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Archive for February, 2011

It`s the last day of February.  Almost 6:00AM and still pitch black.  There`s a cold sheen of near-freezing rain that is glazing our city that will possibly turn to a sheer coating of ice before rush hour.  It`s a funny contrast to the 4+ inches of snow that covered everything less than 36 hours ago.  These are the dark days of winter.

There are signs that Spring is coming.  The days are getting longer and there are more mild streaks than in the last several months.  But for every sign that it`s coming there is another harsh reminder that Winter won`t lose her grip on us yet.  These are days that can test ones patience – and the belief that spring will ever come.  It`s as if we`re in some sort of tipping point and there`s not enough signs to fully convince ourselves that Spring will come and that we may just slide back in to a whole lot more winter.

Technology has a way of broadening ones perspective.  The buzz on Twitter and many food blogs across the world shows me they`ve already tipped to Spring.

The signs of Spring started in the South.  Reading messages and seeing posts of seed swapping, early indoor planting and garden prepping have been evident for weeks.

Seed swaps started in Toronto over the last month.  I`ve only become aware of this type of thing in recent years through the blog.  Seeing places like the University of Toronto`s Hart House jammed shoulder to shoulder with people has been an eye opener on the vibrant gardening community within our city.

This weekend marked the beginning of planting season for many Toronto residents.  They`ve started their seeds inside.  Again, I had no idea people could start this early.  Seeing that people are starting to plant (both in text and some pictures) in our city really starts to push that mental tipping point in the warmer direction.

As I watched the news last night I realized I was viewing a channel from Northern Ontario.  It was neat to see their swap was this weekend.  Much like our continent warms from `bottom` to `top`, things like planting and swapping slowly paint the surface from South to North.  It`s been this way for as long as the planet has orbited – I just couldn`t see it.

Spring is definitely in the air – even if it`s frozen under a layer of snow or ice.

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There are very few rules about what I post here and all are self-imposed. For example:

  • Dana and I decided from the start that we wouldn`t use this as a place to spew negativity for example and we`ve remained consistent with that one (it`s been difficult at times when we see some of the things we do within our industrial food system).
  • We generally don`t post about the special or more romantic meals of our life.  A boy has to keep some secrets after all and it`s important to me to still have some stories to share in `real life` or keep to ourselves.
  • If we review a product that was given to us, we will let you know that this was a promo.

Rules are meant to be broken and today we`re going to bash rule 2.  I won`t share all of the details but the fact is that some things are so good that you simply have to share them.

The Meal

Last night was probably the best restaurant meal I`ve ever had in Toronto at Parts & Labour.  This is not a promo – we simply have to share the outstanding evening we had and want to support some outstanding people doing some outstanding things.

Dana, 2 friends and myself went out for dinner last night.  The 4 of us have shared a lot of special meals together and we have a tonne of fun together.  We`ve been lucky to have eaten our way across this city and through much of Chicago and New York over the last 5+ years.

Chef Matty Matheson and Sous Chef Matthew DeMille and I have been going back and forth on Twitter for a while.  We had never met but we`ve shared a few messages back and forth.  When I asked for restaurant recommendations late Friday night, Matthew said we should just come to their restaurant.  After we confirmed, he offered us a seat in the kitchen (something I kept quiet from the other 3).

We walked into the restaurant around 9:00PM.  We were taken through the packed restaurant (it`s 5,000 square feet) and sat at 1 of 3 high tables in the kitchen.  Both gentlemen greeted us warmly and we tucked into the menu while watching the kitchen.

We started with cocktails and the drinks were crafted as opposed to assembled.  The night was off to a good start.

The first dish to arrive was a terrine platter.  There were 4 samples of house-made preserved, 3 or 4 terrines (also of the house) and a small canister of something.  It was explained that this was potted lobster.  Similar to potter shrimp my best description would be that this is lobster-butter on steroids.  We all started with a liberal portion spread on toast and it changed the tone of the table.

Every single thing on that tray sung of fabulous and our conversation transformed to a mixture of sharing our delight and sharing guttural sounds of `mmm` or `arrrrrr.`

We moved on to a few more openers, including tongue.  We were told that dining at P&L and not having the tongue was not acceptable and being a rules guy (cough), we complied.  The dish transcended the ingredient and while I`ve enjoyed my share of tongue I can easily say I`ve never had anything like this before.  Dana expressed it best when he surprised herself going back for a second and third taste; tongue is something she`ll typically try but not go back to the well for.

From there we went to mains.  There was a cornish hen, rib eye steak, pork chop and plate of foie, sweet breads and wild  boar belly.  All were outstanding and we each tried something from all of the plates.

