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Archive for February, 2010

I recently had the honour of being invited to a butchery demo in the basement of Cowbell (a very unique restaurant in Toronto).  Our friend Margaret Mulligan (the fabulous photographer) was shooting the session and, along with Head Chef, Mark Cutrara, I was offered to come along.  I always love the chance to explore something I haven’t seen or tried before – we only write about the experiences that we liked or loved.  This was one to love.  Today’s article is art 1 of 3 and is a serious comparison of a butcher, a chef and a vegetarian.  All of the photos are hers.   To see the entire series of posts, click here.

In the butchering process, they weigh the scraps (waste) that they cannot use.  Their waste is stunningly small – a lamb had less waste than the amount of trimmings, peels and vegetable ends that we dispose of weekly.

I was thinking about that last statement and a few others.  Restaurants, delis, food producers and fish mongers all find ways to reduce their waste.   Less waste = profit.  Less waste also equates to less overall consumption, an easier budget and a better sleep at night.

So I was chewing the proverbial fat with a vibrant discourse in my head as I filled my cart at the grocery store.  Although I had many vegetables I also knew that I needed stock.  I had a $4 “box” of it in my hand when an idea struck…

I realized if I cleaned all my vegetables when I got home, I could make a quick stock of my scraps.  Carrot peel and tops, celery bottom (and top), the stalks of herbs, seeds from our squash, mushroom ends and so forth.  Jam them in a pot, cover in water and simmer with a bay leaf.

The verdict?  It’s a work in progress but a very promising one.  The yield was 1.25 liters (5 cups) of golden broth – the seeds made things bitter and slightly awkward (like being a kid at a wedding – you belong with the family but don’t entirely fit in just yet).

I wouldn’t drink it on it’s own but it’s plenty flavourful to add to dishes through the week, deglaze pans and add to think mashed veggies or other soups.

Many of these vegetables took months to create – finding a way to use the parts we skip could make a small difference in so many things.  It also just makes me feel great.

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Fermenting Sauerkraut – day 1

Fermentation is a type of preserving I have never done and have wanted to do for a long time. Traditional dill pickles, saurkraut and kosher preserves are staples of this art.

The premise is basic: let a vegetable (often pickles or cabbage) ferment in a brine of their own creation.  The fermentation is visible – bubbles rise through the brining liquid.  When the bubbles stop (up to 6 weeks), fermentation is done.

5 pounds of cabbage (just under 2 heads) were sliced thin before being mixed with 3 tablespoons of pickling salt.  I stuffed jars with the cabbage (it is about 3 liters or 12 cups) and pressed it hard with a spoon.  This causes liquid to be released from the leaves and submerges all the crunchy goodness in a natural broth.  You can add a salted brine (4 cups water to 1.5 tablespoons of salt) if the liquid is sparse.  The key is to ensure everything is covered with liquid.  Some people find they have to weigh down the top layer to ensure nothing floats – we packed our jars tightly and things seem to be under control.

After 6 weeks we can store it in the fridge for several months or go through a separate jarring process (we’ll update the blog when we do this step).  You have to bring the liquid to a boil, cook the kraut a small amount and jar like normal.  There are lots of great recipes out there.

This is a super-fast and easy preserve.  I am also excited (beyond belief) to try the actual results.  We’re going to try several batches of fermentation before late summer when we will get into doing pickles in this style.

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Today is thick and white.  The entire landscape out the window is cold, stark and absolute winter.  It doesn’t feel like there would be a fresh morsel of food for thousands of kilometers.

So I decided to find some inspiration for local recipes out there – here’s a few great looking ones for the heart of winter:

Butternut Squash Curry from Seasonal Ontario Food.  So much to love about this – including the blog itself which focuses on recipes with at least 80% local ingredients.  It’s a blog I pop over to on a semi-regular basis and find a lot of interesting ideas through.

The Vancouver Sun shares recipe ideas and a profile on soup that is fit for our Gold Medal Women’s Hockey team here.  The recipes could easily be localized although I’m not sure it’s a scoop to report that the head of our hockey federation is a soup fanatic – though I did find that anecdote rather humourous.

