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Archive for September, 2011

I suppose the cool thing to do would be to state how calm I am about this coming weekend.  To act like I’ve been here before (which I actually have).  But the truth is it’s our second year cooking at the picnic, I’ve been done most of the preparation work for weeks and I am nervous as H-E-DOULBE HOCKEY STICKS (well, not quite that nervous but I love the term).

In less than 60 hours we’ll be facing 1,000-1,500 hungry diners who are decsending on the City’s top Chefs, Farmers and us.  I like to think of us as the “+1.”

To give a bit of context, the Brickworks Slowfood picnic is an all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink food festival that pairs an amazing chef with a talented farmer.  The Chef transforms the ingredients into an amazing taste and, ideally, compliments the Chefs around him or her who are all grouped in a ‘pod’ representing a micro-region of our province.  When we attended the event in 2009, it was easily my favorite event of the year.  We had purchased our tickets for 2010 when we were asked to attend as Chefs (I beleive we were the only non-restaurant/ professional cook in the bunch).

While I am a passionate preserver who knows my way around a kitchen, it is foolish to think that I could ever plate anything close to the flavours of some of the cities best Chefs.  The opportunity and honour was a massive compliment of which we embraced (along with the help of a volunteer army of cracker makers) in making the tomato bomb last year.  In an attempt to avoid utter embarassment, I relied on two factors:

  • Because I would be making this on my own time and because my cooking is a hobby and not a revenue producer, I could put more time than people busy running a restaurant had available.  This effort wouldn’t make my product better – it just meant my less-practiced hands could compensate for some lack of finesse by replacing it with sheer effort.
  • As long as I stuck to preserving – a narrow focus that I have spent thousands of hours honing, I’d have a chance at being respectable.  I had to stay within that comfort zone to have a chance at looking like I was anywhere close to belonging (emphasis on ‘close’).

Last years dish was 7.5 minutes a portion (of manual prep work).  There were 600-800 portions.  I remember watching someone walk away with 4 crackers and realize that 30 minutes of my life was in their hands.

I knew I didn’t have the same time this year.  The Fall is our busiest time and there would be no way to find 100+ hours of ‘spare’ time – even if I didn’t sleep.  It would come down to a single factor (and i suppose the factor that brought us here in the first place): preserving.

I should also say that I wanted to avoid the ‘typical’ approaches – especially jam.  It’s not that I don’t like jam (I rather love it) but part of our message at this event is that you can use preserving to create ingredients to cook with – not just condiments (albeit awesome ones) that get put on toast.  I’m a passionate canner – but also a passionate practitioner of many different types of preserving and I wanted to share broader possibilities.

If I’m to be perfectly honest with myself (and you), it was really important to me to get the approval of others last year.  I’d never offered food to such a number of complete strangers and had no idea how I’d handle the feedback.  Getting some positive feedback was an essential mission of the day.  I’m quite positive I wasn’t confident enough to put somethign on display and hear it wasn’t worthy.  That’s changed this year.

This year I’m prepared that many people are going to avoid our table.  I hope they don’t, but I ‘m ok if they do.  I hope I find a few outliers that will be willing to try our dish and, if they like it, pull some others in.  But even then, we’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (it has occured to me that perhaps, subconsciously, I am preparing myself for the worst for the exact reasons I went for the best last year but I’ll get off my own couch now :)) and some will likely think it’s pretty gross.  And somehow I think that’s going to be fun.

But it still makes me nervous.

This year we’ve pickled large cloves of garlic (in wine vinegar) and dehydrated leek and green onion bulbs (with umeboshi vinegar and salt) as well as a bunch of greens from green onions (they’ll be a powder).  I’m contemplating baking some bread in advance of the picnic to make them easier to pick up but it won’t change the fact that we are ultimatley offering garlic and onions at a public event.

As we get closer and closer to the event, I’m bound to get a bit more nervous (all under the surface) and excited.  I’ll fear that people will spit the garlic out, point and laugh or tell me we don’t belong there.  I’ll worry a little bit over our community and hoping that we are representing preserving well to the food community as a whole.  I’ll worry that we have enough or that we’ve done too much.

But the moment the first diner walks up, all of that will fly away and we’ll do what we do and see where it lands.  We’ll be sharing pictures through the day on our Facebook group and update the blog next week (of course there will be regular posts on the weekend as well).

If you’re coming by, make sure we know and be sure to say hi – our table is in the Guelph area. 🙂  There are still tickets available through their website.

