Monday, August 20, 2012

How to Eat Kale

I hate kale.

A friend stated that one day he just gave up trying to eat kale. He tried to convince himself that he liked it but life was too short to eat stuff that he didn't really like. Kale is one of those vegetables for me. We removed it from our weekly vegetable bin a long time ago. I thought that I would never find ways of liking it. I never actively sought it out but over the past three years, I have found three ways that I can eat the stuff.

The first way, Kale Chips. Take a large leafed kale such as dinosaur kale. Remove the ribs. Lay flat on a baking sheet. Lightly oil and sprinkle salt. Bake in a moderate oven (350 or so) until they crisp. My kids love it this way.

The second is Caldo Verde. It's a Portuguese soup that uses potatoes and chorico or chorizo as a base. I find that any sausage works. Okay, the basic recipe is to fry the sausage if raw, render if cooked. Take that fat and brown some garlic or onions. Add liquid (water, broth or mixture of wine and broth). When begins to simmer, add cut potatoes, kale and meat. Cook until potatoes are done. The reason this is such a loose recipe is that I often use different greens, sometimes omit the potatoes, add hot sauce or whatever. It is a basic sausage and greens soup. It works.

The third way is only for those who like bitter. My wife will eat the previous two but if you get the young kale or even microgreens, the mustard like qualities are more pronounced while the cabbage type stuff disappears. I like a Young Kale Salad. It is especially nice with other pungent tasting vegetables (green onion, daikon radish, spicy sprouts) and then tossed with a sweeter dressing (honey mustard or maple balsamic) to balance the heat and bitterness.

I am thinking that there could be even another way that could work. Making a small meatball and either adding cooked kale inside or creating a wrapper like a mini cabbage roll might work. I guess you could even layer kale and cabbage roll stuffing into a casserole type thing might also work.

I hate kale except when I don't.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Store Review: Moo Milk Bar

Whenever I hear milk bar I think of A Clockwork Orange but this place is more Milk n Cookies than moloko-plus. For anyone who remembers Nesquick Strawberry powder or glops of chocolate syrup into cold milk this will be a better memory. The nostalgia draw of homemade cookies and milk is evident from the young foodie hipsters crowding the sidewalk, slapping the bottom of the containers to mix the contents, who share the space with middle aged parents introducing their young ones to the joys.

The milk comes in a variety of flavours including Bottom of the Bowl, strawberry and banana. Some adult preferred flavours of vanilla bean and mocha round out the selection. I am sure given the attitude of the owners that there will be a few rotating members and look forward to what they present. I am hoping for a straight coffee, Camp, tea and others for the adult set.

Now for the cookies... Bad news first, they aren't as good as my wife's. Good news, my wife is an accomplished baker. We have often found that people have forgotten the joy of a home baked cookie. Some of standard flaws include inconsistency of texture, irregular shapes and a slight greasiness on the fingers.

Let's translate these flaws. Inconsistency of texture means that the cookies have spread and the outsides are crispy while the insides are soft and chewy. For some of their cookies, such as the ones with toffee, this translates into a slight burnt caramel taste on the outside and a softer texture and sugary taste on the inside. Not bad at all.

Irregular shapes. If I have to tell you then you have never had a homemade cookie. It means that sometimes they spread a lot, sometimes not so much. Also, what is a circle?

The greasiness comes from using good fats; butter, shortening but not some weird oleo or thing that doesn't exude grease. In cookies, this means love.

The only real miss was the sugar cookie. In my mind, sugar cookies should have a delightful snap and almost crystalline structure (crumbly). These were a little soft and not light enough. Oh, one more gripe.  When I sat down at my mother's table with a cookie and milk, I could dunk 'em.  Here the mouth of the milk container is too small. I had to wait until I got home to properly dunk my cookies in milk.