The Montreal Gazette offers ideas for Maple-Roasted Chicken.  It’s also a good reminder that syrup season (one of the first crops of the year) will be here before we know it!

Roasted Steak Sandwiches – The Intelligencer claims that this is the time if year that we’re “raring to roast.”  I think they may actually be right – we could also benefit from the extra heat this morning.

The Toronto Sun has taken on Apples – apple chips, apple fries and apple sundaes.  This is also my favourite time of year to preserve apple sauce and I’m a little hopeful that it will be the secret ingredient for the can jam for the month.  There’s so many things to preserve in the fall and apples cellar through the winter which makes the timing prime for canning apples.  My apple sauce is my Grandmother’s favourite – and fabulous with a touch of cream in a bowl.

The Toronto Star headed to Hank’s to check out their Ontario grits.  apparently the results render the chef kissable.  They do look fantastic.

I started this post thinking there would be a shortage of ideas based on the bleakness of the world through the window.  The truth is there’s lots of ideas – and even more people sharing them.  I’m feeling a step more inspired and just that much hungrier.

Happy winter everyone!

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(The obscure reference from the title ties to the Irish Rovers – if you don’t know it, or would like a reminder – click here).

We have more readers from the US than from Canada and I thought this may be an interesting piece of perspective on our nation and the city in which I live.  I should explain that we live on one of the busier streets in the city on the edge of a very social strip of town.  A 3 minute walk would bring you past 8-12 restaurants and bars as well as a concert venue.

I have managed to find myself on the streets of Toronto around 7PM for the last 2 evenings.  There has been an unusual amount of people walking, by themselves, with cases of beer.  It’s usually a 6 or a 12-pack but they are out there and they are generally walking hurried through the cold winter night.

I have also noticed that by 8PM they are not around.

Last night I counted 10 people walking on the streets as described above between 6.30-7.15.  I sat at a College Street bar for a few hours after this and while I wasn’t facing the street, frequent glances outside revealed no additional beer.

Perhaps I’m hallucinating but I draw an easy conclusion – Olympic Hockey drives behaviours across our city (and I suspect, our Country).  The television support my claim – 20 million Canadians (2 out of 3) watched at least part of the game on Tuesday night.  I suspect last night’s game (vs the Russians) was even higher.

I walked across College and noticed the crowds in many bars who were huddled around televisions.  The bars were diverse – typical pubs, restaurants, watering holes and holes in the wall contained their tribes – all part of a bigger tribe of the Canadian Cult.  It seems that hockey – and beer – are a right of passage for many Canadians these days.

A mention of beer may seem to be a very loose tie to a food post – if you could see the frequency that this pattern occurs it would be instantly clear why it’s not a loose tie at all.  I’d love to know the statistics on beer sales in Canada this week.

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It was supposed to be a quick, easy learning experience.  Heat milk, cool it down, stir in live yogurt and put in dehydrator.  Wait 4-8 hours.

Instead, I appeared to walk in quicksand.  The faster I moved, the slower things got done.  I actually laughed at my futility last evening and how much trouble I had bringing milk to an almost boil and then cooling it precisely.  It was a great night – just not the one I had planned.

Making yogurt appears fairly simple.  I am not a pro yet, but here’s what I tried based on reading a lot of stuff:

  1. Heat 1 quart (liter) of any type of milk to a near boil.  200 degrees Ffarenheit seems optimal (some material said to boil it).  Using a double boiler (the pot with milk is suspended in a slightly larger one with boiling water to avoid direct heat on the milk) will help avoid burning and require less stirring.  It also slows you way down – especially if you don’t put a cover on.
  2. Some recipes called for powdered mil at this point – it was generally optional and increased health benefit and creaminess.  I did not add it.
  3. Once your milk is at temperature, you need to lower the temp to between 110-120 degrees (no lower).  You can speed this up by putting your bowl in a cold water bath to cool it down.  This would have been even quicker if I had transferred it to a new bowl and used the water bath.
  4. Preheat the dehydrator.  We put ours at 115 – again having read anything from 110-120.
  5. Add 1/4-1/2 a cup of yogurt to milk (I did this as my milk hit 130 as I didn’t want to drop under 110).  The yogurt must be plain and must contain live bacteria culture – we are fermenting and creating more bacteria in this process.
  6. Pour the entire mixture into a container.  Many use plastic yogurt containers – I opted for a glass mason jar (1 liter wide mouth for easy access and cleaning)
  7. Put in dehydrator for 4-8 hours until your desired thickness is reached.  Note it will set a little more in the fridge than when warm and that it’s natural for a skin to form on the surface of your yogurt that you simply throw out.

I’ve had a taste of the warm product and it’s definitely yogurt like.  I suspect I am going to be thrilled with the final product and, despite my inner turtle, this was a lot of fun and could be made very easily.

A few other tidbits:

  • the longer it stays in the dehydrator, the tangier it will be.
  • It may continue to set for several days.
  • You can drain the whey (the liquid) or miz it in once set.
  • It should last 1-2 weeks.  If you are using some of this yogurt to create another batch, it is best to do so within 5-7 days.

There were a lot of yogurt nuts when we posted about thickening yogurt – any tips out there on making yogurt from your experiences?

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As we mentioned last week, we have altered the rules and are allowing the use of preserves – to show that a little extra effort yields an amazing product with less cost.

This week we used our homemade turkey stock made at Christmas.  We preserved it by pressure canning (you cannot use a hot water bath for any meat related products) and followed the wisdom of the National Centre for Home Food Preservation on how to handle.  We made 4.5 liters with leftover carcass and a few veggies.  Total cost per liter was around $0.75.

We had plenty of Ontario carrots and Onions left from the Can Jam.  We bought our carrots for $0.60 a pound and onions for $0.50.  We used 2 pounds of carrots and half a pound of onions.

2 tablespoons of oil, a tablespoon of curry powder and other seasoning (i.e. salt, pepper, hot peppers) is all you need for this fantastic soup.  The yield is 8-10 cups (2-2.5 liters) for around $2.75.  If you want to get ridiculous, add 3-4 drops (no more) of truffle oil.  This could increase your cost by bout $0.20 but will be a difference you will taste (though some will not like).

It is also delicious.

The recipe:

  1. Heat oil and soften slices of onions until they are translucent.
  2. Toss all the curry powder in, coat the onions.
  3. Toss in 2 pounds of cut carrots (we used the food processor for speed) and warm in the onion, curry and oil for a few minutes.
  4. Add the stock.  Simmer everything for 20-30 minutes to soften the onions.  Be patient, the softer things get, the smoother your soup will become.
  5. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend smooth (this will have to be done in 3-4 batches to get the entire thing – we did part, transferred to another pot and continues with the next bit until complete.  If you don’t have a food processor, the carrots could bu mashed with a potato masher (make sure you cook hem good and soft) and start with onions that are chopped very small as they won’t be intimidated by your potato masher.
  6. Add water to the consistency you would like.  We used 2 cups and could have used 3 or 4.
  7. We added a swirl of olive oil at the last minute for looks and taste (I didn’t mix it in when eating – left it just like you see it and got tastes of it in almost every bite).

You could substitute vegetable stock (or the more economical cubes) if you wished for different flavour/ cost/ lifestyle/ choice.

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It’s Monday – time to get the brain warmed up and charged for the week ahead.  Click here to do just that.

The link above ties to an online archive of one mans (Dan Godsell) collection of food packaging from the 1950s-1970s.  It’s a little click-heavy but the treasures you will find are well worth it.

It’s fascinating to examine the packaging in the context of what is happening in food today.  What role did early packaging play in changing our relationship to food?  Do you notice that there are no health claims?  After clicking 30 or 40 images I also didn’t find any claims of “easy” or “fast” though there were several options for “free toy inside.”

Happy Monday!

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