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I’m hoping that the following article might motivate people to share the story, add to the discussion and respectful debate.  I’m not asking you to agree with me – but am hoping that we can put all of the collective information on the table to share in an open dialogue to make sense of dairy in Canada, the US and many other places in the world.  The article is specifically about RAW Milk in Ontario but you’ll see that the issue (and confusion) is far broader.  The facts presented here are, to the best of my ability, factually correct and open to feedback.

I am not a scientist.  I do not regularly consume raw milk (although I do remember fresh cream on blueberries as a child) and I’m not sure I would if I could.  I don’t know the detailed risks and I’m not recommending that you should or shouldn’t consume it.

I am, however, very passionate that we should each have the opportunity to do our own research and make up our own minds and have the choice.

Before looking at the history, let us acknowledge that the reason raw milk is banned is because of the potential to make people sick with nasty things like Listeria.  Let us also consider:

  • 17 U.S. States allow the sale of raw milk
  • Provinces across this country allowed it until the early 1990s
  • Raw milk is considered the highest standard of milk in France
  • Raw milk is commonly sold in Germany
  • The regulations of the European Union declare milk safe for human consumption
  • Cigarettes, which surely cause significant health problems are legal in Ontario
  • It is legal, in Ontario, for a farmer to drink their own milk and feed it to their families (this point becomes important further in the article).
  • Multiple recalls of mass-produced meat, veggies and fruit are now commonly accepted (through the process of normalized crises) across the planet.  Common threats are lysteria and e. coli (the same threat that  keeps raw milk off the shelf here).
  • Pasteurization was invented in 1862 – certainly milk was drunk before that time.

A quick history of raw milk in Ontario:

  • The Dairy Farmers of Canada was founded in 1934 (as the Canadian Dairy Farmer’s Federation).  The mandate was to ‘pursue market stability policies and ensure fairer prices for producers.’
  • Raw milk was banned for sale in Ontario in 1938 – pasteurization became a requirement to ‘boost confidence’ in milk.
  • In the late 1950s and early 1960s, milk sales were made from individual farms to many different fractured milk producers.
  • The Milk Act was passed in 1965 which created the Ontario Milk Marketing  Board (OMMB).  The Milk act made requirements for farmers to sell their milk to the Marketing Board (passage 37; “requiring any person who produces a regulated product to offer to sell and to sell the regulated product to or through the marketing board constituted to administer the plan under which the regulated product is regulated”)
  • In 1987, Ontario (via Germany) farmer Michael Schmidt purchases 12 heritage cattle (Canadiennes) from a Québécois farmer.  He is frustrated with ‘modern’ methods and wishes to use biodynamic farming principles he learned and practiced in Germany since the 1970s (the entire article is here).  His beliefs include a high value for raw milk.  (The entire story of the Schmidt’s is ongoing but a comprehensive catch-up can be found here).
  • In 1991, RAW milk was officially banned for sale under Food and Drug Regulations.
  • 1992, Farmer Schmidt’s sales of raw milk have increased enough to create a small store on the property.
  • 1994 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation films a feature highlighting the farm and raw milk.  Police raids hit the farm 2 days before the piece hits television.  Various raids and legal proceedings continue from then through the present.
  • The OOMB changed it’s name and structure (absorbing the milk and cream bodies into one) called the Dairy Farmers of Ontario in 1995
  • In January of 2010, a stunning reversal of fortune occurs:  a Newmarket, Ontario court rules in Farmer Schmidt’s favour – he had been selling cow-shares where people could buy a significant percentage of the cow (therefore being able to consume milk from the cow they own).  I understand he sold 25% shares in each cow.  People could not resell the product and it was not available to the mass public.  He had 150 shareholders in total.
  • The Milk Act continues to be revised; the most recent version is from 2010 (here) – likely to accommodate though I am not certain.
  • September 28, 2011.  A higher level of court overturns the Newmarket finding – Raw Milk is once again outlawed and the only possible client to sell it to is the Dairy Board.

It is not without irony that on the same day that raw milk is banned for safety reasons that we have also experienced a recall of mass-produced meat in 6 provinces.  The fear?  Listeria.

Isn’t it time to ask why?  Perhaps it’s time to examine the role of the gatekeepers who are there to remove ‘inequities’ in the system  yet we have a system with a single buyer that lacks the competitive checks and balances of an open market. 

Why doesn’t the system doesn’t allow for competitive advantage for individual producers to offer an alternative product direct to consumer?  Perhaps it shouldn’t be on the free market – but what is the cost to stop this from happening?   Who is benefitting? What is the real risk level of a product that was consumed in its raw form for thousands of years before 1862?

