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Friday 5 – A Brief Random Blogroll

26 Sep

By Chris Garbutt

1. Can slow roasted tomatoes take you to heaven? Try it yourself.

3. Who has the best beer in the Canada? Check out the results of the Canadian Beer Awards.

4. Have you had edamame at home? You must. Here are some tips.

5. James Chatto of Toronto Life fame considers the future of cuisine in Toronto.

Friday 5 – Squash

19 Sep

By Chris Garbutt

Stephanie and I liked the Fall Foods 5 post so much, I thought I’d offer some more, with a focus on squash. It’s not just for Thanksgiving anymore!

1. Butternut squash soup is so passé. Try Acorn Squash Soup with Cumin and Curry Leaf.

2. Slice up that butternut squash instead and make a pastry.

3. It’s a recipe for Sausage and Rapini Stew, but the squash pulls it all together.

4. Save the seeds and roast them. Or keep them for planting.

5. Pumpkin is a squash, and now it’s a flavour for a beer.

Photo by Flickr user x-eyedblonde, used under a Creative Commons licence.

Fear of Fat

18 Sep

By Chris Garbutt

The Globe and Mail offers an excerpt from Jennifer McLagan’s new book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient:

We need to rethink our relationship with fat. After decades of low-fat propaganda, most of what we think we know about fat just isn’t true:

All animal fats are saturated. Wrong.

Eating fat makes us fat. Wrong.

A low-fat diet is good for us. Wrong.

Since humans made their first fire, fat has been an important cooking medium. Fat is critical to the flavour of our food: without it, meat has no real taste. In addition, without marbling and external fat to baste and tenderize them, lean meats become tough and dry as you cook them. Many aromas and flavours are soluble only in fat, so unless you use fat in your cooking, they are not released.

Sign me up for a copy! I’ve long been suspicious of people who look for a demon ingredient to cut out of their diet. Fat remains the #1 devil, but it wasn’t that long ago (though it seems like the dark ages) that carbs were the trendy thing to avoid. I’m sure protein will get its turn…

Well, my mother’s advice of variety and moderation still holds true as far as I’m concerned (and you can add balance to that). And that’s true whether you’re just someone who wants to eat well, or if you’re an extreme athlete.

Friday 5 – Beets!

11 Sep

By Chris Garbutt

Before we get too deeply into the fall, let’s take a look at the red sensation — beets.

1. A recipe for Beetroot and Potato Salad.

2. Keep it simple: a Beet & Chevre Salad.

3. Nothing better than borscht: Svalbard Beet Soup with Goose Stock.

4. Try it raw: Grated Carrots & Beets.

5. Make it pink: Beet Gnocchi.

Photo by Flickr user Ayala Moriel used under a Creative Commons Licence. Check out her beet salad recipe.

Southern Comfort

27 Aug

By Stephanie Dickison

I had long been in love with Southern food and the culture around it. Everything is so silky and rich with food like no other cuisine.

Southern cuisine encompasses a lot of different types. Cajun, Creole and Soul Food are the big ones. And don’t forget Southern Barbecue. That gets a shout out all its own.

I think southern cooking has the perfect mix of being mostly simple dishes, but made in a comforting and yet sexy fashion.

I mean, what other culture uses both sassafras and sorghum?

The cuisine uses a lot of seafood – catfish, crayfish, crab, shrimp, oysters – and you’re sure to see pecans, boiled peanuts, sweet potatoes, collard greens, okra, fried green tomatoes, black-eyed peas, buttermilk biscuits, rice, butter beans, gumbo and fried chicken on the menu as well.

I think I like it too because the ingredients are so exotic to those of us outside the area. I mean where else are your going to find grits, hominy, muscadine, mint juleps and etoufee? And chicken fried steak just isn’t something going on here in the T-dot.

And the names are just as evocative – Hoppin’ John, Hush Puppies, and chicory and beignets (powdered donuts, sort of) for breakfast.


I think their pies are way more exciting – peach, pecan and sweet potato, to name just a few – and they make a mean cobbler, something that isn’t quite the same up here in these parts. Cornbread and biscuits are just way more fun than our ol’ regular loaves.

