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Archive for June, 2009

There are few things in life that I adore more than a surprise.  I actually like the feeling of being surprised more than the content of the surprise myself.  Those who have been reading for a while may recall the story of one of my most favourite servers in the world, Heather, who would regularly serve me my favourite beer in the world which was anything but Coor’s Light.  It wouldn’t matter what was served, I simply adored the surprise.

We receive a number of comments at WellPreserved – many more come through direct messages on our Twitter feed or through our email.  Each time a new one comes in, I get excited.  A surprise message from someone with a comment, a question and the odd complaint.  We love them all and your comments really are a giant reason of why we pursue this hobby so passionately.  We also want to ensure we provide you with a reason to visit and a reason to come back.

We received a kind message from a Mom and Three Boys (check out this neat blog of a busy family of 5 – I have no idea how Mom has time to blog but) love the optimism that is apparent in her posts).  She kindly pointed out that we made it difficult to learn how to make the pickled asparagus mentioned yesterday.  This has really got us talking and thinking and we’re working on something to really make these recipes much easier to follow (without repeating how to sterilize jars and how to seal them 50 times).  In the meantime, I thought we’d share a bit more detail.

If you are looking for more detail than what we have in this post, pop bye the preserving page and the step-by-step case study will help you out.  If you can’t figure it out from there, pop us an email and we’ll fill in the blanks.

Get your ingredients ready and get a few pots on the stove.  One has to be full enough to submerge clean jars under boiling water to sterilize them in boiling water, another for new seals and rings (you don’t want them actively boiling – bring that pot to a boil and dump the seals in and turn off heat at last minute), get the pressure steamer going (if you have one – some argue it isn’t needed, especially with pickled items because of the acidity) and a final pot of the pickling brine.  If this sounds complicated, stay with us and read the following and it should start to come together:

  1. Mix a 50-50 batch of white vinegar and water.  We are fans of using distilled water and pickling vinegar (you can buy 4L jars of the stuff and it’s 7% acidity as compared to the normal 5% – you need a minimum of 5% and if it’s not market, skip it).  We used 2L of each for our 5 jars (750ml) of asparagus.  You want to bring this to a boil and leave at a steady simmer before jarring.

  1. Pre-cut your ingredients.  Asparagus deteriorates the most in it’s first 24 hours so use the freshest you can.  Clean it well – dirt is an enemy.  Cut it such that it will stand about .75 inches from the top of the jar – you want to leave room for headspace and asparagus will expand when it cooks in the preserving process).
  2. We pre-cut our other ingredients and put loose items (such as sugar and salt) into wide-mouth glasses that can be poured into the jars quickly.  Once you start filling a jar you want to move fast.  Our ingredients included:
    1. 5 or 6 pearl onions (we placed about 3 halves in each jar)
    2. A few bulbs of fresh garlic (we used about 2 or 3 large bulbs, halved in our jars)
    3. Some dried chilis – we used 2-4 in each jar.
    4. 1 tablespoon of pickling salt per jar.  Pickling salt is important because it stop discolouration of your brine and, thus, your pickles.  The grocery store has this as well.
    5. 1 tablespoon of sugar per jar – your choice of type.  White will maintain sweetness while brown will add a bit of flavour (and discolour your brine slightly).
    6. 1 tablespoon of mustard seed per jar.  Your choice as ling as it is dried – we used black and yellow.
    7. 2 teaspoons of dill seed per jar.
  3. Boil your jars to sterilize.  Pull them out of the water (one at a time) and throw in all of the dry ingredients into a jar.  Stuff tight with asparagus (this helps stop them from floating to the top).  Try not to touch the rim as you need to keep this sterile.  We put the asparagus in tip-first as it makes it easier to pack the final ones in tightly – pushing the thin tops is very difficult).
  4. Use a food funnel to fill the jars, leave about 1/2 inch head-space – all the asparagus should be covered.
  5. Use a food magnet to place a sterile lid from the boiling water on top of the jar.
  6. Twist a ring seal on top of the lid and place the jar in the steamer (everything should still be hot so use care).
  7. Finish the rest of the jars and seal – we use a pressure cooker to steam seal them (10 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure).
  8. Let the pressure cooker cool down, remove the jars and place on racks to cool down.
  9. Place away for 6 weeks+ for pickles – most of ours will be stored until a minimum of 4 or 5 months.

Cleanliness and measurements are extremely important as are using a tested recipe (do not invent your own).  There is a lot of complex science going on here, despite the insistence of all of our Grandmothers. We cook and serve all of these recipes to our friends and families and we believe they are safe to do so.  Ultimately do your own research and ensure you protect yourself and those you love.

