By Rosemary Counter - Monday, January 21, 2013 - 0 Comments
The social network can help you lose weight, but are you willing to be honest with your followers?
If you’ve been lucky enough never to find yourself at a Weight Watchers meeting, it goes something like this: a dozen dieters, mostly women, sit in a circle. In turn, but only if they want to, they share their weekly progress. “I lost 0.4 lb.,” someone might say. The rest of the room claps.
To encourage an appearance the next week, peppy leaders reiterate one staple statistic of the 50-year-old program: people who attend meetings regularly lose three times the weight as those who do not. Nonetheless, just two years after its last relaunch, Weight Watchers is revamping again (with its online 360° program) in an effort to keep up with the times.
Some dieters are already a tweet ahead. “I love a good meeting, but there wasn’t always a meeting when I needed it,” says 43-year-old Rebecca Regnier, a television reporter from Ohio. For her—and 58 per cent of Canadians who Weight Watchers says tried to lose weight in the last year—Twitter is always there. “When it’s 2 a.m. and I’m fighting a snack craving, it’s not 2 a.m. in Australia. I have friends there to talk me out of it.”
To her ever-expanding network, Regnier’s tweets include healthy humblebrags (“An apple handled some pre-lunch cravings for me today. Yay apple!”), support for her followers (“Don’t quit! Restart”), and admissions of gluttony (“I had a candy-bar-in-the-car moment”).
Despite periodic transgressions, all documented on @LaughItOff to almost 9,000 followers, Regnier lost 20 lb. How she did it—in short, choose any diet that works for you, follow experts in the field, connect with followers for support—became the ebook Your Twitter Diet, one of many that marries dieting with social-media oversharing.
Web options include Tweet What You Eat and Tweet Your Weight. GQ correspondent Drew Magary, down 60 lb., tweets his weight every morning in what he calls the “public humiliation diet.” With just the push of a button, an endless series of websites (Lose It, FitDay, SparkPeople) and apps (My Diet Coach, Thin Cam, the Eatery) can broadcast every bite into cyberspace.
Doing so isn’t always as easy as it seems. Meegan Dowe, a 33-year-old education coordinator from Halifax, who used to blog about her weight struggles anonymously, used the MyFitnessPal app to track her 90-lb. loss. “It tweets both the food I eat and the calories I burn,” she explains.
Though she hates to admit it, Dowe doesn’t think she could have lost the weight without Twitter. “It gave me a community I didn’t have; people at a similar weight as me and with the same frustrations,” she says. While people are almost always positive, sometimes they’re nasty. “I’ve heard things like, ‘You only burned 300 calories in 60 minutes? I could do it in 20.’ ”
Unlike Weight Watchers, Twitter is far from a private place. For those who thrive on aggressive competition, like GQ’s Magary, this might be “its own incentive anyway,” he wrote.
Others, not so much, says Weight Watchers’ chief scientist, Karen Miller-Kovach. “Social dieting is probably great for some and terrible for others.” The research is mixed, she says. It’s generally accepted that obesity is socially contagious, and that more and better support is associated with long-term weight loss. If social media are part of your support system, reported the Archives of Internal Medicine in December, then they can certainly help your progress. But they can’t be your only trick. “You’re not going to tweet yourself to thinness, but if you’re following a program and also tweeting about it, you may see more success,” says Miller-Kovach.
If a public weigh-in feels akin to modern torture, the Twitter diet could be detrimental. “It can reinforce shame. It can be embarrassing, humiliating and not at all helpful,” she says.
Regnier admits to feeling the shame “just a little bit.” For binge eaters like her, food sessions are often solitary and shameful, and a midnight Twitter confession forces an accountability she might otherwise not have. “But seriously,” she asks, “if you’re not willing to share with someone what you’re eating, then why are you eating it?”
By Jacob Richler - Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Jacob Richler on how smoked meat has become a fusion food
The London-based Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi may be getting all the attention these days for his inventive, vegetarian-focused cuisine, but be advised there is another new and highly original Jewish cuisine in play that has broader reach and will likely prove more enduring. I speak of course of that Ashkenazi wunderfood, smoked meat, and the fusion cooking growing up around it.
