Tag Archives: wine

The G20 Series: France

21 Jun

By Chris Garbutt

Oh, France, why do you raise so many questions? Why don’t your people ever get fat when you have such a rich cuisine? How did you become the culinary capital of the world, and what happened that you no longer can hold that title (at least to yourself)? And what is the deal with Americans? Why are they so bugged by you?

To talk about France is inevitably to talk about its food. Bread, cheese, wine, pastry. France is where you confirm that food is culture. France inspired the great Julia Child (an American who seemed to be not-so-anti-France) to write cookbooks devoted to the country’s culinary greatness.

My introduction to French food came when I was 18* (hey – I grew up in Stouffville, okay?), and my parents took me out to celebrate my high school graduation to the restaurant they went to every year for their anniversary called La Chaumière. It’s long gone now, but I remember that the waiter brought our first course on a cart – trays of charcuterie, terrines, and uh, what’s the French word for antipasti? I was young, didn’t know better, so I loaded up. I can only imagine how gauche I looked. Then it was time for the main course – médallions de filet (beef) in a rich red wine sauce. I can still taste that dish as if it was next to me now. Fork tender, and almost buttery. (Now that I think about it, that course was probably quite literally very buttery.)

Years later, I had a chance to sit with a couple of friends on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec overlooking the St. Lawrence  River, tearing off hunks of baguette, smearing them with unpasteurized brie, and surreptitiously drinking red wine from a bottle of what was probably plonk, but to my untrained palate was a perfect complement.

My one brief visit to France was not a culinary delight, but that’s my own fault. I was travelling with a friend, we were young, and mostly we ate pizza and burgers. When I go back, I will remedy that crime against culinarity.

Today I have my own favourite local French restaurant – Auberge du Pommier, where I got married, and where we still go every year on our anniversary. We had a winter wedding, and the food they served was just a perfect complement to the weather, especially the mushroom soup appetizer. And there is no shortage of French choices in the city – Le Select is still going strong, as is Scaramouche, and, for that matter, Le Papillon, if your looking for something more Quebecois. Also check out Bodega and Celestin, the latter of which had a duck confit that made me light-headed it was so good. And don’t forget to get yourself some pastries at Patisserie Sébastien, Rahier, Clafouti or Bonjour Brioche. Yes you can get a good croissant in Toronto!

French food taught me that food is to be tasted, really tasted, and experienced. Flavour matters. Complexity and simplicity can live together in the same dish. And that you have to take your time. If it’s in a field of lavender in Provence, or a cliff in Quebec, so much the  better.


* All right, I’m lying. I had tried several versions of French Onion Soup in my youth, including one made by my very own mother.

The G20 Series: South Africa

20 Jun

by Stephanie Dickison

Probably the thing I consume the most from South Africa is their wine. Expensive, but delicious!

In terms of the food, what I like most about South African cuisine is that there is a little bit of everything from around the globe.  A little bit from the British Isles (meat pies), the Germans brought their pastries and touches from various areas give South Africa a cuisine that is unlike any other.  And gives you the diner, the pleasure of trying so many different tastes and influences without having to travel very far.

The names of the dishes are as intriguing as the flavours – Green Bean Bredie (Lamb and Green Bean Stew), the fish and rice combo called Cape Kidgeree, the beef pie named Bobotie, served with yellow rice,  Biltong (jerky) Klappertert, or Coconut Pie to us North Americans and Mielie Pap, which is a staple of their diet – a cornmeal mix.

I was surprised to learn that South Africans love to barbecue.  Theirs are called braais.  This is where the spicy sausages called Boerewors are cooked, as well as many other meats.

I don’t know about you, but this post is making me hungry.

Anyone know where I can get a Boerewors on a bun?  Maybe two?

In the meantime, you can read up on the history of South African cuisine.  It’s absolutely fascinating.

The G20 Series: Australia

9 Jun

By Chris Garbutt

When I was in the fourth grade, I did a project on Australia, with cut-out pictures glued onto Bristol board and everything. I had all kinds of information about natural resources, demographics, flora and fauna, agriculture and political structure. I’m pretty sure there was nothing about the food. (I do recall, however, a statistic that said there were something like six times as many sheep in the country as people, a figure that I believe still holds.)

I’ve never been to Australia, but I do feel an affinity, simply because, like us, many people from elsewhere think of the country in stereotypes. No Australian I ever met talked about a “shrimp on the barbie”, though I have no doubt they all have had their share of grilled seafood. And thanks to Men at Work, we all know about vegemite. And should we even talk about Foster’s – a okay beer that is actually kind of hard to get in Australia?

Trying to track down an Aussie restaurant in this city is not easy – I still haven’t had any luck. There is the Tranzac Club, which, while devoted to promoting Australian and New Zealand culture in Toronto, makes no mention of cuisine on its  website.