I like the mix of sweet and tart that has been combined in many of their dishes and there is a slow-cooking method to many of the dishes that harkens back to the old days of putting something in the oven or on the stovetop first thing in the morning and letting it do its thing throughout the day, though it doesn’t necessarily take that long anymore thanks to better stoves and quick-cooking ingredients.

Which means, you too can make this sultry fare at home.

Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Natalie Dupree’s Comfortable Entertaining have some traditional dishes that you can make in your very own kitchen:


Southern Fried Catfish

Southern Fried Chicken

Southern Oyster Casserole


Southern Greens

Southern Vegetable Gratin

Southern Cornbread Stuffing with Smoked Ham and Yams

Southern Rice Pilaf Stuffing with Ham, Pecans and Greens

And in terms of some of the ingredients that can’t be found in your area, there are a few online resources that can help:

A Southern Season

Piggly Wiggly

And in case you want to see and taste it for yourself:

Southern Food Festivals

Southern Food & Beverage Museum

Friday 5 – Random Links

1 Aug

By Chris Garbutt

1. The world’s most expensive foods, from CNN.

2. Looking for a great dip idea? Try the Baked Garlic with Goat Cheese here.

3. Radishes – one of my favourite vegetables for home growing! Grow them in a tiny spot, and because they grow so fast, you don’t have to wait long to eat them!

4. Taste.To takes a tour of tea in Toronto. You can do a lot more than drink it!

5. Cooking tips from the Onion: the Dream Omelet.

Bastille Day Colours

14 Jul

Chocolate & Zucchini offers a culinary way to celebrate Bastille Day (today) with the appropriate colours: bleu, blanc, rouge.


A Capital Berry

15 Jun

By Chris Garbutt
It was a hot summer day June. My then-fianceé and I were in Pusateri’s on Avenue Road in Toronto, picking out what I think is overpriced produce. The selection of strawberries was terrific. As Mary reached for a plastic package of organic berries, I reacted perhaps a little excessively.

“No,” I said, “You will not eat California strawberries when they’re in season here.”


“But nothing. Those aren’t even real strawberries. Those are strawberries on steroids!”

“They’re organic.”

Okay, well, maybe they weren’t on steroids, but I just cannot think of the strawberries that travel thousands of miles to our city as real. They’re too big, they’re tasteless, and they’re mostly white in the middle. For me strawberries don’t exist for ten months of the year.

My hometown of Stouffville celebrates the Strawberry Festival every year on the Canada Day weekend. For a while, our town called itself the Strawberry Capital of Ontario. It never seemed like much of a distinction, really, and somewhere along the line the moniker was dropped. I found out recently that Clarkson (now a part of Mississauga) has held the title since the late 19th century. The whole capital thing is a bit out of control anyway: several U.S. towns (at least one in Florida, one in Tennessee and two in California) refer to themselves as the strawberry capital of the entire world!

The festival began when I was a little kid, and has endured since then. The strawberry has a much longer history in Canada. The wild version – that tiny, heavenly, sweet red berry – has been growing in this part of the world for all of recorded history. The wild strawberry sets the standard for the flavour, but collecting them requires a walk in the woods, a great deal of crouching, and a search that could prove, well, fruitless.

So the next best thing is the farmed version, especially when it’s still freshly picked and warm. A visit to a pick-your-own farm is definitely the way to go if you’re hardcore, but I’m perfectly happy to forgo the sore knees and back, and buy a pint from a farmer’s market. Sometimes I’ll take them home with big ideas for recipes, but usually, they end up as and snack that only ends when the bottom of the carton is reached. Better than chocolate. Way better than chocolate.

I have two vivid memories. The first is when, at a very young age, I decided I hated strawberries. My father had salvaged some fresh ones from his garden (the birds loved to poach them and no amount of plastic sheeting or netting was deterring them). He handed me a berry, so red it was almost black. I bit, taking half of it in my mouth. It was tart and sweet at the same time, so intense I recoiled. I couldn’t handle it.

My second memory is from a few days later, when I learned to love strawberries again. The smell of shortcake baking filled my mother’s kitchen. The flavours of the crisp yet fluffy shortcake (none of that spongy angel food stuff), combined with the sweet strawberries and the whipped cream brought me back to the humble berry. It’s not complicated, but the recipe has been handed down for four generations from my maternal great grandmother. It’s my turn now – maybe if I make this recipe for Mary, she’ll forgive me my supermarket rantings.