Fresh interpretations have been emerging almost continuously of late. For example, last month—just in time for Christmas—Loblaw’s launched an all-new product called PC Montreal deli-style dip. Though technically it features corned beef rather than smoked meat, one must give credit where it is due: President’s Choice is leading the way with the creation of an entirely original Montreal-deli-inspired product.
All this just months after a trendy new pseudo-Japanese restaurant called Dassara in New York came up with something altogether different: Montreal smoked meat and matzo ball ramen. Continue…
By Jessica Allen - Friday, January 11, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
What’s not to like about a man who bakes his own bread?
Near the back of the Cookbook Store in Toronto on a November evening, two men lingered in the bread-making section. Shane Carruthers, a cook who’s started to experiment with baking bread, carried How to Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou in an Indigo bag. And Matt Harris, who doesn’t bake, left with a copy of Nick Malgieri’s Bread—for his wife.
That gave store manager Alison Fryer pause, considering that in the past 30 years, she and her staff have observed that roughly 90 per cent of their bread-making books have been bought by men. “When you point it out to people, they’re not really aware of it,” she explains. “But then the penny drops and they go, ‘Oh, that’s right. It is all males.’ ”
What exactly fascinates men about mixing flour, water and yeast is debatable. It could have something to do with the fact that the most prominent European bakers of the past 200 years have been male, explains food historian Heather Evans of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. And although she notes that “cookery-book purchasing patterns don’t necessarily bespeak patterns of cooking,” the only bread-making cookbook Evans and her partner own in their vast collection was bought by him. “Perhaps,” she suggests, “all these bread-making books are being purchased with a view to integrating bread-making into the courtship process. What’s not to like about a man who bakes his own bread?”
By Jessica Allen - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 12:01 PM - 0 Comments
The Food and Culture Organizations of the United Nations has announced that 2013 “is the international year of the quinoa.”
Proposed in December 2011, “the government of Bolivia, with support from Argentina, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Georgia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, and FAO, and approved by the United Nations General Assembly,” the organization’s objective “is to focus world attention on the role that quinoa’s biodiversity and nutritional value plays, in providing food security and nutrition, the eradication of poverty in support of the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals.”
Those are all good reasons to make 2013 the year to celebrate the grain that everybody knows isn’t exactly a grain (it’s an edible seed), but did the organization miss the quinoa boat? Isn’t quinoa so 2008? Or ’09? Or ’10?
Maybe not: In 2011 Canadian Living reported that searches for quinoa by their web visitors–approximately 2 million Canadians a month–increased by 153 per cent from February 2010 to 2011, and a whopping 311 per cent in March. And just last September, Chatelaine posted a Quinoa 101 on their site. Plus, four of the six English paperback cookbooks that Amazon.ca offers with the word “quinoa” in the title, were published in 2012, including the Canadian The Vegetarian’s Complete Quinoa Cookbook in September, and The Quinoa Revolution in October. (Man, I’d be pretty smug if I were R. Wood, who published Quinoa, the Supergrain: Ancient Food for Today, in 2002.)
By Jacob Richler - Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 11:26 AM - 0 Comments
A DIY kit turns vodka into urine-coloured booze—for $80
When a small mail-order company in northern Virginia recently marketed a kit for making your own gin, they quickly learned something about the contemporary imagination: in short, the glamour of the bootleg-era HBO series Boardwalk Empire counts for a lot more than, say, the visions of Hogarth or the sorrows of John Cheever. Which is to say that sales were through the roof.
“Eleventh-century Italian monks. Early American colonists. Prohibition bootleggers . . . you,” the attached instruction sheet begins. “Welcome to the exclusive fraternity of small-batch, home gin producers.”
Agreed, making one’s own gin does seem like heady stuff. And it’s hard to imagine a fraternity or club anywhere near so exclusive that one can join for only $39.99, plus shipping. But alas, only moments after my kit arrived and I tore the box open on the kitchen counter with all the greedy anticipation of a six-year-old attacking the first gift of Christmas morning, it occurred to me that I hadn’t thought this business through.
By Jessica Allen - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 8:12 AM - 0 Comments
Sometimes it’s difficult not to grow weary in the face of keeping up with food trends. But there are writings relating to food of which I will never tire. Here are some of my favourites that’ve been covered really well in 2012 and that I hope to see more of in the year ahead.
