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Archive for July, 2010

Massimo was announcing his menu.  We had a solid 3+ hours of eating ahead of us and it was a perfect evening as we sat on a patio surrounded by an urban forest in Toronto.

I was listening intently to his description of what was to come, why he chose the Tuscan menu that he did and how he infused hints of Pulia into it.  I sipped on my glass of wine and looked around at the 30+ diners sitting with us and revelled that almost a dozen were friends.

Mass mentioned that this was, of course, “al fresco.”  I had heard the term many times and realized that I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what it meant – in fact the main experience I had with the word was a suburban restaurant chain (thinking back, they had large patios) named “Al Fresco’s”.

I made a mental note to ask Massimo what exactly made a meal Al Fresco.  I’ve become a lot more educated with Italian cuisine in the last year (a lot has to do with him) and can pick out some of the regions of many dishes and even some wine – but this was one thing I didn’t know, yet.

The combination of wine and the wonderful evening air led to me quickly discarding said mental note.  I forgot to ask.

Yesterday’s article was about the “joys of eating outside.”  I almost fell off my chair laughing when I read a link to it in Taste TO which  described the article as the “Joys of dining Al Fresco.”

I really do enjoy sharing the humbling moments and hope some find the humour in this.  I’m somewhat disappointed that I haven’t discovered another region in Italy, a spice or serving style though…

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We live downtown on one of the busier streets in the city.  We`re  not in the core of the action of our city so it`s not a constant barrage of people. traffic is always steady and so is the 24-hour streetcar.  We are spoiled by our apartment and by the patio we share with a cafe that makes escaping any background noise very easy.

We had a wonderful dinner party last night (we were guests not cooks) that a friend (and chef) hosted as part of his supperclub series.  The heat of the summer has driven Massimo out of his cozy winter studio and into garden patio where these dinners started with him about a year ago (I’ve probably been to 8 in that time).

It was a lovely evening – sounds of soft music, loud conversation and the joyous clinking of plates and glasses filled the night air.  Old friends (and new) gathered at a communal table as we ate under the stars for 3-4 hours.

The ambient temperature had a seat at the table.  It started fairly warm and thick and, as the evening progressed, began to share a slight chill with our dinner party; not enough to get cold but enough to notice that things had changed.

Our conversation didn’t bounce off walls as is so oft to happen in a city.  It floated away from the table like a helium balloon and I could picture our words falling back to earth in some far away forest like a balloon past it’s prime.  I really believe the environment had an impact on conversations and encouraged strangers to interact with one another.

It can be easy to forget to enjoy dinner outside in the city (other than a restaurant patio which, while outside, is distinctly different from your back yard).  I simply must remember to do it more often.

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We can see the terms people use on search engines to find us.  We don’t know who typed what but it helps us understand what people are looking for when they come to the site.  It also means that we may have had some content that helped them… or we had two different posts that the search engine counted as one and a bizarre combination brought someone here.

Here’s a few recent terms that have been used – and a very tongue-in-cheek reply with all respect intended to those searching for something on how to proceed :):

Search Term: how to crush your own tomatoes
Our Response: Step 1: place tomatoes in pan.  Step 2: Crush.

Search Term: what to do with stewed rubarb
Our Response: Step 1: eat.

Search Term: ontario kill eat hunting
Our Response: One of these words is out of order – the hunting part usually happens before the eating.

Search Term: Bon Jovi Cake Designs
Our Response: Can’t say nuthin’.  Actually have a post on it.  Makes me giggle how often I read this as a search term though.

Search Term: pectin necessary?
Our Response: not as much as oxygen but at times it may be pretty crucial.

Search Term: Preserving crabs for cooking
Our Response: Is there another purpose for preserving them?

Search Term: well preserved restaurant
Our Response: some days I do dream…

Search Term: What to do with cream peas on toast.
Our Response: Step one: eat (which is true of most things on toast)

Search Term: can i finish dehydrating food tomorrow?
Our Response: you really should do the laundry tomorrow; but that’s up to you (in proper context it’s a great question; I would give it a go and expect it would work)

Search Term: How to drink scotch.
Our Response: Step 1: Open mouth.  Step 2: Pour. (Also a legitimate question that we have an answer to :)).

Search Term: how to make greens less salty
Our Response: use less salt.

