Archive | November, 2006

Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

28 Nov

By Stephanie Dickison

I thought I’d tell you about the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo that took place this weekend at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Although it seemed smaller than previous years, some of the finds were worth the trip:

La Casa Del Habano, fine makers of Cuban cigars in Yorkville, has a Cuban cigar rolling demonstation with a lovely man who made the most exquisite cigars I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen them first hand on the streets of Cuba). It was fascinating to learn about the layers of leaves, the quotas that the rollers must adhere to and the people who make them.

Aqua Bar has a unique booth – it was filled with just bottled water! The most interesting was the pricey BLING water ($30 for a small bottle), whose bottle is encrusted with Swarovski crystals (Holt Renfrew is carrying it in case you feel the need for ice).

And yes, some of the food and wine were good too. I had venison ribs, eggplant pasta, sushi and oysters from Rodney’s. I had a $50/bottle glass of Cabernet that was lovely, a Niagara Blonde beer (I see it becoming a serious contender in the market this year) and the most refreshing grapefruit sake cooler that can only be ordered by the case from Japan. I’m thinking maybe 2 cases would tide me over until the holidays…

I know it’s too late to go to the Expo now, but keep it in mind for next year. There’s also a lot of confectionary and condiment goodies to be had at the One of a Kind show this week, so there’s still time for that.

And Chris and I will be getting you our year’s favourite gadgets, ingredients and the like soon, so stay tuned for more great food news!

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Looking for An Avocado Peeler?

1 Nov

By Stephanie Dickison

I’ve been researching kitchen gadgets for the upcoming issue and just came across a great Canadian site – KitchenNiche – that I thought you might want to check out. I am intrigued by the avacado peeler and impressed with their selection of lemon and garlic presses. They also have gourmet food, pepper mills and a salt pig (you’ll have to see it for yourself!) in case gadgets aren’t your thing.

It is wonderful to find more Canadian cooking sites to access and I will let you know of any others that I come across!

In the meantime, happy cooking!

What to do with Jack-o…

1 Nov

By Chris Garbutt

It was a lousy weekend, but in amongst all the work I had to do, I tried to scrounge an adequate pumpkin to carve for Halloween. No luck. And it’s a shame because pumpkin carving is a long and proud tradition in my family, going at least back to my grandfather. Sadly, all my neighbours had plucked the best ones, some of them starting their collections as early as mid-September. Further evidence that Halloween rivals Christmas as a holiday – you can’t wait until the last minute (or even a few days before) to do your shopping, or else you’re out of luck.

So no pumpkin for me, and no chance to address the annual question – can you (and should you) cook your jack-o-lantern? Out in foodie land, the jury is still out. Check out these sites:

www.frugalfun.com/f7.html
www.preparedpantry.com/vol3iss10-5.htm
southerncuisine.suite101.com/article.cfm/fresh_pumpkin_puree_for_recipes
www.slashfood.com/2006/10/22/picking-the-perfect-pumpkin/

For me, though, the answer is unequivocally yes. I wouldn’t make a pie out of it, but as a secondary ingredient, it’s excellent. The flavour is very mild and the texture is smooth. At least that’s been my experience. Food writers say jack-o-lantern pumpkin flesh is too stringy, but I’ve made curried pumpkin soup with it, and even added it to chili (it softens the acidity of the tomatoes, and gives a slightly creamy texture, although you can’t taste any pumpkin at all).

Of course, preparing a large pumpkin for cooking is labour-intensive and makes you wonder whether it’s worth it. First, you have to make sure that you have scooped out all the seeds and the soft, stringy gunk on the inside. You can save the seeds and roast them, if you like, but I find those seeds not worth the effort. Most of them aren’t fat enough to really enjoy. Make sure you cut out any discoloured or black spots, or any parts that are sagging, which usually happens around the holes you cut during carving.

You could cut it into chunks and freeze it in an airtight bag, of course, but you’re just putting off the hard work that way. The first couple of times, I cut poor little jack-o into large hunks, and baked them at a low heat (250F, if I recall correctly) until soft. This softened the pumpkin and got the water out – so much water, in fact, that the cookie sheet I used was filled almost to overflowing. Taking the pumpkin slabs out of the oven was tricky and dangerous work. Once I’d dumped the water, though, it was pretty easy to remove the skin and scoop the pumpkin into freezer bags.

It wasn’t a perfect process. There was all that hot water to carefully balance, it was time consuming, and the oven dried out the edges.

I thought there must be a better way, so two years ago, I tried peeling the pumpkin first with a large chef’s knife, a slow and imprecise job. I cut what was left into large cubes and threw them all into a large stockpot. Over low heat, I cooked the pumpkin very slowly. Once it was all soft, I removed batches into a sieve and pressed. This got rid of almost all of that excess water, and made it ready for freezing. Voilà!

It was not to be this year, and it’s frustrating to see all those beautiful pumpkins in the neighbourhood get smashed and go straight into the garbage. But next year, I’ll go early for my multi-purpose orange friend. Maybe do some Christmas shopping while I’m at it.