1. Great profiles:
In 2012, I enjoyed reading more about people who make food rather than reading pieces devoted to food itself. There were some incredible profiles this year, from such big-name industry players as London’s Yotan Ottolenghi and Paris’s Apollonia Polaine–both from The New Yorker food issue–to local chefs like Toronto’s Keith Froggett, whom David Sax wrote about in The Grid. More please!
2. Heritage foods:
Speaking of profiles, remember when the New Yorker wrote about South Carolina locavore-extraordinaire Sean Brock in 2011? He’s the chef of Husk Restaurant who’s obsessed with bringing many of the region’s forgotten varietals of plants and animal breeds back to the table (he also has a cookbook coming out in 2013.) ”Since building a network of farmers, grain purveyors, food historians, and scientists during the past few years, Brock’s seed-saving mission has revived about 35 Southern plants, some of which might otherwise have gone extinct,” writes Cooking Light, which awarded Brock its Trailblazing Chef of the Year Award. In recent years, there’s been plenty of attention to paid to heirloom foods: from Red Fife, a Canadian grain that fell off our radars until Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy championed its virtues in 2006, to apples, of which there are thousands of varietals besides the ubiqitious Red Delicious, Granny Smith or Macintosh. And even though seed libraries, repositories that preserve seeds for generations to come, are nothing new (even Thomas Jefferson collected heirloom seeds), I hope to read more about them–and all things heirloom-related–in 2013.
By Jessica Allen - Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 9:40 PM - 0 Comments
Food trends can be fickle. You never know what sort of comestible is going to make it big. Imagine it is 1992 and you get the chance to step into a DeLorean that doubles as a time machine and travel to 2012 for dinner. Here’s how that meal might play out.
Server: Welcome to the future of food. May I take your …whoa. First thing’s first: nobody really wears oversized blazers with shoulder pads anymore. Most people’s jackets are really tightly tailored.
Man: Yeah, but not men’s jackets.
Server: Especially men’s jackets. But that’s not why you two are here. Please, sit down. Here’s our cocktail list.
Woman: Sweetie, look at this! They infuse their bourbon with bacon!
Server: We distill it ourselves.
Man: I think I just want an Old-Fashioned. Do you have that?
Server: Actually, we make the authentic version of the Old-Fashioned. Our mixologist–
Woman: What’s a mixologist?
Server: She makes our cocktails.
Man: Like a bartender?
By Matt Kwong - Monday, December 24, 2012 at 8:06 PM - 0 Comments
Ask a Canadian: vinarterta has become a holiday staple in the homes of Icelandic expats
Few Christmas traditions are as culturally sacred to Canada’s ethnic Icelanders – nor as touchy, for that matter – as the baking of a 150-year-old fruitcake.
Vinarterta is a hefty, layered torte customarily served in rectangular slices, usually with coffee, and ideally by a doting Amma (grandmother). In thousands of kitchens across the continent this week, members of the Icelandic diaspora are almost guaranteed to devour the prune-filled, shortbread-layered confection.
But ask a native Icelander in the capital of Reykjavik how one prepares a classic vinarterta and expect a bemused look, and maybe requests to explain what that is. Put the same question to a Manitoban of Icelandic ancestry, though, and you’ll get an earful.
“When I first came to Canada, I was asked by people working with my husband at the University of Manitoba for my special vinarterta recipe,” recalls Margret Björgvinsdóttir, who left Reykjavik for Winnipeg in 1978. “I had to tell them the truth – that I really didn’t know what they were talking about.”
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
The hybrid snack is marketed as healthy, but its calories are empty
While a rumpled man in his pajamas sneaks an afternoon snack, a young woman surprises him in the kitchen. “Man, I really didn’t think you’d like those,” she says, “because they’re crackers and they’re good for you.” The man shovels handfuls into his mouth, saying, “They taste like chips.”
This so-called hybrid of chips and crackers, which Pepperidge Farm dubs “the best of both snacks,” is appearing on shelves just in time for the holiday season. Though pegged as an innovative new product, Cracker Chips already has stiff competition: Special K Cracker Chips launched in May; Kashi’s Original 7 Grain Snack Crackers came out last year; and Christie’s Crispers, the grandfather of the group after 21 years on supermarket shelves, is still going strong.