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We preserve year-round so this post is not an indication of the end of the year.  It is, however, an admission that I`m running out of time to preserve much of the summer harvest.  We are serving our pickled garlic (more than 600 portions) on Sunday, the following weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving (we`ll be deep in the woods) and three weeks from now is the start of moose hunting.  There`s also a global conference at work, a tight social schedule, 15 posts to pre-write before Thanksgiving and so forth.  The likelihood of preserving much more summer goods is thin.

Here`s a few things I vow to make next year (maybe you`ll still have time or perhaps you`ve already made them):

I`m sure there`s more but these are three that burn me – I wish I had them in my pantry.

What are the preserves that got away from you this season?

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I`ll never forget my Father telling me stories of his youth, especially the ones which involved horses.  My Father trained race horses (dropping out of school very young to do so) and every horse he broke won it`s first race.  He was a real cowboy – the `real` Marlboro Man (although he gave up smoking early in my life).

My Father told me one story many times – he saw the legendary E.P Taylor (a man who was instrumental in horse racing as well as the design of our city and many communities within it) at the track.  Pops stared at the man from afar, jaw agape until my Grandfather noticed.  My Grandfather was a tough man – even won a boxing match at Maple Leaf Gardens in his day before becoming a real estate agent, jail guard and many other things.  He spoke of things like pride as often as I breathe and his vision of heroes was a realistic one as he turned to my Father and declared, `Son, we all wipe our butts the same way – even him.`

It was a crude lesson but one that I learned often from the story: pick few heroes and pick them wisely.  This lesson was easily lived in my family – my Father became a Fire Fighter and my Mother was a Nurse.  I certainly had a lot of respect for many people doing amazing things but the term `hero`was saved for pretty rare company (namely an NHL Hockey player who grew up on my street and an extreme skier who I tried to emulate).  I didn`t have the chance to meet either one it may be just as well – it`s tough to live up to the imagination of a very active mind and such expectations of strangers are rarely fair.

I had the privilege of attending TEDx Toronto on Friday.  TEDx events are independantly organized TED events.  More than 700 of us were given tickets (there was a brief application process) for 1 and offered the opportunity to attend, share ideas and interact with each other.

I found out that a friend of mine, Chef Joshna Maharaj was speaking.  Joshna is going to change how our city, province and country view hospital food.

Rather than blithering on about it, I`d far rather share the intro video that highlights her vision:

It`s rare that I pick a hero, rarer that you meet them and rarest that they live up to it.  Joshna is an absolute hero of mine – I hope you`ll share her vision and inspiration.

Click the video to get to the TEDx Toronto YouTube chanel – the team behind the event did such an amazing job in organizing and curating – it was an inspiring day all around.

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Somethings are easier to see than to read – if you’re interested in learning how to make rye flatbread at home, take a look at the following pictures – we’ll explain what they all mean at the end (as well as showing you what it looks like).  Before you begin, know that this is a hearty flatbread that’s ideal for soups and stews that’s best served as it’s made (I keep them in a warm oven as I make my batch and serve at the end).

Know that this process is more akin to making pancakes than baking bread – you’ll see what we mean as you go through the pictures:

Ingredients

  • 2.25 cups of white flour
  • .75 cups of rye flour (you could alter this ratio – the more rye flour, the denser the final product will be)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 0.75-1 cup of cold water
  • 0.25 cups of light oil (grape seed or vegetable will do) to use at the end of the process.

Directions

  • Although you can knead by hand, I cheat by using the plastic blade of a food processor.  Start by mixing dry ingredients followed by pouring the water in.  You want to mix it until the ingredients appear to be pea-shaped balls.  You should end up with a slightly sticky dough (if it’s overly sticky add a bit of flour at a time and if it’s dry add a bit of flour at a time).  You’re aiming for a total of about 30 seconds of blending.  The more you blend the tougher it will be, the less you blend, the more likely it is that things will fall apart and natural gluten will not have a chance to develop (gluten, among other things, give bread texture).  If you go longer than 30 seconds, don’t through it all out – just use as a learning experience (this is as much art as science).
  • Form your dough into a ball and cover.  Leave in a warm place for 1-3 hours.  It won’t raise much here (there’s no added yeast).
  • Lightly dust your rolling surface/ cutting board with flour.  Roll the dough into a log.  Cut into equal pieces.  I made 16 pieces so that I could cook 4 pieces at a time in my small cast-iron pan (they were 4.5-6 inches each).  I started by cutting the loaf in half, cutting that half in half and so forth until I had 16 pieces that were roughly the same size.
  • Each disk is roughly flattened (this isn’t fancy work) at this point and dredged lightly in flour.  This will prevent pieces from sticking to each other and makes it easier to roll out each one later.
  • Using a rolling-pin, flatten each piece.  You could technically cook then at this point but the next steps will add texture to them.
  • Lightly kiss each side with the oil (I use a brush for the first few and then use residual oil on the cutting board as the process goes on).
  • Roll each piece like a mini-cigar.
  • Roll the cigars into cinnamon-roll type shapes.
  • Lightly flatten the cinnamon rolls – this is a bit of an art again.  If you flatten them too flat you will lose the benefit; too thin and they will be tough to cut.  The worse case scenario is that you over-flatten and they end up essentially identical to how you first rolled them out (not the end of the world).
  • Warm a pan (I use cast iron) over medium heat.  Add only enough oil that the surface glistens without pooling (you’re not frying these, just distributing heat).  Cook over medium high, flipping a few times to ensure they cook but don’t burn.  If they end up burnt on the surface and don’t cook through, you’re too hot.  If they cook through but don’t brown, you’re too cold.  I put them in the pot just before the pan starts to smoke (i.e. considerable heat).
  • Keep completed breads in the over around 300 degrees (once warm, turn the oven off and keep the door closed).