Beyond the food and beverage, there are a few outstanding things to note about P&L (from my perspective):

  • The rooftop garden.  It`s dormant now but the restaurant is an advocate of urban gardening (farming) and grow`s summer produce on top of the building (their website has a current picture of the garden)
  • The atmosphere.  The main room has communal tables.  It`s loud and chaotic.  People are singing birthday songs and generally having a party.  The restaurant converts into a full bar and party once kitchen is closed.  It`s not the spot for a quiet meal – but the atmosphere is not pretentious at all.  It`s very charming.
  • The staff.  Service was exceptional, fun, friendly and professional.
  • The kitchen.  It`s an amazing setup and communication was calm and the amount of quality food that came out was outstanding.
  • The hamburger.  I simply have to go back to try it.
  • There are a few vegetarian options and each looked great.
  • The Chefs.  Once the kitchen closed we got to spend some time around the table with each gentlemen and shared a (few) drinks.  These are quality guys who are fantastic fun and are running an amazing kitchen.  It`s people like this that I want to succeed – and the driving force on why we`ve broken rule 2.

The Coming Dinner

Sustainable seafood is an easy cause to support.  A 7-course meal is an easy way to do it.

Next Monday night will see 6 of the best chefs in the city come together to prepare 7 courses of sustainable seafood – each paired with wine for $145.  The event is being hosted at P&L:

There are limited seats remaining.  Dana and I have spent our allowance so won`t be able to make this one but knowing the list of chefs above (and having eaten several of their offerings), this will be a stand-out event.  Each is a passionate supporter of local, sustainable food and this will be an unbeleivable evening.

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We were trading messages with friends on twitter last night when we got a simple request from Dallas (check her site out) who asked us for some ideas on where to start with a new dehydrator.  I love questions like this – makes coming up with topics easier.  🙂

You can get very complex with a dehydrator.  Candied fruits, jerky, leathers and sheets of vegetables (like Kale) are all examples of the more complex options.  While those things are all good, I find I love the simple things just as easy.  Here’s a few ideas/themes on what I’d start with this time of year:

  • Baseline. Dehydrate apple slices.  Compare these to the commercial variety you’ve had and you’ll instantly see why you bought your dehydrator.  A lot of commercially dried apples are done with chemicals and the flavour difference is awesome.
  • Local. This time of year I would take whatever I can get – kale, leeks, onions, apples, and more.
  • Savory. Onion slices and awesome – but they can stink up your house and leave a lingering flavour on your person for days if you are unlucky or do these in a central area of your home.  I say this from personal experience.
  • Powder. Beet powder.  Dehydrate thin slices of beets and grind into a powder (5 pounds of beets make less than a cup of powder).  The tiniest bit to top a squash soup, salad or garnish is pretty awesome.
  • Unusual but useful. Celeriac – turn it into powder later for an awesome addition to every soup, stock, roast, dry rub, and more.
  • Yummy. Pineapple slices are outstanding.  This is not the same as the candied stuff you buy in bulk – it’s far better.  I`m also told mango is stunning and that`s a project for the near future.
  • For the puppy. Sweet potato slices for treats.

Any other time of year I would be heavily swayed by the seasons.  Make sure you don`t miss thin slices of strawberry in the early summer (we`re still eating last years and have the full taste of fresh strawberry in the winter).

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Friday Morning Picture Show

I posted a quick link on our Facebook group yesterday to a google image search.  If you`re unfamiliar with what this means, it`s simply a part of google that you can search and it returns a bunch of photos instead of websites.  You can access it by going to images.google.com.

I like to go and search random food terms from time to time to see what I find, like these:

Share your own in the comments – and have an awesome Friday!

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What can one come with from a simple preserve swap?

Ask and ye shall receive…

We came with:

  • 1 Liter (a quart) of strawberry jam.  A giant thanks to Chef Kyle Deming from Starfish and the Ceili Cottage (and his newish project, Sausage Partners) for a very one-sided trade – this ha fall at the cabin written all over it.  I`m excited to try this – whole strawberries were added to the jam at the last-minute which makes this almost like preserved strawberries suspended in jam.  massive chunks are a guarantee!
  • Ted Thorpes Carrots from Stasis Preserves.   These are all-Ontario, including a white vinegar (I believe it i rice-based) that I didn`t know we could find locally.  Excited to try these as the only vinegar I`ve found in Ontario is cider.
  • Pie Pickle.  I love a preserve with a story.  Chef Kyle and his wife Lorraine are the force behind Sausage Partners.  This jar has the story of their sister who lives in England – her neighborhood doesn`t have an ice cream truck – they have a pie truck instead.  This pickle would be served alongside a portion of pie and mushy peas.
  • Bev`s apple jelly – complete with homemade label that looks great.
  • Kelli`s Grapefruit `topping.`  Excited to try this – we rarely preserve citrus so this will be a nice treat – also excited to see the impact of the one-piece lid on freshness (I suspect there will be no difference).
  • The Avro`s Plum and blackberry jam.  I love that Emily and Rachel decided that they couldn`t simply host the event – they needed to participate.  Excited to try this.
  • Plum Sauce (think this was from Stephanie).  So excited – just realized lately that I could make plum sauce (rather funny since I`ve preserved with plums before – just never thought of sauce) and have big plans this year.  Excited to try some as part of my homework.
  • Dried pear and cranberry jam from Mary Ann.  This was part of the can jam and I`m excited to see a different take on dried fruit preserves – we recently tried ours and loved it.
  • Icewine apple-pear sauce.  Also believe this was Stephanie.  I`ve never used Icewine as an ingredient which is that brought the massive appeal for me.
  • Raspberry jam – unfortunately I can`t remember who I traded for this though raspberry preserved are my favourite sweet ones.
  • Home cured bacon from Kyle – as well as smoked pork hock.

We`ll be eating for a while – I suspect we`ll still have some of these in our larder by the time we get to our next swap (but I`m keeping these!).

Thanks all for coming, it was an awesome time!

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What a night!  Our first preserve swap – in the middle of winter when many are at their lowest inventory all year of preserved goodness.  It was awesome.

Dana and I showed up early – Emily was there to greet us with a smile.  We spread our buttons out, dressed up “The Dude” (he’s a dummy that lives in the woman’s bathroom.  We were ready to go.

There were a few things that really worked for us at the event,  I think the most important were:

  1. We kept it simple.  Show up, bring what you can and introduce yourself until 9 or so and scope out the room for things you might want.
  2. The event required you to interact and meet other people.

The evening started slowly.  A few people came in, we tentatively put our jars on the bar and hung out with friends and their jars.  We weren’t checking out each others products yet and each were in a polite stage of introductions.  The feeding frenzy had yet to begin.

There were about 6 or 7 of us there when Chef Kyle Deming walked in (we wrote about him and the company he is running with his wife here) with a tray in hand.  He placed it on the bar, asked if we would watch it and left to ‘go get his jars.’  Kyle had brought a tray of hand-cured bacon and smoked hocks.  This pulled everyone out of their seats and it became instantly acceptable to check out what everyone else had.

We brought about a dozen jars.  I figured we should bring a lot in the event that anyone was left at the end without a trading partner.  This was good in theory – we had no idea that people would show up with cases.  Yes, cases.  I would guess that there were about 30 swappers and 250-300 jars of food.  It was ridiculous (in the best way).

I was pretty excited about our button design – a mashup of the logo of the Avro Arrow and one of our WellPreserved logos…

The bar continued to fill with people from all over (I think Mary Ann gets the prize of coming the furthest as she drove from Acton).  People were amazingly friendly, excited about what they brought and were willing to share.

I can’t even begin to list what was in all the jars (we’ll share our personal haul tomorrow).  There were the usual suspects plus a bunch of things I’d never heard of.  There was even maple syrup, cakes in jars (not preserved but awesome!) and our friend Jesse presented us with a candle in an old Ball Jar as a hosting gift (she’s super sweet).

The Avro were also mighty hosts and we’re very thankful to have been able to take over their space for a night like that.

It was a lot of fun seeing people walk down the street, and stop in their tracks when they saw the crowded bar and what was in it.

If anyone has pictures that they’d like to share, the easiest way would be our Facebook page which is here.

The value of this type of meeting, beyond the people (which is the absolute best part) is getting to try things you may not have made before or try a different version of something you normally make and learn from other people’s experience.  It also adds a lot of variety to your larder with minimal effort.

I hope people had a lovely time – I can’t believe I didn’t get to meet everyone (if there was a regret, that’s it).  There will be more events this year so can a few extra jars.  Knowing some of the people who showed up this time I know that their cases could easily become skids of food next time (joking…sort of).

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We`ll update on the preserve swap tomorrow – today`s an early workday so I wrote the following post yesterday.

Dana and I bought our first really grown-up piece of furniture a week ago.  It`s a 350 pound table built from a 6 foot long piece of butcherblock mounted on a steel frame.  I`m so excited to have a new space in our kitchen to work on – both for cooking as well as for blogging and other projects.

I`ll let the pictures speak:

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