The difference is that Crispers were never marketed as a healthy snack. “Once you do the serving-size conversions, Crispers are about the same as chips in terms of calories and fat,” explains Maria Thomas, a registered dietitian and nutritionist for Vancouver’s Urban Nutrition.
By Jessica Allen - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 2:57 PM - 0 Comments
I have never seen an episode of Recipe to Riches, the Food Network Canada show now in its second season. But I really like the premise: Thousands of Canadians cook up their best home recipes to compete in seven different categories (think savoury snacks, cookies and squares and entrees). In each of the seven episodes, one winner is chosen from the three finalists in each of those seven categories. At the end of the season, that leaves seven winners, all of whom take home $25,000 and have their recipe turned into a President’s Choice product that’s sold in grocery stores across the country.
Tonight (Dec. 12 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT) the country gets to vote on which of these seven dishes they think is the best. The final winner stands to win $250,000–the largest cash prize in Canadian reality show history.
I hosted a dinner party with all seven dishes so that we could judge the PC products for ourselves. Four Maclean’s staff memebers ranked each product from the best (7) to the worst (1). On the show, “recipes are judged based on taste, presentation, originality, the story behind the recipe and its suitability to become a mass produced grocery store product.” Our judging criteria? Taste, and taste alone, although it was hard for our science writer not to comment on the appearance of the food and our art director to ignore the packaging of the products. The three panelists I chose have never judged food professionally. They are lay people, much like the consumers to whom these products are presumably marketed. I advised them to consider whether or not they would be enthusiastic about recommending each dish to a friend to buy.
- See the dinner party photos here, or scroll to the bottom
By Pamela Cuthbert - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
One is laid-back and luxurious, the other is fast and furious
Sunday lunch versus Sunday brunch: the difference is only a few letters, but the two are opposite approaches to the midday meal. Brunch, a North American invention, was initially about time—not quite breakfast, not quite lunch—but has evolved into a loud, fast-paced antidote to a hangover in which friends down cocktails and dine on dishes like deep-fried French toast. Sunday lunch, a European tradition, is a slow and sumptuous feast that involves family, many courses of finely crafted dishes, some wine and time for dessert. And though brunch dominates in Canada, at least one Toronto restaurant is trying to make Sunday lunch an occasion.
“Brunch is about business, it’s not about joy,” says Tobey Nemeth, who runs the small bistro Edulis with her husband, chef Michael Caballo. After a few years spent cooking around the world, they took over the space earlier this year. “Sunday lunch was one of the first things we set out to do,” Caballo says.
The $40 set menu encourages lingering over dishes that range from fish mousse to braised rabbit, garlicky potatoes and rich pies. There is only one seating, so the table is yours from noon to 3 p.m. Dishes are family-style, which means shared platters of food. To slow things down, wine by the bottle is half-price. Continue…
By Sarah Elton - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 3:15 PM - 0 Comments
Read the label: some of the products are just as bad–or worse–than processed goods
These days, who’s not gluten-free?
Any dinner party, or trip to the supermarket, will confirm that in North America today, gluten is to 2012 what carbs were to the diet conscious ten years ago.
Naturopaths recommend that patients avoid the gluten protein, found in wheat and barley, to improve intestinal health. Bestselling books, such as Wheat Belly, tout not only the digestive benefits of living without gluten but the weight loss advantage it offers too. Others credit a gluten-free diet with improving all sorts of conditions including autism and ADD. And thin yet beautiful and healthy-looking Hollywood celebrities, such as Rachel Weisz, appear to be living proof of its benefits.
For the one per cent of the population who has Celiac Disease, a condition whereby gluten causes serious damage to the intestines, a gluten-free diet can be life saving. For others, it is a choice. While some people have gluten sensitivities and can’t tolerate the protein, others simply report feeling better on the diet.
“We call it the health issue of the day,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and vice president of The NPD Group who tracks American food and diet trends for market research. Their surveys started to pick up the gluten-free trend in 2009 and it has exploded since then. “We are close to 28 per cent of the adult population trying to cut out or remove gluten from their diet,” he said. “That’s more than there are active dieters in America right now.”