Like Canada, Australia has a large immigrant population, and the government highlights the availability of flavours from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. But what is unique to Australia? What is their version of the beaver tail, the maple syrup, the figgy duff? Here are a few things I’ve discovered:

Dim Sim: a fried or steamed meat dumpling, at least twice as big as a Dim Sum dumpling, usually sold in Fish and Chip shops.

Moreton Bay Bugs: a kind of lobster, without claws.

Four ‘n Twenty Meat Pie: it’s, well it’s a meat pie. Often with ketchup squirted on top or inside through a hole in the crust. FYI, it has a Facebook fan page.

Pavolva: a meringue dessert best served with fruit.

Twisties: a crunchy rice snack in cheese and chicken flavours.

Tim Tams: tasty looking chocolate-covered cookies. If you find some, try a Tim Tam Slam!

And don’t forget, Australia is the fourth largest wine producer in the world!

Now I haven’t talked about kangaroo, though I am led to believe it smells terrible when cooking, but tastes like really good beef.

If you’re looking to know how  to talk at your next Aussie dinner party, here’s a lowdown on the lingo. And this government site offers some history, including information on traditional Aboriginal foods.

Think it might be time for a glass of Shiraz – I know I don’t have to look too hard to find that!

The G20 Series: Argentina

6 Jun

Interview by Chris Garbutt

The first stop in our G20 tour is Argentina. We’ve discussed Argentine food before, on the topic of an Argentine-American tradition called Magic Gnocchi Night. But since my own sister-in-law Sophie was in Buenos Aires only a month ago, I thought I would grill her on what she ate on her trip. Here is our brief conversation.

Had you ever eaten an Argentine dish before?

No, but I kept hearing about beef so I was interested in comparing their beef to the Texan beef. It’s all about the beef in Argentina and they enjoy telling you any chance they get. The annual consumption of beef in Argentina is 220lbs per capita.

Did you have any expectations before you left?

I had no expectations, except that I was interested to compare – you guessed it – the beef. And to see what our Texan friends thought.

What did you eat there?

A lot of beef… Aside from what seemed like a typical dish: beef with a side of pumpkin and eggplant that were sauteed or roasted (delicious). On some occasions, the beef or pork or lamb was cooked on an open BBQ pit.

What stood out?

I realize that I speak of beef quite a bit, but the quality really was outstanding. They take a lot of pride in their cattle. Not sure how true this is, but we heard many times that the first settlers arrived with seven cows and one bull and that was the beginning of cattle farming in Argentina. That and Argentines realize that feedlot cattle do not taste nearly as good as the naturally fed ones.

The other thing that stood out was the excellent Malbec wine. There really wasn’t one red that we didn’t like. The whites were very okay. I wish I knew more about wine to elaborate, but the wine tasted great on its own and wonderful with a meal.

The cocktail of Argentina is the Pisco Sour. Pisco is Argentina’s tequila. The drink is made with pisco, egg whites, lemon or lime, regional bitters and simple syrup. Very light, fresh cocktail  that reminded me of a margarita.

So how did the beef compare with Texas? What did your Texan friends think?

The Texans were mighty impressed! Everyone agreed that the Argentines know what they are doing with beef and wine. We all agreed that we’d love to return and make a side trip (a 2 1/2 hour flight) to Mendosa – wine country. And also try the regional cuisine.

Is there anything you didn’t get to try?

I didn’t try enough of the Argentine BBQ. Very famous, open pit with a multitude of meats grilling. Often, you would see the pit at the front of the restaurant, next to the entry, I guess to entice you.

Are you going to try (or have you already tried) any Argentine recipes now that you’re back?

I actually couldn’t wait to take a break from all the beef I consumed, but that isn’t to say I wouldn’t be interested in trying more Argentine cuisine. Our tour guide was asked about fish given that Buenos Aires is situated on a delta that flows into the Atlantic. She said that most Argentines love their beef and she recalls being forced to eat fish once a week growing up. We started wondering if she was working for the beef industry or something, because she went on about it!

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.

Friday 5 – Summer Drinks Edition

8 Aug

By Chris Garbutt

1. Just for the heck of it, there’s Tahitian wine.

2. Cool, refreshing, and, uh, savoury: Cucumber-Rosemary gin & tonic.

3. Cold beer. Seems everyone’s celebrating beer this week. My favourites in the summer: Mill Street Organic Lager, Amsterdam Natural Blonde, and Steam Whistle Pilsner. For more on beer in Toronto, check out A Good Beer Blog.

4. I’m not usually one for liqueurs, but two make my list as summer favourites. Cointreau on ice is one. Or you could make this, which I haven’t tried. I love the orange flavour in Cointreau, much subtler than Grand Marnier, which can be a bit cloying. The other is a straight-up shot of the Czech Republic’s Becherovka, served supercold. Apparently it’s made with over 100 different herbs, but to me the strongest flavour is clove.

5. Seaking of liqueurs, here’s a limoncello gelato for dessert.