begins

I received the first flyer for the Farmer's Market at Withrow Park.  The first few weeks will consist of baked goods, meats and wintered apples, potatoes and maybe the odd greenhouse greens.  There might be a few foraged goods but that is more likely at the North Market or at the Brickworks.

This is an early market by a few weeks.  The city has a list of markets that occur inside city parks.  With a little searching, you can find other certified local markets to Toronto or just plain old farmer's markets in Ontario.   After months of scrounging for Ontario produce in conventional grocery stores, we can now get direct from source.  Many people have issues with the prices charged at these markets but successive studies have shown that comparable organic foods are more expensive in conventional supermarkets.  Of course, this means that organic and local have to mean something other than cost as garlic from China and tomatoes from Chile will tend to be cheaper for other reasons aside from not being organic.

Enjoy the season!

Book Review: Sandwich A Global History

Sandwich, A Global History is part of the Edible series of books on food and drink culture published by Reaktion Books.  This volume is written by Bee Wilson who authored a book on Honeybees. I am not making this up.   

The first three sections are Introduction, The History of the Sandwich and Constructing the Sandwich.  These were interesting and covered a lot of familiar ground along with introducing a few choice bits.  With a volume this slim, it can be hard to get any depth with a subject but there is some provocative moments in these opening sections. The latter sections seem to be a bit more like lists of global sandwiches and people who eat them.  These lack the introspective punch of the first sections.  This is a quibble and not a real problem, as it may be based on my exposure to sandwiches.  Remember this blog is a companion to an eventual sandwich business.

Fortunately, there is more than enough in the rest of the book to keep it interesting, entertaining and worth the short read of 127 pages.  The Recipes section has a few Historical Sandwiches which I did not know existed; green fig and almond, aspargus rolls and pate and pear.  These are definitely on the list for an upcoming tea party that my wife is hosting.

There are some gems to be found in the literary and cultural references.  Maybe I can get my kids to understand the joy in the simple tomato sandwich by appealing to their love of Enid Blyton's Famous Five or referencing Scooby's love of sandwiches.  There is so much trivia and good thinking in this book that I am looking forward to reading more in the series.

It was well worth my time to read it once and already I have gone back several times.  Hell, I may have to buy it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Spotted: Real Viscera Noodle Soup

Walking in Chinatown East in Toronto, I spotted a bilingual sign stating "Real Viscera Noodle Soup".  This sign is both really honest and also a bit dismissive of other offal soups.  It could be that other soups may be using fake viscera cheating by using what? 

It is a translation issue, of course, but when I put it through google translate, I get real gut soup so I am assuming tripe soup.  I wonder if the Chinese community is also suffering the issues that many other migrant populations suffered with their brood becoming "westernized" and disavowing poverty dishes that use unused nose to tail eating parts?  With the spread of Food Network extreme eating shows, many of these leftovers have increased in price. Maybe these dishes will soon be elevated to the point that offal will be the same price as the rest of the animal. 

There is a tripe sandwich on the menu at a Turkish place beside the Only on the Danforth that I have been meaning to try.  Each time I go in they are out.  Maybe I should have put this as trending -- Tripe is in...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Food Trends: Dust

For the last month or so, I have been working with dusts.  A dust is dried fruit, either dehydrated or dried using a low temp oven (170-190F) and then powdered using whatever crushing implement is your favourite (food processor, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, if you are that kind of person). This can be used with  any fruit or vegetable like those old Ronco commercials.  Make sure to put it into a air sealed container as any moisture will cause clumps.  An aside, what really is a vacuum sealed container?  Is anyone really removing all the air?

When the powder is added to water or rehydrated, it takes back the liquid which is a good way to infuse the fruit with another flavour.  I have tried tomatoes and apples so far.

Tomato powder:  used it in making an instant ketchup, like tomato paste--added to pasta, soups, etc, and at the 1970s party made a play on a traditional caprese salad.  Take a bocconcini ball, roll it in olive oil and tomato dust, attach a leaf of basil to the top using a toothpick and drizzle with olive oil.  It looks like a little apple and tastes really tomato-ey.  Even though I was using winter tomatoes, the drying brought out the best flavours including the sourness of unripe tomato. It worked.  I am looking forward to trying this with mozzarella and fresh garden tomatoes.

Apple powder:  I have really only used it with cheeses when trying to come up with a cheeseball recipe, as below...

1970s Blue Balls
Take a blue cheese that is soft enough to work with a room temp such as Geai Bleu.  Make small bite sized balls. Add some chopped dried apples, and roll in apple powder and toasted crushed walnuts.  Serve on crackers (black sesame work well).

The food trend is that this technique is cropping up all sorts of places. (Mandarin dust, wasabi pea dust) Some restaurants are even doing dusts of all sorts of stuff including a dust of chocolate.  Isn't that just warming chocolate and making pebbles of goodness? 