By macleans.ca - Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 6:30 AM - 0 Comments
Blue, alive, freshly delivered: Jacob Richler samples the first mussels of the season
Last week, the first wild Irish blue mussels of the season arrived at Toronto’s Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill to customary fanfare—a crowd of expectant, hungry customers numbering approximately three. The reasons for the modest turnout are easily explained: even in these seasonally attuned and provenance-focused times no one seems to remember we ever had a mussel season. For decades, the national taste has embraced rope-cultured mussels from P.E.I., a cheap, quality product available freshly harvested throughout the year.
Like all cultured mussels, those from P.E.I. lead a sedentary, well-fed life and so are always pleasantly plump. As they are raised in mesh socks, and dangle in armchair comfort above the sea floor rather than moving hungrily about in its sand and dirt, their unpalatable byssal threads—or beards—are rendered conveniently thin and slight from disuse. What’s more, that perch encourages them to maintain a living quarters that is clean and grit-free, in unwitting consideration of their future sauce.
Convenience aside, however, some perceive the cultured mussel to possess an aura of blandness akin to sliced white bread. The larger-size grades increasingly favoured by restaurants have a soft, flabby mouth feel that can make one yearn for the more intense flavour of their smaller, firmer wild brethren. Continue…
By Jessica Allen - Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 9:34 PM - 0 Comments
Last week, I spent American Thanksgiving with friends in Washington D.C. They’re enthusiastic wine drinkers and the last time they visited this side of the border they couldn’t contain their excitement over a variety of Niagara wines they’d enjoyed. So, I brought along a couple to share.
They did not disappoint. But I did: when they asked me how it’s possible that cold Ontario could produce such standouts, I babbled on about Southern Ontario being on the same latitude as Northern California, so, you know, there’s that. Eyebrows were raised, and we all returned to our glasses of baco noir.
When award-winning wine writer Natalie Maclean published the winners of the Southern Ontario Sommelier Association’s awards for the best Ontario wines on her website recently, I reasoned that she’d be much better suited than I am to articulate how places such as Niagara, the North Shore of Lake Erie and Prince Edward County provide perfect terroirs for particular varietals.
By Jacob Richler - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 2:03 PM - 0 Comments
After 20 years, Montreal chef Normand Laprise publishes his first recipe collection
The first thing I thought of while contemplating the simple white cover of Normand Laprise’s long-awaited first cookbook was a conversation we had five or six years ago at a quiet table at the back of his Montreal restaurant, Toqué! As the scheduled interview wound down, I had asked him what he was planning next. “One thing’s for sure—it won’t be a cookbook. Everybody’s writing them these days.”
It was a fair point. Even then, close to 3,000 new cookbooks were being published annually in the U.S. alone, far too many by celebrity TV chefs equipped with teams of writers and researchers who spared them the trouble of writing—not to mention reading—the many recipes published under their names.
Amidst all that noise, the rare chef now and then releases a cookbook that is greeted as a genuine publishing event. Like Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli 1998-2002, say, and more recently Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook and René Redzepi’s Noma. And that is precisely the way the original French edition of Toqué! Les artisans d’une gastronomie québécoise was greeted upon its release in Quebec last month. Continue…
By Amy Rosen - Monday, November 12, 2012 at 2:15 PM - 0 Comments
The combi oven can bake pizza, sear salmon and grill steak at the same time
There’s a revolution simmering in the kitchens of the nation’s restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, hotels and even prisons. Electric stoves, gas ranges and convection ovens are being ripped out to make way for the Rational, a German-made beast that can bake, roast, broil, steam, grill, fry, dehydrate, poach and perfectly reheat food.
It’s called a combi oven, and it uses both dry heat and moist heat to cook large quantities of food precisely the same way. It can also bake a pizza, sear salmon and grill a steak at the same time. The programmable Rational is popular in Europe, where more than 85 per cent of commercial kitchens use combi ovens, but the company is just beginning to make inroads in Canada. Most of the units, which cost from $15,000 to $55,000, are sold to high-volume kitchens, although they do have a few well-heeled clients who have a smaller version at home (the most famous is the White House).
