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Archive for July, 2011

We`re about 33% through the year so I thought I`d reflect back on a post in early January which set some informal food goals for the year ahead.

I imagine some are questioning my math.  TO fully comprehend it, you must know that my world resolves around family, friends and food.  The dregs of winter inhibit much of our local supply (though not all) for about 3 months of the year (the most delicious time of year to eat preserves) which leave us with about 9 months of ingredients (depending on the year).  By my calculations we are about 4 months into this years crops although there are 2-3 months of abundance (all things being equal) ahead.  So my calculation is partly mathematical, partly philosophical and mostly just completely made up.

In January we posted about some of our loose `goals`for the year.  I haven`t looked back at the list since I wrote it so I thought I`d do an honesty check and look back on what we`ve written and how we`re progressing. I`m truly not worried about completing the entire list but always enjoy the power of the subconscious and curious as to what`s been knocked off a list written 6 months ago (on a whim) and see where we stand.  Being an educator as a profession I will also give myself a frank grade.

The Pantry Project. B+. 
We`ve not perfected it, formalized it or updated you on it.  But it`s pretty much a lifestyle now.  It could use some tweaks but having an organized pantry has definitely increased our options and ability to cook on a whim.  We have enough staples to connect our preserves into full dishes and getting a lot of use out of them and far fewer spontaneous meals out of the house because we didn`t have anything to cook quickly or easily.  I think this will continue and I see a possible love affair with quinoa coming in our future.

More Gardening. A for effort. 
It`s the first year we`ll be eating full meals from it.  I used to think herbs were not `real`growing.  While we grow far more than herbs now, I wish I would have concentrated on them far earlier and, if we stay urban, this may be a future focus.

Increased Urban Foraging.  D-. 
We took a step back here and foraged LESS than last year.  This would be an E except I`ve actually done far more learning on the topic and recognized at least 5 new edibles I didn`t harvest (but could have) during my dog walks.  I suppose I abstained as opposed to just didn`t know.

More uses for root vegetables.  C but school`s still in. 
Come late fall we`ll be rocking the roots.  I haven`t even shared our results with dehydrating parsnip.  Yet.

Micro-Infusions. E. 
But there`s time.  And I`m ok with being sent to detention if it includes infused booze.

More fermented vegetables.  Incomplete. 
The heart of the veggie season lays ahead.  Be very ready.

More pickled fruit.  Incomplete. 
We need some hearty fruit for this – and it`s just coming.

Fermented beverages – especially beer.  B. 
We haven`t shared but I did brew my first batch of homebrew in the loft about 2 weeks ago.  We`ll see how it turns out.  It won`t be the last.  Biggest learning: I think a small batch is almost the same amount of work as a very large batch.  This is good and bad news – quantity could come fast, quality and learning could be slow. ns  We’ve also got a few hooches in play with plans for more to come.

Research optimal refrigeration temperatures and technique.  E but there`s time. 
I should get on this one in a hurry as this is the time of year my fridge is packed.

More jerky and leathers.  D. 
There`s been some.  I haven`t shared.  I need to really fall in love with leather.  And someone could take that the wrong way.

More dehydration. A++. 
I have dried everything but the dog (although I did make him treats with it).  Even double dried – and have to share those results too.  I suddenly feel like I`ve been slacking. :).

Pressure canning.  Incomplete. 
The season is just getting going for us as veggies are coming in.

Nose to tail (albeit limited).  TBD. 
I don`t know how to grade myself on this one.  I met the veritable overlord of Nose-To-Tail (Fergus Henderson), had him call my nose-to-tail fruit and vegetable use (we made 5 different things with each part of a strawberry this year) as `brilliant.` But it`s not meat..  We will hopefully rectify that in the hunting season and I have some plans ahead…

More veggies.  TBD. 
We have definitely done this at home – but not on the blog.  Then again, there’s a lot of veggies starting to come up and out of the ground.

Other cultures for food and preserving ideas.  F. 
Nothing stopped me.  It’s time.