This is a great attempt at recreating the nostalgia. For those who have never had the experience, being of a generation where homemade cookies were not done, they have to have this experience. For those whose partners still bake, this could be a good second choice. I don't care for cookies but I am still looking for the moloko-plus. This will do until the future arrives.

Moo Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

Mommy, why is Daddy feeding us weeds?

What do you see in the picture above? Ignore the fuzziness and lack of composition. This is one of the reasons that I don't have pictures on my blog. I guess I should do a post about that some time.
I am talking about the bug. Well, not actually about that particular bug but that I found a real live bug on a weed in a front yard garden in Toronto. This particular weed is a lamb's quarter. It tastes a little like spinach when cooked and can be eaten raw. There is a strong chlorophyll flavour. If green was a flavour than this would be a good representation. Behind the leaves there is a dandelion whose leaves can be used for salads, roots for tea or coffee drink, and the flower can be made into wine or tempura.

All of this is made possible by the ban of pesticides in Toronto. This is not the real point but rather the reemergence of unwanted plants as foodstuffs. I went to the Leslieville Farmer's Market and bought some weeds this past weekend. The vendor didn't call them that but I recognize them from my lawn pullings. I bought some purslane and could have bought a tincture made of borage. It will not be long before we see some more of these older crops that may include lovage and other old time greens that are more in fashion for ground cover rather than culinary purposes.

Purslane is a sour green that tastes between lemon and vinegar. It can be used in a variety of ways such as salad, soup or fried. When fried, it becomes sticky and mucilaginous like okra.

Now the idea of sour in our diet is not new. I put on a medieval feast around two years ago and found that most of the recipes were more delicate and herbal with accents of sour. I really should post that menu. It was very enlightening. Other recipes called for herbs such as lovage, borage, dandelion, and sorrel.  From Absinthe to Zest : an alphabet for food lovers by Alexandre Dumas has reference to some of these being typical in a 18th century kitchen herb garden. These greens are now making a comeback. Sometimes all it takes is to look in your front yard at the weeds that are crowding out your grass. 

I dislike grass so much that maybe I will see if some of these ground covering plants can replace my grass and replenish my larder.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mister Beer vs. Six Pints Specialty Belgian Brown

Mister Beer is a Bottle Brew Brown Ale while Six Pints Specialty Beer was purchased at a new downtown Toronto brewery, Beer Academy.

Mister Beer is a do-it-yourself 2L bottle where you open the top to an already prepared liquid, add hops and yeast and let it sit for around two weeks. Chill for a few hours and then open er up and drink. It works out to about six beer and sells for somewhere around six dollars.  The idea of being able to brew a beer in a 2L bottle is like a siren call to me. If there was some way to create a picobrewery in your basement that gets around all the equipment where at worst, your experiment leaves you with five and a half beer that you can't drink then I'm all for it. I have even purchased Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz in order to take a better look at this.

As for the taste of this one... One of the things that I like about browns is the dark spiciness. In this one, the beer would definitely qualify as premium to the regular batch of macrobreweries but a little under the care taken by some craft brews. The spicing is a little muted and the overall taste was not as complex as I would like. To compare both of these brews, I pulled out one of the Belgian bruns that we made over a year ago at Fermentations on the Danforth. The one we made had a more developed taste with great smell of the Belgian yeast (still pretty banana like) and a small wine backtaste. But in defense, Mister Beer was fourteen days old and cost a dollar a beer. For that alone it deserves more considerations. Better than the majors and cheaper.

Six Pints is an interesting case. It runs Beer Academy in downtown Toronto. It talks about being a partnership with Creemore Springs and Granville Island Brewery. When you look at the story more closely, you can see that Creemore is owned by Coors Molson and Creemore entered an agreement to buy Granville Island Brewery a while back. Yes, they remain separate business units but they are backed by the majors. I wrote a little about some of these happenings as being like the alternative scene in the 1990s.