This is an easy technique that can be used to create all sorts of interesting illusions and allusions.  It is a technique that if used with good fruit and veg will yield good results.  Maybe this will drive the dehydrated onion soup and sour cream dip into a special occasion rather than always showing up at the potluck. Think about it -- banana and peanut butter dip without the bananas going all brown, or lemon powder on top of a white cake, or so much more.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Restaurant Review: Simply Mexican

A new Mexican restaurant has opened up near St. Clair and Yonge in a stretch that is a littered restaurant graveyard.  The only restaurants that seem to do well are Italian and there are plenty of those. Simply Mexican is the first Mexican restaurant in the area in over eleven years.  It is located next to Boccone's where two different Indian restaurants tried their luck.

Unfortunately, we were the first customers.  All restaurants need to have soft openings to iron out the kinks and allow the servers to understand and taste the food.  Maybe that sounds a little too Food Network talk but this place showed why.

We arrived at 11:45am, after the posted opening time of 11:30 but the door was still locked.  One of the staff saw us and unlocked the door where we were greeted by all the staff and the pungent cleaner lemon scent and a toolbox.  Some finishing touches such as door hinges were being completed.

I am not in the business of restaurant reviews but more in the "IMHO" business so I feel that I need to be a little more generous when reviewing a just-open restaurant (sound likes a poem there) with all its glorious gaffs and pratfalls.  One of the reasons to go early is to experience a restaurant at its most pressured.  So, a quick rundown of service errors: mixed up plates, multiple sorries for slowness of food, incorrect orders, lost cheque and incorrect billing.  Kitchen errors: two of the same order came out looking different, food was not warm enough and all the table did not come out at the same time -- see service errors.  Front of House errors: no comps for the mixups, no comps for the slow service, no coming to the table to help out our waitress when the cheque was not found.  In spite of this, I think this place should be given another try due to the food.
The menu is not of the TexMex variety but just as advertised.  There is a good selection of salads and mains including Chilaquiles, Sopes, and Pibil.  I tasted the homemade Horchata (almond drink), Ensalata Nopales (Cactus Salad), Sopes (Cochinita Pibil and chicken), and a bit of beans and chips from other plates.

The Cactus Salad was served well seasoned with the requisite slice of lime to add acid to the cactus.  Cactus, if not given some acid, is like barely flavoured thick gelatine but when acid such as lime or lemon is added, it flashes a more nuanced and delicate flavour like aloe.  All the food was well seasoned and the pulled meats had a good meatiness that lets you know it was done well.  The chicken was a little dry in texture and sauce and may point out a cooking error as slow and low cooking do not dry out food easily.  The food tended to be warm rather than hot even though we should have been the first fired beating all next comers by about ten minutes.

Aside from these minimal gripes on food, there was this odd tendency to put sliced lettuce with this white cream sauce that is supposed to be a celery mayonnaise on every dish.  The dishes are special enough that they do not require this, especially due to the lack of celery taste.  It would be like asking every fourteen year old girl to put on makeup, jewelery and a pretty dress but all the same makeup, jewelery and dress.

I can't recommend this place as of yet but there is huge upside.  I just wish they had run a few more soft openings to iron out those kinks that caused my dining companions to dislike the food.  Sometimes, all that jewelery and stuff makes you forget what it really there.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wasn't That a Party!

We threw a 60s/70s retro themed dinner party where we took "classic" dishes and remade them.  The menu is here. Recipes will follow in the next few weeks.  Rather than regale readers with snaps of food that they can't eat or endless tales of what Miffy told Biff, I am going to a straight up analysis of what worked and what didn't.

The Setup:  three rooms with three tables - six, six and three for a total of fifteen people.  There were minor nostalgia items set around (records both 45s and 33 1/3 LPs) along with Tupperware coasters, makeshift bar with Zombie fixin's and tub of homemade beer.  Martinis were made.  Drinks were had.

First Course:  Buffet style with Chinette Royale plates and plastic spoons set in an IKEA cup. 

After the first course, guests sat down at seats by choosing keytags from a bowl (key party).  The tags had the name of a television character on them.  The guests had to find the cards with the proper tv show.  Also on the card was the moment that the show jumped the shark.  This was repeated between courses.

Second Course and Third Course:  Sit down served on my mother-in-law's Corelle dishes. 

What made the party work was the mix of people.  The food was good and when it didn't work, it was not offensive.  When making a menu, consider your guests as it makes the night go better if you are not stressed as the host.  Small changes can be made with consideration for allergies but try not to change the menu.    What didn't work were small inconveniences such as a bad calculation on cutlery needed and a poor choice on one of the dishes.  Also -- Pop Rocks were forgotten.  Pop Rocks always make a good retro party.