Great Grandmother Marshall’s Strawberry Shortcake

2 cups flour

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup butter

4 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

Fresh strawberries (about 3/4 of a quart, but as many as you want to eat), hulled and cut in half. You might want to sprinkle a teaspoon or two of sugar to make it sweeter and draw out the juices.

250 ml whipping cream, whipped

Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in butter until the mixture has the look of small peas. Using a rubber spatula, gradually add milk until it is just mixed in. Don’t over mix, or the dough will become tough.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto a cookie sheet in the size you desire. Bake for 12 minutes. Tops should be just golden or slightly brown. Allow the shortcakes to cool slightly.

Place shortcakes on individual plates or shallow bowls. Cut tops off shortcakes. Spoon strawberries onto bottom halves of shortcakes, and replace tops. Garnish tops of shortcakes with one or two strawberry pieces and whipped cream to taste.

Makes about 6 large or 12 small shortcakes.

PS. I’m not the only one who feels so passionately about the strawberries-on-steroids problem. Check out Taste.To’s take on the subject.

UPDATE: Great posting about wild strawberries (with jam recipe) here.

Mom’s Salad Dressing

13 Jun

By Tony Evans

Back in the 1940’s there was no “government health fairy” telling you the necessity of eating six or eight helpings of fruits and vegetables each day. A lot of us kids who lived in a small town like Wenatchee, Washington ate our share just by accident with only one or two decent salad dressings from which to choose. Salads were hard enough to eat alone, without topping it off with some sweet tasting dressing.

In 2006, let me share some of what’s being offered the public, then compare with my mom’s home-made dressing.

Open the refrigerator and check the labels. Yikes!! You can’t even pronounce most of the words on the bottle. Monosodium Glutamate, Disodium Phosphate and, how about this beauty: Xanthan Gum. Is that some kind of foreign gum a worker accidentally dropped in the mix during the processing?

If you try my mom’s special from the 1940’s you will trash your bottles full of stuff you wouldn’t feed your worst enemy (maybe) and try this out on your family. It’s healthy and will save you a lot of money.


Step #1: Get a 12 ounce salad dressing bottle.

Step #2: In a large mixing bowl, combine the following ingredients. These are minimums. My mother made batches so if you want to get a larger bottle and double or triple it, fine with me. I suggest, however, you make a 9 or 12 ounce “test batch” to see if you like it first. It doesn’t matter how much you make, it stores in the refrigerator for months if the lid/cap is on tight.


2/3 cup of vegetable oil. (I love olive and canola oil, but not in this recipe)

½ teaspoon – dry mustard (mom used Colman’s in the yellow can and it’s still available)

½ teaspoon of salt and ground pepper

1 teaspoon of fresh, minced parsley

The juice of two or three lemons (mom did something clever with lemons). She sliced them in half – then into a hot oven for 30 seconds to double the amount of juice. Today, you have a microwave, so do the same thing for 30 seconds.

Next, add 3 cloves of diced or minced garlic.

Mix in the bowl and pour everything into the glass bottle using a small funnel to avoid spilling, then put the cap on tight and shake for about 5 seconds. Let the ingredients settle then take the cap off and dip a clean finger inside to get a taste. If you like it, leave it. If you want more lemon or garlic, add more. Just try to avoid the vegetable oil overpowering everything else. I prefer mine to be more lemon and garlic tangy.

Once you pour this over a nice green salad of tomato, celery, cucumber, avocado and red onion the salad mix will stand up and applaud now that you have poured something over them that’s good and healthy (and cheap to fix)

Mom used to make many batches of this mix and give to friends. The demand became so great that she started selling it at the restaurant for .50 cents a bottle. Back in the forties, that was pretty good money, but it was about the size of a Mason jar.

Tony Evans is a published author of two books and many magazine and newspaper articles. Currently, I am working on a family cookbook using recipes from the 1940/50’s that my parents used in their popular restaurant.

Coffee: A Memoir

1 Jun

By Alissa Von Bargen

I remember my first time. Lido di Jesolo, Italy, 1998. I was on a school trip, and everything felt new. The romance of Italy was in full bloom that April. I was young and unprepared, but isn’t that the way it’s meant to be?