More about wine and how others make it.  C. 
Good learning, need more sharing (of knowledge and nectar).

Cheese and making it.  Showing progress – if Joel applied himself more… 
I was about to make our first cheeses before this nasty heat set it – we’re set and ready to start with some simple techniques.  There will be more about this in August (heat willing).

So I haven’t earned my PhD yet but I do think I’m making some progress.

How has your food year gone and what’s on your list to learn (if anything) in the coming months?

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Is there anything so lovely as a beautiful, juicy flavour-packing cherry?  I didn’t think so.  That’s why I thought it would be far more fun to dry them and get rid of all of that juicy goodness.

Before we talk about drying them, let me assure you there’s a method to my madness.  Dehydration is the absolute best way I know to save the essence of the pure flavour of the fruit.  By removing the water over a prolonged period of time, one is left with only the essence of taste; you don’t need to add sugar, heat, vinegar or anything else (all things I love – we’ve preserved almost 2 cases of preserved cherries this year and have almost a dozen different types of preserved cherries in our pantry).  I just have a special place for drying them because they dry so well and their taste is preserved almost in tact.  They also shrivel up and take a tiny amount of space to store compared to preserving them whole in simple syrup.

Drying them is easy – especially if you have a dehydrator (we can do up to 20 pounds at a time – though the final yield is about 10% of what went in to the dryer).  The writing on the subject is all over the Internet and cookbooks – prick or pit them, place in a dehydrator around 135 degrees and wait until they are leathery (12-24 hours).  That’s it.  You’re done.

HOLD THE PHONE. 

Remember nose to tail fruit?  Yeaahhh Booyyyeeez – it’s time to lower the boom on cherries and talk about how to get something else from drying them and it’s a great way to steal from other techniques and help diversify your dried fruit.

Joel’s ‘Secret’ Dried Cherries
Day 1
Pit your cherries.  Weigh them (after pitting).  Toss in 5-10% sugar.  Cover and place in fridge overnight in a big non-reactive bowl.

Day 2. 
Strain liquid into a bowl.  A pound of pitted cherries will make at least a half cup of cherry simple syrup.  We did 20 pounds and ended up with 3-4 liters.  You can dry the cherries as-is or rinse them to remove residual sugar (I don’t mind the small amount of extra sweetness).

That’s it!

That extra liquid is instant cocktail, spritzer, addition to salad dressing or sweetener for iced teas.  It can easily be added to a lemonade or even water (add as much as 3,4 or even 10 times the amount of water for just a taste). 

Dehydrating removes the liquid from the fruit and evaporates it into the air – so why not use maceration to coax some of the liquid out.  In the end you’ll save time and energy in your dryer – and you’ll be able to drink away the ‘angels share’ (this is a term from Scotch which describes the amount lost to evaporation each year as it ages in barrels).  We’ll Share our adaptation of Julia’s cherry pit liquor soon as well…

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A word of warning: it’s Friday and a long weekend so I was a little giddy when I wrote this.  It is a serious review of a great product but I was a little punchy in spots…and it shows. 🙂

We have no paid endorsements (yet – although we had to turn down MJ as he wanted to set us up with matching Air Jordans and change our tag line to ‘we SLAM your preserves’).  But when it comes to OXO products (other than the ‘cube’), I tend to gush a little.  I’m told Micahel’s still dealing with the rejection but we’re holding out for the new Reebok Pump (up the jams) hightops.

I clearly need a new hobby.  🙂

At any rate, we’ve had the same pitters for years. I say ‘pitters’ (as opposed to the singular ‘pitter’) because they’ve been multiple versions of the same unit.  All of them were worth $3-4 and they were perfectly fine.  Light plastic, exposed spring and metal poker to remove said seed.  You had to tie your hair back in case it got caught up in the spring but such was the life of the renegade pitter.  They would work great until they would break.

Breaking was so reliable that I would buy them in pairs.  When one broke I’d replace it with the next with no harm done (except that my recycling bucket would accumulate the carcasses of old pitters.

