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Monday Review: The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food

23 Nov

The No-Nonesense Guide to World Food by Wayne Roberts

Reviewed by Stephanie Dickison

This  is a serious tome about the food crisis that we are currently facing.

And though it could be a dry, discouraging read, it is gripping and fascinating – and wouldn’t you agree rather timely?

If there was ever a time to read a book like this, it’s now.  Roberts lays out the stark situation of conflicting food systems, the role of government, food sovereignty and other issues with aplomb and heart.

He gives the vital statistics, but explains what they mean (for those of us not as academically savvy as those compiling the stats), thank goodness.  He breaks down documents and organizations in layman’s terms so that we, the regular citizen can follow along.  He tells us where our food is coming from and how much it REALLY costs.  The truths that he reveals are staggering:

– About 170 million food producers are child labourers, which speaks to the poverty and mistreatment subsidizing low food prices

– The global advertising budget for the food industry in 2001 was $40 billion, which is more money than the gross domestic product of 70 percent of the world’s countries.

This is a sobering look at how we are living and eating and what we should be doing to improve our lives and those of others.  There is hope though.  As Roberts writes,

“The food scene in many cities is full to busting with experiments by social entrepreneurs, co-ops, community agencies and non-governmental organizations.  Community gardens, green roofs, community kitchens, farm-to-school meal programs, Seedy Saturday heritage seed exchanged, farmers’ markets, cool restaurant districts, slow food banquets, food policy councils and city food strategies are the talk of the town.”

The importance of this book is clear – the change has to come from us – the individual first – before we can change the world.

I’m in.  How about you?

EATING WORDS – The Art of Food Writing

29 Oct


And in case you still don’t think Toronto is the best city in the world, check this out!

– Stephanie Dickison

Saturday, November 14th 2pm
EATING WORDS – The Art of Food Writing
A Highlight of the Stratford Chef School Gastronomic Writer in Residence Program

A Roundtable Discussion and Q & A
So you want to write about food. Start here with some of the best in the business. Blogs, essays, twitter, websites and oh, yes, books, where to begin! This is a unique opportunity to hear award winning writers from around the world, and here at home, discuss the art of food writing and the future of the craft. Bring your questions and see where the discussion leads us.

* Corby Kummer, 2008-2009 Writer in Residence, senior editor at The Atlantic, author of The Pleasures of Slow Food
* Michael Symons from Australia and the 2009-2010 Writer in Residence, author of the books One Continuous Picnic: A History of Australian Eating and A History of Cooks and Cooking,
* Margaret Webb, author of Apples to Oysters, short listed for Cuisine Canada Book Award
* Ian Brown, Globe and Mail writer, award winning journalist and author of The Boy in the Moon.

Authors books will be available on the day for purchase.
Location: Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave
Tickets $25/15 students. Available at The Cookbook Store

Chew On This – If You Had $100, How Would You Spend It On Food?

4 Oct


Opinion # 1 By Stephanie Dickison

This depends on whether I was going to use it to splurge or not.  Would I treat myself and get more extravagant, expensive things that I’m used to or would I try and get the most for my money?

Let’s go with extravagant, just for fun.  Now the question is would I use it for a nice dinner out with my fella or for fantastic luxe grocery items to keep in the kitchen cupboard for little bursts of luxury?

I think I’d go with the dinner, because getting the stuff for at home is a wee bit more practical and this isn’t about being practical for once.

As for where we’d go and what we’d have, that’s a tough one as we’re both food hounds and other than reading, writing, walking and spending time together, going out to eat is one of very favourite things to do.  Also, I’m a restaurant critic so there are certain restaurants that make not make the list over others.

I’d venture to say that we would probably either go for Ethiopian, Brazilian or Portuguese – the thinking being that we can get Italian, Japanese or Vietnamese any ol’ time, but these places are fewer and farther between.

Scott loves Ethiopian a little more than I do because he can’t get enough injera – the airy bread that you pull away with your fingers and acts as a utensil to scoop out other items.  I find it too goopy, but I love the other dishes, so I do just fine with my fingers.

Brazilian is awfully sexy and I love the heartiness and spiciness of it all, but I’m in the mood for Portuguese these days, so that’s what I going with for this experiment.

There are three things that I think are superb standouts in Portuguese cooking – churassco chicken, piri piri sauce, and the way they prepare fish.

I love that somehow the food is infused with intense flavours, but never overpowers the meat, fish or vegetables.  How do they do that?

I would go to a place on College Street that I’ve been only once, but the memories and flavours have remained ever since.