There’s nothing – nothing – like the first cup.

Coffee was a revolution. After that first sip of heady Italian coffee laced with fresh milk, I had grown up. At 17, I was finally a coffee drinker, and there was no going back to the innocent days of café mochas topped with sweet puffs of whipped cream; hardly real coffee. I mourned the day I left Italy, knowing that I was hooked forever, and knowing that I may never have coffee like that again.

After that first euphoric discovery, I tried every kind of coffee I could find over the next five or six years, desperately trying to recreate the magic. Tim Horton’s, Second Cup, standard diner joe, the weak cups of coffee my dad would make on a Saturday morning. I had no shame. I took it with milk and sugar, but in a pinch, I would take it any way I could get it. (But let it be said that good diner joe, despite its shortcomings, can be a life raft to the shores of sanity on rocky mornings-after, or when deadlines creep up on you like a bad rash.)

I moved out to British Columbia two years ago to manage a newspaper, and began to cop out. The search was hitting a dead end. The coffee at work was dismally bitter and acidic, and the lack of a fridge meant there was only (gasp!) Coffeemate. I became a turncoat.

I drank cappuccinos.

I didn’t mean to do it, it just happened. The coffeehouse down the street was solace, and they specialized in espresso-based drinks. Doesn’t every gal go through a phase?

But my saving grace was my current live-in partner. A coffee-lover with a conscience, he imports fair-trade organic Arabica coffee from a Zapatista cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico. A fresh-roasted bean was key, he told me. He roasted green beans in an old popcorn machine, pouring two or three handfuls at a time, and watched as they turned from pistachio green to a golden-toast hue, and then deepening from a milk chocolate brown to a deep, serious, oily brown-black. He crushed them in a blender, and infused the coarse grinds with steaming hot water in a French press. I learned that darker roasts have less caffeine, and that the best-tasting beans are picked from high altitudes, not the clear-cut farmland cultivated by the Tim’s and Starbucks’ of the world.

From time to time I’ll have a cup here, a cup there, but I know that I’ll always come back to his cup. His favourite medium-dark blend was exactly what I had been searching for. Heaven.

How to roast your own coffee:

We all like a good cup of coffee, but it’s hard if you don’t want to pay a ton for pricey coffee roasters, purchase expensive pounds of roasted beans, or consume daily gut-rot from Timmy’s. Don’t worry, you can have it all by roasting your own! Besides being more delicious, fresh-roasting your own coffee is cheaper, and you can buy organic, fair-trade green beans for about a third of the price of roasted beans. All you need is an old circulated-air popcorn popper, a wooden spoon, and an electrical outlet outdoors. You can usually find a popper at a thrift store or second-hand shop for next to nothing. Happy roasting!

Plug in the popper and pour green beans in the hole. Fill about a centimeter below the plastic part of the popper, just like you would with popcorn kernels.

Stir the beans periodically as they churn in the popper throughout the process. “Chafe” (flakes from the beans’ outer layers) will start floating up from the popper in the early stages – that’s perfectly normal.

Listen for the first cracking. The beans will start to turn brown and then you will hear cracking or popping noises as each bean expands, increasing its flavour. The excess chafe will puff up. After all the beans have cracked once, you have a light roast coffee, and all the chafe will be out of the popper. But I know you don’t want to stop there!

Keep stirring as the coffee continues to roast. Wait for it…a second cracking is coming, and the coffee will get darker, more flavourful, and a bit oily. Right after the second cracking is considered a medium roast. But for the bolder tastes….

Dark roast is next, about two minutes after the second cracking. Brown-black beans with a serious oil to them. Sometimes I’ll do a medium roast and another dark roast and combine the two for a mellower coffee. Roast to taste!

I use a blender to crush the beans, but if you don’t have one on hand, put some beans in a Ziploc bag, and crush them evenly with a rolling pin or a wine/liquor bottle.

Fresh roasted coffee is best consumed within a week, but you can always freeze it to maintain freshness.

A great source of green beans is The Merchants of Green Coffee. They do business online, and at a storefront in Toronto on Matilda Street.

Alissa von Bargen is the editor of surface & symbol, a Canadian arts newspaper.