We recently bought 7 liters (quarts) of cherries.  I knew we didn’t have a pitter at home and knew there were all sorts of MacGuyver solutions friends used – paperclips, pairing knives and bobby pins (Julia makes it sound so easy).  I was certain that all of these things would work – and certain that I would go nearly mad in the process.  So we did what made the most sense – went to the hardware store to buy two $3 pitters.

Hardware stores open later than farmers markets.  Especially on Sundays.

So I drove to a big league kitchen store (one of the pleasures of living in a city).  I dropped Dana at the front and she headed in looking for two $6 cherry pitters (figuring they would be identical to the $3 ones EXCEPT they’d be twice as much).  Dana came out of the store (I circled it to avoid a $20 parking fee) with 3 things:

  • A wry smile
  • A big giant bag of goodies (so much for the $3 purchase)
  • A $20 cherry pitter

The $6 ripoff was starting to feel like a deal.

I chuckled when she explained it had a ‘splash guard.’  I’ve found that a bowl normally does a pretty good job of that.  But it was a pitter and there was pitting to be done.

I took a closer look when I got home.  It was an OXO unit with the ‘safe grip’ handle (also funny for a pitter – not exactly a life endangering act).  I was more impressed when I noticed a feature normally reserved for tongs – a little tab that you can pull or push to lock the handles closed and store in less space.  Storage is a premium in our house and that was a nice touch.

I picked up a cherry, pulled the stem and placed it in the holder.

CHUNK.  SPIT.  CLICK.

It was so satisfying.  This wasn’t A pitter.  It was THE pitter.  It was like using colouring pencils after years of crayons.  Glue after years of glue sticks.  A motorcycle after a tricycle.  Craft beer after ANYTHING light.  You get the idea – this was a tool and I was now a man.

OK, so it wasn’t really ALL that good.  But it did feel like equipment.  And it won’t add to the landfill anytime soon.  And I don’t need two of it.  And it really did chunk, spit and click.

If you’re looking for a pitter, consider the investment in this unit – it’s a lovely little thing.

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Dana and I had the pleasure of attending Marben‘s Sausage League last night.  We both geeked out and accidentally posted simultaneous pictures of the voting ballot on our Facebook group.  A few questions popped up and I realized the answers could take an entire post – taaadaaa!

Sausage League is a friendly competition between 12 of Toronto’s restaurants (The Harbord Room, The Drake Hotel, The Stop Community Food Centre, Table 17, Marron Bistro Moderne, C5, La Palette, Parts and Labour, Torito and Pizzeria Liberetto/ Enoteca Sociale).  Note that the host is not competing.

Marben hosts the event every second Wednesday where diners are offered choices from their regular menu or offered the “Sausage League” menu.  For $25 you are treated to two sausage dishes (one from each of two featured restaurants that night) and a side.  Last night’s side was a bottle of Steamwhistle Pilsner.  Diners are given an anonymous voting ballot of which they choose which sausage was superior and a team is eliminated from the challenge.  The contest started May 11 and runs through September 28.

Let’s talk about the only criticism I’ve seen about the event: the price.  $25 is a steep price for sausage.  If you examine the meal as simply price per calorie or even dollar for dollar of what you would receive on a typical menu, it is higher than you’d typically pay.  Considering a bottle of beer is about $5 in Toronto, we paid $10 per dish which were appetizer-sized (though much more filling as I don’t think of sausage as an appetizer).  But there is no such thing as a $5 artisanal sausage in this city (you pay close to that with a pop for mass-produced, big-agriculture ‘street meat’) so we’re talking a few dollars higher than expectation – at most.

It’s not a ticket for everyone.  We joined 4 other friends, added dinner and another few beverages and spent a lovely evening together – less per hour than the price of a movie (without snacks added).

It was a great night, casual meal and an awesome tasting.  The sausages were outstanding and it was a difficult vote.

In exchange for such a fee, Marben is opening its kitchen and packing it full of teams from it’s ‘competition.’  And to me, that’s the bigger part of the story – beyond price and beyond even the mighty sausage.  Many of Toronto’s restaurants chef’s and their teams are coming together through events such as this.  They are sharing kitchens, ideas and evolving their cuisine and, in the process, further developing a sense of Terroir and what it is to eat the food where we live.  A ‘sense of somewhereness.’