I would start with the Lobster, Octopus & Shrimp in a citrus, tarragon aioli ($20) and then move on to Grilled and Gently roasted Filet of Salted Cod with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Garlic ($38), while I’m sure Scott would get the Nova Scotia Lobster on risotto of saffron ($45).

I know I went over budget there a little, but I’d be happy to kick in the extra.  When you have food this good, it’s worth it.

Of course, Scott and I don’t eat dinners like this often.  Let’s face it – 2 freelance writers in one household does not an expense account make.   On a regular weeknight, I’m making  chicken and pasta and lots of veg, just like you

But it is nice to dream like this every once in awhile.  Especially while I’m off to make soup and sandwiches for dinner.

Opinion # 2 By Chris Garbutt

Every time I go to the grocery store, I wonder where we get the idea that inflation is low. Food prices have been climbing for longer than I can remember now. A hundred bucks almost doesn’t cover a week’s groceries for the two of us.*

But I think I’ll take another approach here. If I had $100 for one meal for two, then I could have a little fun. And the truth is, what I write today could change tomorrow. So with that in mind, here’s what I would do with that money today.

Now that barbecue season has begun, I think I would get grilling. I’m thinking maybe I would get some large scallops from my local fish market – Avenue Seafood on Avenue Road north of Lawrence. Then I would pick up some produce from Organic Abundance on Yonge Street. Perhaps some asparagus, potatoes, onions. Something in season for a salad – spinach, radishes? I would then walk down the street to The Friendly Butcher to pick up some locally raised bacon.

I would keep it simple:

–    Fry up some bacon for crumbling
–    Make a potato pouch with garlic and onions, and put it on the grill
–    Put some salt, pepper and olive oil on the asparagus, and grill that, too
–    Make up the spinach salad, maybe make a dressing with orange juice, shallots and olive oil
–    Sprinkle salt and pepper on the scallops, drizzle some olive oil and grill them
–    Use some of the salad dressing to create an orange sauce for the scallops
–    Crumble the bacon over both the salad and the scallops
–    Put it all on a plate and serve it with my sweetie

Now, that’s how I feel right at this moment. Give me a few seconds and I’ll start again. I’m starting to think that a lobster on that grill might be nice…

I think I’ve come well under a hundred here, so with whatever’s left, I’d buy the best sauvignon blanc I can find. What would you do?

* Well, I eat a lot of organic.

Heat Seeking

31 Aug


By Stephanie Dickison

“Boomers are triggering a U.S. movement toward hotter and spicier foods. In the past nine years, the consumption of chili peppers in the U.S. has increased 50%.” – via TrendHunter

I don’t know what’s happened this last year, but practically every meal I eat, I wonder how I can make it hotter, kick up the heat a notch – or seven.

It started out very innocently – living with a meat and potatoes guy, we kept a bottle of hot sauce in the fridge door and a mostly forgotten jar of hot peppers in the back behind the bread and assorted exotic condiments. I used them occasionally on my eggs or a burger, but left them mostly to my fella.

Then I started reviewing restaurants. Portuguese Piri Piri and Mexican dishes laced with peppers were a part of my job and somehow I came to build up a tolerance for spicier fare.

And over this last year, I have been adding red, gold and green heat to whatever I can.

In fact, it’s so out of hand that a couple of nights ago, my fella and I were out and wanted to grab a quick bite to eat. We went for sushi where I ordered a spicy tuna roll and a salmon roll. I added wasabi to the spicy tuna, which Scott had already remarked on its incredible heat. While I did find it hot, it didn’t stop me from adding wasabi to it. And while I didn’t break out into a sweat, I did get a stomach ache not long after.

When I go grocery shopping now, I have moved from the “mild” sauces, skipped the “medium” category completely and gone straight for the “hot,” sometimes making it too hot even for Scott, the man who can down a euphoric basket of Scotch Bonnet drummies with just a mist of sweat and always a smile on his face.

I am convinced that because I didn’t grow up with anything spicy at home (Worcestershire was the hottest thing we had), it is simply a building up of my palate through experiences at restaurants and the introduction to foods and sauces that are not just hot, but actually taste good.

This is why I now get hot peppers on my burgers and sandwiches, Brooklyn Petro (a company of 2 guys who wanted heat with flavour) on my eggs and my curries and stir fries at home have gone from mild-mannered to rock the Kasbah hot. Even my Mom who can’t even stand the heat of ginger has been coming along on the heat ride, saying that she enjoys the extra kick now and again.

This shows me that really anyone can build up their palate and like getting used to things you don’t like and then introducing them into your meals, can really change the way you feel about them. And often times, they become your favourite go-to item.

Recently, I was picking out a salsa and decided that I would go for hot, as medium is usually pretty mild, and I was in the mood for a little heat.