Steps 1-3 are particular to this recipe, the others are fairly generic to all preserves and pickles.  I highly advise you read our preserving section in full for more info and use some trusted sources such as the incomparable Joy of Cooking (though their website does not have enough detail to help you determine the basics)

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It’s been a very, very busy 6 months in my life.  I have traveled to Scotland, England, Atlanta, Phoenix, Richmond, Salt Lake City and more.  I have launched new programs at work and stayed as busy at ever at home.  We’ve had a busy spring and taken a few pleasure trips already – made it to Eigensinn Farm, twice to Prince Edward County and up to the hunt camp in Huntsville.

We also started a blog.  🙂  Thank you to those who have been reading – today is the 6-month anniversary and we had out 10,000th visit this weekend.  We have posted more than 200 articles, learned more about food than we thought we knew previously, debated what the purpose of this whole experience is about and met some amazing friends.  We still have no ideas where all of this goes – it went from concept to launch in a few hours (while I slept) and we have updated it every day since December 28th.  It’s been a lot of fun.

I expected we would have been preserving far earlier than now – life happens and we’re a bit behind where I’d like but there’s lots of time left to preserve our local goodness (while we got to eat fiddleheads, we weren’t able to pickle any this year).

Pickled asparagus was on the menu today.  The young lady at the St. Lawrence Market snapped her neck back when I informed her I had selected 25 bundles of Ontario Asparagus ($25).  While it was fresh (it had been harvested on Thursday and I bought it on Saturday), we we gave it a big long sweet-water bath to bring it back to succulence.  The flavor difference was easy to discern.

We then began the process – cutting the asparagus down to size, measuring out mustard, dill, chillies, dill seed, garlic, onion and broth was followed by sterilizing the jars, packing them tight and a quick run through the pressure cooker.

Our yield was 5 jars (750 ml) and more than 200 stalks of pickled goodness.  These will be best near Christmas (a jar will definitely be served at our annual fete) and we are most excited to hear the popping of lids.  Enjoy a photo-journey of our afternoon (the process took about 3 hours as I’m a bit out of practice):

Full details of how to make this have since been posted – check out our pickled asparagus recipe here.

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Urban Homesteaders?  That’s what the Dervaes family (of Pasadena, California) calls themselves as they challenge the rest of us to try to live a 100 FOOT diet.  They run an urban farm on one-fifth of an acre (to put that in perspective, if their lot was square it would measure approximately 93 feet at each side).  They grow enough food for themselves as well as supplying some of the local community around them.

Watch the following 2-minute video from 2006 to get an idea of what they have been up to since 2001:

The project goes far beyond growing food and is a journey into self-sustainability.  They grow their own food, harness their own energy, produce their own wine, share educational info and share their journey.  Check out their journal for a glimpse of their urban farm and the bounty so far this summer.

It’s an interesting site and certainly offers a challenge to each of us to consider.  Cheers to them and fascinating stuff!

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Many of us have seen restaurants sans light on television – Ramsay showed one as an award and even our Rock of Love (Brett Michaels) brought some of his many dates to such an establishment.  The restaurant in both of these shows was named Opaque (check out the Dining Room section on their website).  A temporary lights-out restaurant was created here in February and now we have our own (it opened Thursday evening on Church street near Bloor) named O. Noir.

The concept is simple for those new to it – you enter a dining room with absolutely no light.  O. Noir actually insists in disarming you of any light emitting devices (such as a cell phone or watch) – which they store in a locked safe for you.  The side advantage of being able to eat without the prattle of cell phone conversations and click click sounds of people texting is an interesting offer!

Your order is requested in a dimly lit hallway before entering.  A starter, main and dessert will set you back $39 – they also offer a full wine list and other beverages.  I think I’d want a sippy cup to avoid a giant mess.

The name of the restaurant is O.Noir – they have had a Montreal location for three years.

Critics complain that the focus is too much on the “gimmick” as opposed to food.  Supporters say that the darkness makes the food that much better by allowing you to focus on taste and smell.  Users reactions seem to be split on variations of these lines (such as suggestive posts hinting at what other distractions may exist in a room full of people in the dark) or staunchly defending the concept as an elevation of culinary experience.  I have been able to find very few specific mentions of the food itself – and that isn’t necessarily a condemnation.

The second piece of discussion that tends to divide people is the policy of hiring blind waiters and waitresses.  There is a big deal made about this which upsets some people.  O.Noir certainly provides a great opportunity for those who are visually impaired to work (all members on the  service team share this ability) – however some people feel they make too big a deal about this.  After all, a visually impaired served can serve in a fully lit room as well as a dark room.  If the part of the purpose is to get people talking about the issues of finding employment when suffering from vision loss, they certainly have had people discussing and challenged them to think about it.