That’s it folks!  These are ideal fall food and awesome with a thick stew or chilli.

Does anyone make any variations of these?  We’d love to hear from you!

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Claiming to make the best chilli in the world is akin to a restaurant with `famous`soup or the world`s best (fillintheblankhere) – everyone makes the same claim and no one can prove it.  And because flavour is such a personal preference, 6 billion people could lay legitimate claim to making the best chilli in the world.

This post isn`t about sharing a recipe for the best chilli – it`s about sharing a simple trick to enhance your beloved recipe.

I never make chilli the same way twice.  Sometimes I`m very typical and play safe while other times you`ll find me shaving chocolate, moose, zucchini or other ingredients.  Sometimes it`s meat heavy and others it`s completely vegetarian.

But it always starts the same way:

We roast everything (except the beans).  Our veggies are spread across a cookie sheet and placed on the top rack of a hot oven (450-500 degrees with the broiler on).  When the peppers collapse, we peel the vegetables and throw them in.

We`ve also started roasting our sauce on the bottom rack.  It gets thicker, richer and darker.  I leave it in for an hour or so (or as long as it takes to get all my veggies peeled and chopped) before combining everything and letting it roll on a gentle simmer for a few hours to allow the rest of the flavours to get to know one another.

Do you roast your veggies when making chilli – or do you have any other tips to share?

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This years picnic preparations are much different from last years experience.  We’ve pickled more than 30 pounds of garlic this year and have a bunch of dehydration behind us – all that’s left is deciding how to assemble everything together and determine if we are going to add anything else (cheese and/or a cracker were both debated at separate points in the process).

We’re serving 500-600 portions next Sunday and are hatching plans for a few projects to be ready (including some shirts for a few friends, cards describing what we do and some ‘props’ to decorate our table).  It feels like things are moving along according to plan.

When we were asked to join the picnic last year (it features 60 Chefs from many/most of the top restaurants in our city), I knew that I had two advantages that I’d have to exploit in order to serve something that wouldn’t be completely lost amongst a field of such amazing talent.  The two advantages I had over many people that were there?

  • Preserving techniques.  I knew I’d have to showcase something preserved.  It’s obviously our niche and I’d have to ‘stick to my knitting’ (a saying our dear friend Paul taught me).
  • My time was free.  I didn’t have to pay support staff or even take time out of a busy restaurant kitchen in order to make my dish.  I could work a lot more than others (and would have to in order to present anything even close to the natural talent that flows from their kitchens).

Each portion last year took almost 7.5 minutes of manual labour to make in the weeks approaching the picnic.  We were pleased with the results and the reactions that came with them.  We served over 700 portions.

This year we’re taking a few more risks.  Namely:

  • We just don’t have the prep time to spend building our dish.
  • We committed to preserving again.
  • We’ve decided to go “ALL ALLUM” – using garlic, green onions and leeks.  Not everyone likes these things but that will be half the fun.
  • Ontario garlic cloves can be very, very big.  The dish will be intimidating for those new to it (placing a very large piece of whole garlic in ones mouth takes a leap of faith for the uninitiated).

Essentially, we’re relying that the technique will represent the food we have been trusted with in such a way that respects the amazing product we were given to work with.  We just have to trust that what we’re serving isn’t ‘too’ simple – it’s a risk that’s a little scary but has me more excited than anything.  I am certainly prepared that some will find the idea revolting – while I’m hoping that some others will find it exciting and worth trying.

We’ll share updates once the event is done and openly share our success – or struggles!

Are you a fan of pickled garlic?  If it’s new to you, would you try it?

 

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