Businesses and chefs who were once seen as competition are working together and creating an excitement greater than any could do as an individual.  Lofty comparisons (that are perhaps inspirational rather than factual) would compare what happened when the California Wine Scene started to work together, American Craft Beer joined arms against mass-produced beer (instead of itself) and perhaps even the “Group of 7” as a Canadian reference. 

I understand those comparisons are bound to raise eyebrows and perhaps they are too lofty.  It’s simply an exciting time in Toronto’s dining history – a restaurant renaissance of sorts.  A $25 ticket to see Chefs pulled from 4 of Toronto’s busier restaurants (Marben, Torito and Enoteca Sociale/ Pizzeria Libretto) put their egos to the side and provide a cold beverage and see the creativity and contrast produced by different kitchens is just a lot of fun.

Over the past several months the intensity of working together has increased.  Multi-Chef dinners in a single restaurant (for fun, profit or charity), fun competitions (battles over popcorn, pickles and preserves amongst them), our ‘food truck festival‘ and good-spirited collaboration at events like Terroir have seen a magical collaboration that’s been fun to watch as an outsider – and delicious to consume as an enthusiast.

Toronto has a vibrant dining scene that’s becoming more exciting month over month.  I encourage you to join in on the fun by joining in or coming to visit!

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Our fence garden is starting to produce plate-ready results.  If you remember its humble beginnings, we thought you might like to see how it`s coming along:

The first few tomatoes have ripened (the smallest of course) and hot peppers are appearing daily.  The herbs are in full glory.

I didn`t get the potatoes in on time – a good lesson learned.  I am feeling that this is the first year that I`ve actually been able to produce any notable quantity of food for the summer and I`m most  excited to have the supply of food that is here and coming…

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The urban harvest is in full swing.  Our city has already seen cherries (though a much smaller yield this year than previously), plums are coming through the urban orchard, mulberries are around, serviceberries have been spotted and sidewalks are getting stained everywhere.  Urban fruit is being enjoyed across the city – and is wasting on lawns, trees and sidewalks around this city.

Please help us by raising awareness for the amazing work the Not Far From the Tree does by watching and sharing this video, sharing it and considering to volunteer or donate to the cause.

Click on the “YouTube” button to be brought to the homepage of the video on YouTube or click here for CanUrbOrg’s homepage on YouTube where you can see other similar videos of amazing urban projects.

Not Far From the Tree are great friends of WellPreserved and have a simple mission:

  • Harvest as much of Toronto’s 1,000,000+ pounds of fruit that often goes to waste by rotting, covering lawns and sidewalk.
  • Provide a third of the fruit to volunteers (who are powered by bicycle), a third to the owners of the trees and a third to community organizations across the city.

They picked 20,000 pounds of fruit last year!

Dana helped design an infographic to show the teams progress from conception in 2008.

You can register to join a pick, register your tree, buy cool swag to support or donate to help the cause.  The work they do is simply amazing and it happens because of people like you!

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We braved the rain with some friends last night and headed down to a food festival on the East End of Town.  A large supermarket chain which was once an independent grocer specializing in Asian food hosted a “Night Market” that was very similar to those found in much of Asia (well-traveled friends reported the experience as being fairly authentic).

It was a lot of fun – street food with influences from all over Asia.  a lot of the food was familiar – although much of it was new to me.  The smell of ‘stinky tofu’ (an actual dish that had lineups of excited eaters) filled the air and intermittent sprinkles and outright downpours kept most of the heat away.

It was a fantastic window into another part of the world.  One of Toronto’s best features is the ability to travel the world without leaving the city limits.

While much of the food was from big agriculture, this festival had notably less waste than many I’ve attended.  Much of the food was served on a stick or in natural vessels such as watermelon and coconuts.

Rather than talking about it, here’s a bunch of iPhone shots from last night:

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