After dinner and cleaning up the kitchen, my fella and I tucked into the couch to watch a movie. I brought out the chips and salsa and pressed “play.”

Without much thought, I reached for a chip, swept it briskly through the salsa and put most of it in my mouth.

The phrase “hotter than hell” doesn’t quite do it justice. Tears squeezed out of my eyes, liquid gushed from my nose and my mouth felt engulfed in a searing heat that seemed to increase in intensity as seconds passed.

I’d say that my palate has sufficiently has gone up a notch since then.

Last night I had some hot wings and realized that I was putting hot sauce on them.

Uh oh.

Chew on This: What dish would you like to make, but never have?

16 Mar


Opinion # 1 By Chris Garbutt

One of my favourite things to do is to hunt down really difficult recipes with unusual ingredients and try to make them work. The dish that makes me most proud is from Charlie Trotter’s Kitchen Sessions book – layered scallop and Portobello mushrooms wrapped in phyllo. So yummy, so tricky, so satisfying to finish and eat! I don’t do this kind of thing as often as I’d like, but when I do, I learn more about cooking (and myself as a cook) than I have from any class, tv show or cookbook.

So the answer to this question is: Many many things! I’d like to cook more Asian food, whether it’s Chinese, Thai, Indian or Malay. I’d like to try to make a perfect burger – I think I’ve made some good ones, but this is something I haven’t yet put the effort into. I’d like to have a vegetarian feast for friends.

But the thing I’ve always wanted to try is an authentic cassoulet, that beany, meaty peasant casserole originating from the south of France. And, to my surprise, briefly made world-famous on election night in the U.S. last November.

My favourite food is comfort food, whether that be an Irish Stew or miso soup. And cassoulet has been on my radar for years now. I’ve made versions of it with chicken, versions of it with lamb, but I’ve never really taken on the true challenge of cassoulet, a multi-step process that really requires some kind of water fowl such as duck or goose in confit, some kind of sausage, and often a meat such as pork or even mutton.

I’m not a big fan of the word authenticity, because I find that what we consider authentic usually just means “old” or “not how we do it”.

But I do think that dishes do need a measure of authenticity, and with cassoulet, I think using chicken instead of duck or goose, while sometimes delicious, is really cheating. (I think they would agree with me here)

So, my dream is to one day take a couple of days, and make the most delicious cassoulet. If it ever happens, you’re all invited.

Saveur’s cassoulet recipe

A comment on the recipe

Slate takes on the cassoulet

Opinion # 2 By Stephanie Dickison

Despite having cooked since the age of 12 or so (so a long, long time ago), I am still intimidated to cook certain dishes.

I have given it a lot of thought and think that it must be dishes that you don’t grow up with.  Things that you come to as an adult are harder to figure out, I think.  I made my first pot roast last month.  I had never had that at home, only at friend’s houses or events held in banquet halls or family restaurants.  I made my first lamb shank this past fall and have recently discovered how amazing my steaks and chicken wings are – I always thought I could never duplicate a restaurant’s quality at home.  Not so!

This said, fish, for example, I find it hard to cook right – I either under or overcook it.

There are certain dishes that either aren’t part of my usual repertoire – such as stuffed pork chops, rolled veal or lasagna, which I perceive to be very labourious despite what people tell me – or things that I’m intimidated to make – like aranici (Italian rice balls), soufflé and anything in the baking realm.  I am just not cut out for dough, I have learned from the homemade pizza incident of 2008.

I have never cooked a rabbit or boiled a lobster or even steamed an artichoke for that matter.  Not because it’s hard, but it’s just never happened.

It seems there is just so much to make and so little time.  There is much on my list that I want to make for my fella, friends, family and neighbours – cassoulet, osso bucco, beef bulgogi, pozole rojo, goulash.  It’s making me hungry just writing about this…

I find that it just takes the first time to try to make a dish and then I’m ready to do it again and again.  It’s just making that first move.

God, it’s like dating all over again.

Monday Review: Cool Cuisine

22 Dec


Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming by Laura Stec with Eugene Cordero, PhD  – Gibbs Smith Publisher

By Stephanie Dickison

If you want to step up your involvement in saving our planet when it comes to your food,consider these questions:

  • How far do I travel to buy food and how do I get there?
  • How much food am I buying—will I eat it all?
  • What kind of food am I buying—is it plant based or animal based?
  • Geographically, where is my food coming from?
  • Is my food organic?
  • How processed is my food?
  • What kind of packaging is used for my food?
  • Do I buy too many processed foods that need to be frozen or refrigerated?
  • How am I disposing of the food and packaging waste?

This book is all about getting you to reassess how you are living, how you are buying your food, what you are buying and how you are cooking it.