At the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver this summer, executive chef Darren Brown took a visitor on a tour of his vast cooking empire, passing staff making chocolates, pickling cucumbers and checking on charcuterie before stopping in front of the Rational oven and declaring that it had revolutionized his kitchen, especially on catering jobs. They can compose and chill up to 120 meals on mobile racks, then roll them into a Rational and “reheat them to the perfect temperature in exactly eight minutes.” Continue…
By Jacob Richler - Monday, November 5, 2012 at 1:01 PM - 0 Comments
Jacob Richler on a business that started as a homemade Christmas present
The charcuterie board draped with thin, ruffled slices of mortadella at Charcut Roast House in Calgary is easily one of the best bar snacks available a mari usque ad mare. And while this distinction hinges on the quality of the house-made sausage, there is something else: the mustard always served with it.
The company that makes it is called Brassica Mustard. The style is what the English call whole-grain, grainy, grained or granary mustard, and the French know as moutarde de Meaux or moutarde à l’ancienne. But this one is different—most notably in its mouth feel, where each of its yellow and brown mustard seeds seems to pack a lively little pop.
“Almost like tobiko!” company co-founder Desmond Johnston concurred from his home in Calgary, referencing the flying-fish roe sushi chefs deploy for crunch. Continue…
By Jasmine Budak - Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 1:20 PM - 0 Comments
Crazy craft-beer Canucks are going wild with fermentation in an Ontario winery
On a grey October afternoon at the Good Earth vineyard in Beamsville, Ont., a crowd gathers around a cluster of steaming stainless-steel vats set up mere feet from the rows of swollen grapes. Iain McOustra, a brewer with Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewing Co. and one of the architects of this madcap plan, periodically stirs a boiled concoction of grains, hops and water that has the hue of milky coffee and smells faintly like shredded wheat. If McOustra is giddy, it’s because he’s exhausted and exhilarated by this, the culmination of three years of research and planning to make a sour beer in the back-breaking style of old-world Belgian breweries.
“This is certainly the craziest brew I’ve ever done,” says the 31-year-old, who’s been brewing beer professionally and in backyards for 13 years. “It’s the most difficult brew to pull off; so much could go wrong.”
Vital to the plan is the winery environment, especially at harvest time, when the air is thick with wild yeast and bacteria that will—it’s hoped—float into the open vessels and ferment the grain mixture, or wort. This is a contemporary take on lambic beer, named after the town of Lembeek, Belgium, where the process was refined in the 1300s. Continue…
By Jacob Richler - Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
In most provinces it’s illegal to sell the most local of meats. Jacob Richler says it’s time to rewrite the rules
One night this summer, while tirelessly eating my way across the country in search of restaurants for a Maclean’s special issue, I found myself at Raymonds in St. John’s, where I came across a menu item that had me beckoning wildly for the maitre d’. At issue was the daily pasta: hand-cut pappardelle with moose ragù. Yes, moose. How could this be?
“We have a licence to serve game,” restaurant manager Jeremy Bonia explained matter-of-factly.
This was exciting and unexpected news. A licence to sell prepared game: I had never heard of such a thing.
Sure, up North hunting is sometimes a geographic necessity. In Inuvik, in 2002, I saw a supermarket freezer full of hunks of muskox and caribou that looked to have been randomly carved from a frozen carcass with a chainsaw, if not hacked off with an axe.
Now, in every province of the Dominion outside of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the game meat you buy in a restaurant is sourced from an animal that never enjoyed a glimpse of unfettered nature, except over a fence, or through the ventilation slats in the truck that carried it to the slaughterhouse.
By Jessica Allen - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 4:23 PM - 0 Comments
It’s not often you see a Brinks truck parked outside an LCBO guarded by three men in kilts armed with bagpipes and a drum. But then it’s not often the cargo is a 55-year-old bottle of scotch heralded as one of the rarest–and most expensive–single malts in the world.