Search Term: what do i do with 20 lemons
Our Response: This type of thing shows a lot – I know I’m reaching here but I find it humourous to think that someone else would know what “YOU” would do with them.  I can tell you what I would do with them 🙂

Search Term: moose’s north bay
Our Response: We don’t have anything on this – but this term found our website 18 times in a single day.

If we can help shed light on any of the above, we’d be pleased to – suggestions of topics are always welcome and make writing a whole lot easier.

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Sometimes the shortest posts are the most important.

I’ve seen my first pickling cukes hit the market this week and thought I’d share a reminder of a trick from last year and a lesson we learned the hard way.

A secret for crispy quick pickles is to brine them in salted water for a day.  Click the link for details.

The second secret is rinse them really, really, really good.  failure to do so will result in very salty pickles.

I rinsed the bad boys above a few times last year; a quick toss through the strainer, got rid of the salt.  Our final product is very salty – some people adore them while others (erm, me), think they are just a little too forward.  I’m thrilled with their crunch and would definitely brine like this again, I’d simply not be afraid to over-rinse.

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Pulled Pork…in a slow cooker

Back in June we finally pulled off pulled pork on our BBQ.  It was relatively simple and we learned that the few previous attempts failed because of a few avoidable mistakes.  It turns out that making pulled pork is fairly easy and predictable though it does take some time and attention.

I decided to make pulled pork in a slow cooker this weekend.  I wasn’t expecting the same results but we had been on a very social weekend and decided it was time for a lazy Sunday (we actually rented 3 horrible movies and spent most of the day pretty quiet).

Pulled pork in a slow cooker is extremely easy:

  • Season the pork,
  • sear it,
  • throw it into the crock with some liquid (we used a can of Guinness, tomato paste and some homemade tomato juice from last year)
  • and aromatics (bay leaves, garlic, onions, chives)
  • and a few squirts of this and that (liquid smoke, worchestershire, hot sauce) and more seasoning.

We weren’t worried about drowning the pork – we covered about 70% of it.

Turn the crock on (we had it on high) and wait for things to start to fall apart.  It’s just that simple.

The taste was decent – but certainly no substitute for what you can do on the BBQ.  Having said that, it did take less effort/attention and I’ve done this exact same thing with chicken thighs (minus the guiness) and found the results to be stunning – a pulled chicked pasta sauce is the result.

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I spend a lot of time around food – and just as much time away from it thinking about it, talking about it, writing about it, reading about it, and so forth.  It’s been a lifelong passion that’s really become that much more consuming in recent years as things like the slow movement grow, the local food scene becomes more local, so many friends are doing so many exciting things and so forth.

Technology has also played a big role in all of this.  Social networks show me plates of food that friends are about to consume (from around the world, in real time), I read about the local offerings at farmers markets from across the city, the country and the world.  We used it to discover New York and, melded with recommendations of people we’ve mostly met through technology, we had a rare 8 days of eating in one of the more exciting food scenes in the world.

Technology has been an enabler of learning and exploration.  It’s also eliminated one of the delightful ingredients of a great meal: the surprise.

On Friday night we launched our way to the west end of the city in an area we haven’t been for a long time.  We were heading to see a friends band and decided to go a bit early to find a bite to eat in some spot unknown.  The area is not particularly trendy and we quickly abandoned much research as it unveiled a slew of pho and noodle houses.

Our first stop was a 1950’s-themed biker bar.  They pointed us to a restaurant across the street that looked like an abandoned sports bar.  It was unassuming (to say the least) and we wandered in to a warm smile and request for reservations.  When we admitted we had none we were gladly accommodated and we sat down for a quick meal.  We left the restaurant more than two hours later, smiling and somewhat stunned.

A separate review will follow after a future visit to The Atlantic (the menu on their site is a sample, somewhat out of date) but we were enthralled.  We had a wonderful selection of chef and staff-chosen Tapas which ranged in taste from unsettling to simply fantastic and all were paired with friendly service and tongue-in-cheek decor.  We are already making plans to return.

There was a strong lesson and reminder to us that I really want to focus on sharing here; sometimes research can actually limit the enjoyment of a meal.  It was delightful entering a restaurant where we knew very little about it and were surprised with each twist of the menu and the surprise of the progression of taste.