The relationship between the large corporation and its business units is really important. At this time, it looks as if this venture could work as a way of trying out new brews and maybe finding a way back to the major, like a small R&D incubator. I tried a few of the brews at the location and they were, on the whole, tasty and to style. You can see some strings when you talk to them about why they are brewing an English Style IPA (it's not as hoppy so that they can attract the ladies) but every business does their own market research in this way. I like the idea and hopes it floats.  Anything that can bring old styles to new people in a decent way has my vote.

Now, back to their Belgian Brown. The first thing that I notice is that it has the full ingredient list on the tag. I always like this because it appears a little ballsy. This is what is in it. You can watch us brew it behind us and its good. This beer is spicy and you can smell the telltale banana and cloves. There is a cleanness to the taste that verges on thin tasting. It was 13.50 for a growler or about 2.25 a beer. This is where the mathematics of taste comes in. Did I like this beer 2.25x greater than Mister Beer? Well, they were different and both could use a little aging.

 I found both of them worth it. I am going to try another of Mister Beer's flavours - it's a Canadian company and I am curious about this idea of picobrewing. I will also buy quart bottles of all the brews from Six Pints based on their current level of quality and taste. Neither of these will be my go to brew but they are good enough. Six Pints has a promising start and I will watch as it grows.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Restaurant Review: The Fuzz Box

I spent a little time thinking about this restaurant and how to review it. My first introduction to donairs was in Ottawa during my formative (read that as occasionally drunk student) years. It was served with sweet sauce, pronounced schweed, hot sauce and garlic sauce. The hot sauce was typically srirachi and the garlic was a modified tzatziki sauce. Most of the donair shops were run by Lebanese and I believed that most of them were great when I was drunk. Often, this analysis did not hold up during the time that beer money was tight and the sandwiches were still cheap.

A donair is roasted meat on a stick claimed by the Turks and the Greeks. This meat is used to make a delicious sandwich redolent of garlic and served with fresh vegetables and pickled turnip. Add this disagreement of who created this dish to the long list of grievances between the two civilizations. Other nations have their versions; the aforementioned Lebanese, other Middle Eastern nations and even Mexico. I am not here to try and claim anything about this nebulous dish but rather to talk about a great sandwich.

Ever since leaving Ottawa for the Big Smoke, I have asked every shawarma, donair and gyro place whether they had the sweet sauce. Blank stares followed by suggestions that I really meant tzatziki or some other sauce they had at the ready were all I got for years. I had not realized how special that sweet sauce was against the roasted meat, the harsh raw garlic flavour and the crispy vegetables. I missed it dearly. Then there was the Fuzz Box. It promised me a return to my idyllic days of academia and beer raising.

So, the first time I goes into the store, I spends a time in the local craft beer mecca, the Only.  I excuses myself and take a short walk down the ways. One donair, please. Yes, I would like sweet sauce. Oh and you have homemade hot sauce! Sure. I'll take that.

That first one went down so fine. The meat was supple and tasted meatier against the sugar sweetness of the sauce. Crispy bits of meat were in contrast to the soft pita and interrupted in texture by the veggies. The hot sauce tasted vaguely fruity when taken in mouthfuls with the sweet. Not too much can beat sweet plus heat. The hot sauce was served on the side so that the creamy sweet sauce doesn't dull it down.

Okay. That's pretty hyperbolic but I was drunk and that is what it tasted like. The true test happened weeks later when I discovered that this donair sandwich tasted as good sober as it did drunk. It matched my drunk memory pretty well. To top it all off, they serve fried pepperoni and Pop Shoppe drinks.

I'm not even going to describe this place. I will mention that it is at Danforth and Greenwood. I would love to tell you about the great game specials. They always look good. This guy can cook.

But I can't. I can't leave the donair alone. If you know me, then you know I am not one to get the same thing over and over again. This place could turn me into a creature of habit. I know such bliss that I haven't even noticed if it has the pickled turnip and you know what, I don't care.

The Fuzz Box on Urbanspoon