The bottle of Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts 50 Year Old is one of 15 filled with the golden-hued spirit that the distillery’s then-Malt Master Gordon Ross deposited into an oak barrel on New Year’s Eve 1955. The occasion? To honour “Wee Janie,” granddaughter of William Grant on her 110th birthday. Eleven of the bottles, which took four days to craft from hand-blown glass, will be auctioned off with proceeds going to charity. The sale of six has already raised more than $340,000. (The last was picked up by a U.S. buyer in March for $94,000 U.S.) Four bottles will remain with the family at the distillery.
The bottle of Janet Sheed Roberts 55 Year Old was carried from the Brinks truck into the Summerhill LCBO. Of course it was for ogling, not for sampling.
Instead we tried four other Glenfiddich single malts, starting with a 12-year-old.
By Jacob Richler - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 8:50 AM - 0 Comments
In this new shell game, the chicken egg is supplanted by more exotic offerings
There was a time not so very long ago when, if a waiter inquired how you liked your eggs, chances were good that all they wanted to know was if you fancied them poached, over easy or sunny-side up. But I can happily report this tedious era is drawing to a close. The tipping point came mid-summer when, at a new but otherwise unremarkable brunch spot in Toronto, the waiter did not even ask my preference before excitedly volunteering his own.
“The poached duck egg with duck hash is awesome,” he said. “Just so you know!”
I did know. Because that very morning at home I had enjoyed a poached duck egg on the buttery bed of a flaky, oven-crisped croissant. So I declined and ordered a salad.
Still, the significance of the moment seemed obvious. When run-of-the-mill diners start serving duck eggs, the question of how you like your eggs can no longer be assumed to apply to what happens in the pan, but rather the more important business preceding that—as in what sort of fowl laid them.
So with a view to fine-tuning my answer, I promptly set about harvesting samples of eggs newly available around town. The extent of the latest options proved dazzling.
At St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, I found beautiful pale-blue-shelled eggs laid by a South American chicken called Araucana, a white, rather Hasidic-looking bird with fluffy plumage that dangles from its tiny cheeks. In Chinatown, I found a source for the small eggs that young chickens lay in their first months of production—practice eggs if you will, that at just 40 g each (about half the mass of an extra-large) are too small to make the minimum standard supermarket grade for sale. Next, at an uptown butcher, I procured small, beige eggs laid by silkies—the black-skinned chickens the Chinese favour for stock and soup.
I found duck eggs from an Ontario farm called Cro Quail in Saint-Anns, larger ones from Brome Lake Ducks of Knowlton, Que., and a relative monster from a Mennonite farm near Kitchener, Ont. Then I found a goose egg that dwarfed them all at 175 g. Looking for more I headed to the Riverdale farmers’ market, but found the turkey eggs were sold out and had to settle for quail’s eggs. Then I got cooking.
What I learned about chicken eggs is that as long as the birds are fed well and have occasion to run free, the breed makes only a subtle difference in flavour. Compared to the basic “organic” supermarket egg, none of my samples distinguished themselves assertively when treated identically in the pan. And while at first the relatively obscure silkie eggs enjoyed the greatest appeal around the breakfast table because of their delicacy and diminutive size, they were in turn eclipsed by the mini-eggs sourced in Chinatown, which were both fresher and cheaper than any other egg of the batch.
All the same, chickens young, old or foreign proved no match for ducks, whose eggs are sublime. Their richness makes ordinary chicken eggs seem as tasteless as egg whites. When properly poached, their runny yolks are as satisfying as a heavy French sauce. And when scrambled, they taste rich and creamy without butter and cream (which of course means that when you fold in lots of the same, you are guaranteed a memorable experience). On the all-important scale of richness, not even the goose egg could compete.
Further experimentation revealed another little known facet of duck-egg supremacy. While chicken eggs scramble best at the lowest possible heat, duck eggs possess the opposite quality. Go slow, and the yield is springy and chewy. But fast stirring and high heat produces unexpectedly creamy bliss. Which is to say that no day is too short for a perfect, scrambled duck egg.
Except, it turns out, for the day before the blood test with your annual physical. My results prompted me to do a little extra research, and alas, my miracle food is a bomb. Where large chicken eggs pack about 200 mg of cholesterol each, a standard duck egg boasts 620 mg—and the goose egg tops out at more than 1,200 mg, or about 400 per cent of the recommended daily intake. The horrible news left me too short of breath to work out the statistics for my latest masterpiece: a duck egg omelette stuffed with shredded duck confit.