The evening was a good reminder that sometimes the best search engine to find a wonderful meal is often your eyes, ears, feet and a spot of luck.

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Today’s post was delayed by a lovely visit to the dog park followed by leisurely coffee, a stroll through a grocery store, the introduction of a pork shoulder to the slow cooker, some laundry, a few humus sandwiches and renting 3 movies to twiddle away a lazy Sunday afternoon.  It’s a wonderful day.

We posted a few delightfully irreverent beer videos from BrewDog yesterday with a promise to share more about them today.  They may have bordered on offensive and crass – to me it’s refreshing for tongue-in-cheek humour in a world where we can tend to take food a drink a little too seriously at times.  What may not be apparent, at first sight, is just how serious these dudes are.  Then again, it may be easy to misunderstand how serious they are when they bottle beer encased in taxidermied roadkill.

There has been an International battle going on for bragging rights to who can make the highest alcohol beer in the world.  Samuel Adams (some consider to be a craft brewer, others see them as a wolf in sheep’s clothing) had the title for a long time before  things got really heated in the last few months.

Before presenting a brief chronology, it should be shared that this quest has a really split following in beer circles.  Some feel it’s a worthy journey of pushing the art and definition of what beer is while others think it’s a crass competition where beer geeks are essentially bragging who has the biggest, erm, bottles.  I`ve given up needing to understand why – I think it`s simply a good bit of fun.

November 26, 2009 (8 months ago)
BreDog (Glasgow, Scotland) announces that they have the worlds highest abv (alcohol by volume) beer.  Tactical Nuclear Penguinis released at 32% which eclipses the previous record of 31.1% (which was the oddly named Mikkeller 重黑).  While 0.9% may not sound like an awful lot, 重 黑 (also known as `Heavy Black`) won the title by .14% over German brewery Schorschbrau.  BrewDog celebrated the release with this video:

Early Feb, 2010
An obscure Brewery (so obscure that I`m finding no website for it and some are wondering if it`s even a legit brewery at all) released `Revelation Cat Freeze the Penguin`at 35% in early Feb.  They were clearly gunning at BrewDog and the heat was turned up in the battle for beer supremacy.  The beer seemed to appear at a tasting in Rome – my details are shady but their label indicated that he battle was on:

Feb 10, 2010
The victory was short-lived for the Cat and it bowed out of the battle.  A German Brewery launched it`s forray into the high abv battle by launching Schorschbräu Schorschbock 40% on February 10.  What makes this fascinating is that Schorschbrau had announced they had created this 40% beer in the lab – on November 26, 2009.  That`s right – the same day that BrewDog launched it`s Tactical strike.

The German`s had received little fanfare with BrewDog getting the majority of the attention.

February 16, 2010
BrewDog releases `Sink the Bismark.`  At 41%, it raises the ante higher.  The video (part of yesterday`s post) that accompanies it offends some as pushing the boundaries of taste for some.  Pushing people’s buttons is not exactly new to the Scottish pair who caused a bit of an International Incident when their words “I’m not f*($ing Mother Theresa” were translated literally.  The stint came out of a response to a question about their involvement in charity and was with the former President of Romania.  You’ll either be horrified or laugh until you cry when you read the story.  I’ve been privileged to spend a lot of time in Glasgow for work in the last few years and see it as humour, though can see where some would not find the humour.

May, 2010
Schorschbrau fires again.  This time it’s a 43% bottle.  Least you think they were offended by the BrewDog video, here is text from their announcement:

The Frankonian Empire strikes back!

In our graciousness, We had decided, not to begrudge the Others, the little joy of holding the title for a few weeks. Let’s not overdo this – from now on Worlds Strongest Beer again lives where it belongs to: in Frankonia!

Schorschbock 43% Vol., ’cause Frankonian Men don’t dress like girls.

July 22, 2010
BrewDog announces “the End of History.”  It is to be their final entry into the extreme abv category – 55%.

12 bottles were made in total and sold in bottles that are, erm, encased in taxidermied roadkill.  The beer ranges from 500-700 (pounds) and sells out in a day.

———–

The response in beer circles is divisive.  Is this pandering to the rich, too exclusive, gimmicky, lost focus or sheer brilliance?  I’ll let you decide – and would love your comments.

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