All of this impacts the earth, so what can you do to change it?

Cool Cuisine gives you the facts and offers ways in which you can change your habits and practices.  It is a really great read on how global warming works thanks to interviews from over 30 scientists, farmers, ranchers and food professionals. It’s like a university course book without all the hard learning and early morning classes!

The book is organized into three sections: the first gives background to global warming- food connections, the second highlights solutions, and the third is a “culinary how-to,” teaching simple techniques and tips for cooking a Cool Cuisine.

This is truly food for thought and since reading it, I have implemented changes in the way I buy food, where I buy it and how I cook it.

When’s the last time a book did that for you?

Watch Stephanie Dickison on Slice TV!

12 Aug

Watch Stephanie in her role as Restaurant Critic on Slice TV’s “The List!

Click here and go to THE LIST – S2 Full Episodes

Click on Episode 24 – Part 4 (6:47 minutes)

The Sweeter Side

23 Jun

By Rachel Santos

I remember a a day out with my friends when we started a conversation about the commonly known traditional Filipino entrees: pancit, adobo, and lumpia. “Pancit is soooooo good!” “I can’t get enough of that lumpia!” “Adobo and rice, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Everyone seemed to know what each dish was and how great it all tasted.

However, when I mentioned the desserts, only one person knew what I was talking about and that got me worried.

There are a variety of Filipino desserts out there. We’ve got leche flan, halo-halo, turon, and so much more. I’m thinking everyone has to try these at least once in their lives, or else I’ll feel like I’ve kept one of the best secrets of Filipino cuisine to myself. Living in National City, aka “little Manila” California, I have a variety of Filipino dishes at my finger tips. I realize that not everyone has the access that I have, so I must provide that access through my descriptions of these desserts.

Leche Flan is a dessert from history. The Spaniards colonized the Philippines for a long period of time, leaving many Spanish influences on the Filipino culture. Flan is a Spanish dessert, but Filipinos had a different take on it. When comparing Spanish flan to Filipino leche flan, leche flan is thicker in density and a bit sweeter. The first time I had leche flan, I thought it was pudding, but it was so much thicker.Over time, I learned to love it for what it was: flan; shaped like tofu, but appears like a cream filled jello substance. Now it’s one of my favorite desserts.

As a little girl, I remember asking my mom for cheese ice cream on top of my halo-halo. Halo-Halo literally translates to “mix-mix”. I’d like to think that the name comes from someone who was bored one day and just put every sweet thing they could think of in one dessert. It consists of jello, coconut jelly, sweet beans, and jackfruit all layered in a cup. When it’s prepared, shaved ice and milk are added into the cup and it is topped off with any flavour ice cream and sometimes a bit of leche flan. Halo-halo is a mix of things and when you eat it, you mix it, hence the name “mix-mix.” It’s kind of like going to a party and getting a loot bag. The bags are all the same, but each has different contents. Halo-halo is like that party bag: every scoop is something different but it always tastes good and sweet.

Whenever it was cold out, I would never want leche flan or halo-halo, so I turned to my good friend turon. There are three simple ingredients: spring roll wrappers, bananas, and brown sugar. Bananas are cut in half, covered in brown sugar, and rolled in the spring roll wrapper like a mini taquito, and then fried. My mom always cooked it perfect! If it was too brown, it was extra crunchy. If it was too light, it had extra bits of brown sugar inside. She could never go wrong. What’s great about this dessert is that it’s easy when you’re on the go. Since they were all individual rolls, there was no need for a fork, knife, or spoon; just our “handy” friends.

When desserts come to mind, there’s usually a place where you can get them. For ice cream, go to the ice cream parlour. For cannoli or tiramisu, go to your local Italian restaurant. For Cheesecake, there’s a variety of drive-thrus and even a supply at the grocery store. So what about Filipino desserts? Maybe one day someone will open a place called Halo-Halo and it will have all the Filipino desserts you can think of. Many people may even come to realize that Filipino cuisine has more than just memorable entrees. Maybe that place could even go international and contain a variety of desserts from all over the world. I hope it will happen someday, but for now, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves by making it at home.


(12 servings)

6 plantain bananas

Brown Sugar

1 can of Jackfruit (optional)

Package of Spring Roll/Lumpia Wrappers

Cooking oil

Peel and cut the bananas in half, lengthwise. Roll the banana in brown sugar and coat generously. Place the sugarcoated banana (and a strip of jackfruit) on the spring roll wrapper, and wrap as you would a burrito. Fry in hot oil until golden-brown and crispy.

Rachel Anne Santos is a 20-year-old Junior currently attending San Diego State University.  She has lived in National City, California her whole life.