By macleans.ca - Monday, October 8, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Excerpt from a culinary memoir with bonus recipe for ‘Lobster pasta with f–king fennel’
My Canada Includes Foie Gras is my personal portrait of Canadian cuisine at its best, the chefs who make it, where they come from and what makes them tick, with a little analysis of what makes their food so good and why it is worth paying attention to. All that is interspersed with a bit of memoir, because like most everyone else in this story, my appreciation of good food began at the family table. My father Mordecai’s table, graced with my mother Florence’s food. The book begins with a story about a dish that was a favourite of father’s, and how it evolved in my kitchen.
In the years after my father died it was my custom to take my wife and family on vacation to Memphremagog each August, always pausing in Montreal en route from Toronto to collect my mother, who enjoyed being part of it. That is the cast, it is late afternoon, and as usual at this time I am to be found in the kitchen. The workspace is spacious, and equipped with plenty of windows and skylights to let the sunshine in. There is a central island and peripheral counters too, for those inclined to help, along with plenty of seating for those who are not. And on this particular occasion it was as usual something of a split, with a lot of drinks being poured and re-poured, and just about everyone ignoring my mother Florence’s No Smoking signs, even though she was there in the midst of it—just as my father had always done. Meanwhile (as we got by without a summer-only backup set of ovens and hobs), the AGA cooker was going strong, billowing unwanted heat around the room. All the same, it had a welcome way of somehow using the silent assertion of its 600-kg heft to ground the chaos around it in the shared purpose of dinner.
By Karen Pinchin - Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 1:50 AM - 0 Comments
Foodies bring charcuterie home, making everything from bacon to prosciutto
I’ll never forget the horrified look on my husband’s face as he stared down into the cardboard box I brought home from the butcher. I had just burst through the door of our Vancouver home, staggering under the bulk and weight of my package. He had just woken up, groggy from his night shift, as he lifted the open flaps. His eyes widened and jaw dropped as he stared into the enormous snout of my peach-pink pig’s head. Looking on, I clapped my hands with excitement.
This headcheese project was an escalation of my homemade bacon hobby, which had been a year in the making. While it may sound prohibitive, the whole process of making bacon is quite simple, starting with a five-pound pork belly obtained from a butcher. Apart from the fat striations, the rectangle of raw pink flesh, nearly six centimetres thick, looks nothing like its miraculous end product. The slab is rubbed with a carefully weighed mixture of salt, sugar and spices, along with a pinch of sodium nitrite, and sealed in a plastic zippered bag. Stored in a fridge for five days, the salt mixture draws moisture from the meat, and all that is left to do is dry it overnight on a rack, smoke it, skin it and slice it. Voila. Bacon.
The word “charcuterie” is derived from French—flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit)—and was originally used to distinguish 15th-century purveyors of raw pork and cooked pork products, of which bacon was one. Its derivatives may be on menus both good and bad across the country, but history affirms that human survival and progress, from the Vikings’ salt cod to the first American settlers’ barrels of salt pork, have been predicated on the art of meat preservation.
By Amy Rosen - Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 8:10 PM - 0 Comments
From the Rockies to the Charlevoix region, the locavore movement gains steam
With opulent ocean liners running aground and airplane travel anything but luxurious, travellers are turning to the good old days of classic train travel, with a field-to-track twist.
It is now possible to plunk down $7,000 for a first-class, 12-day circular trip from Vancouver passing through Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper on Armstrong Group’s Rocky Mountaineer, which includes three-course, à la carte menus offering local specialties such as Alberta pork tenderloin with market vegetables and wild B.C. sockeye salmon—all served in a rolling restaurant charging through Canada’s rugged West.
“Preparing fresh gourmet meals in a confined, constantly moving space can be challenging,” says chef Jean Pierre Guerin, who has cooked at five-star hotels and restaurants around the world. “But learning how to work with your team in tandem with the sway of the rails is key to successfully preparing and plating our culinary creations.” One signature dish, slow-cooked Alberta beef short ribs in an Okanagan Valley Merlot, is “comfort food at its best,” he says.