The restaurant seats almost 100 people divided amongst 3 rooms and the average experience lasts around 2 hours.

I’m wondering if I’d be allowed to bring my night vision goggles as they emit no light?  I suppose that would break the rules and I’d leave them at home – after all, when in Rome…

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Couldn’t resist posting this video of the Strawberry Song, an homage to the fresh, in-season, local strawberry. Because it IS strawberry season and  “Rye n’ Ginger” played it in ‘our’ backyard – also known as F’Coffee’s back patio – last night as part of Sounds like the Riverside, a night of live music at all the fantastic establishments on our tiny stretch of Queen Street East.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Riverside is a section of Queen Street East from the Don River to Empire Avenue (just east of the train bridge at Degrassi). Not as ‘well known’ as other parts of  Queen Street, it’s pretty unique….but I’m biased. We’ve lived in the neighborhood for over 3 years (and watched a huge amount of change happen in a small period of time). My first (design industry) job was about 5 doors down 14(!) years ago when they first started installing the public art and details that would eventually make the area known as Riverside, it was completely different back then. These days Toronto BIA describes it this way:

“Riverside District is a vital and bustling bohemian village in Toronto’s historic east end. The village has a well established commercial district and strong historic ties with the surrounding South Riverdale neighbourhoods. Creative industries such as film, television, music and design are growing in and around the businesses and numerous galleries are ideal for browsing.”

and of course it was a lot different about 100 years ago:

our windows onto queen circa 1910

Queen street: just east of Carroll, looking west. Our windows onto Queen circa 1910 (Toronto Archives)

About 8 months ago I started working in Riverside again, this time from home, and the people and places in this neighborhood have really made the transition easier. I’ve spent years working in design studios, with close knit teams that felt like family, and people that have become close friends. My business is just me (for now), which is a tough thing for someone who enjoys being around people. We also run WellPreserved here, the neighborhood was a catalyst in starting the blog and continues to be an inspiration for what we do here.

Toronto is made up of neighborhoods, that’s the best part about it. Each one has a flavor all it’s own and you don’t need to travel far to feel like you’ve vistited a different country, or even a different era. Get out and enjoy them this summer, experience a community, maybe visit ours for a few hours (great brunch, restaurants, art galleries, furniture shops in this highly caffeinated neighborhood).

Rye n’ Ginger (David Newland & Steve McNie) play regularly at the Dominion (bar) at the Corktown Ukulele Jam, and are going to be performing on sunday in the distillery as part of the Toronto City Roots Festival.

Have a GREAT weekend. I’m going down for a coffee….

 

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Although I struggled in school, I adored taking small quizzes and surveys (most from Cosmo which is probably why I struggled with the ones that evaluated real knowledge!)  Being Friday and too hot to concentrate on much of anything, I thought I’d share a few online quizzes (ranging from silly to difficult).  All are free and I learned at least 1 thing from each of them – enjoy!

TLC has two quizzes on-line:
Global Easts and Techniques (here)
Name that Utensil (here)
While neither one is especially difficult, I found the utensil game to be too easy to be fun – the other went from easy to tough and back again.  Ironically, I scored worse on the utensil game!

AllAboutYou.com offers a quiz to assess your potential to become a chef (it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek but still fun).

Epicurious has really good content in their Julia Child Quiz but you have to mark it manually.

20 questions on mushrooms (with instant feedback) are given to us by Auschef.com (this was originally part of a promotion to give away prizes – you do not need to register to play and this is a pretty academic test that I struggle with – I suppose I am more of a fun guy since taking the test :))

Go For something totally different, play the Cooking Academy Game (be patient and wait past the advertisement – the game will come up in less than 10 seconds here)

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Another great Cool Hunting Video – this time itès a glimpse into the world of the making of champagne.

I remember a few friends going to Disney over the Christmas Holidays when I was in high school.  Their families didn’t know each other but a fluke of the universe resulted in both of them being 2,000 kilometers south of their home – and together.  They decided that they wanted to celebrate the New Year with a few drinks – difficult as they were under aged and not allowed by law or by family.

They realized that scope (mouthwash) had some bubbles.  They each bought a bottle and drained it down the sink.  They rinsed the bottles and refilled them with “champagne” and food dye and put the lids on tight.  8 days later they opened the warm bottles shocked to find them flat and tasting like scope.

A lot of time has passed since those days – Veuve is something that we reserve for rare occasions (although vacuuming on a Sunday once qualified as “special enough.”)  It represents the taste of something special and is linked to many special memories and holds a special place in my heart because of that link.

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