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Archive for December, 2011

When Kaela of Local Kitchen shared her top 10 list of most popular sites to visit from last year, 2 things were true:

  • I immediately loved the idea and knew I wanted to borrow it from her.  I love that it’s an annual thing for her and comparing the popular posts year after year is something that I think is awesome.
  • It was well before a lot of people shared that they were tired of top 10 lists.

So I’m late to the game – but I had to give it a shot!  So let’s go for ’11 most visited articles’ to avoid the stigma of another Top 10 list so late in the year (next year I’ll try to be like Kaela and get it out before everyone is tired of them but odds are I will delay to the end so you’ve been warned)!

Our most visited article last year is the Home Page (i.e. www.wellpreserved.ca) but we won’t count that because it’s not really an article.  But it is worth noting – as far as I can figure, visits to these page are mostly returning members who want to see what’s been happening (search engines link to individual articles) – so a giant thank you to the regulars!

Let’s get the countdown going – in reverse order of popularity, here are the Top 11 visited pages of 2011:

#11 Learning How to Drink Scotch (or Brandy)
From 2009, I am touched that this is so popular as it is largely a tribute to my late mentor who taught me many things – including how to drink brandy and scotch.  He had dropped out of grade 9 three times before eventually graduating with a PhD in education.  I like to think that he’s still teaching people with this post.  He’d like that too.

#10 Dehydrated Spicy BBQ Sweet Potato Chips
From Last January, it was clear from the start that people couldn’t have just one.  I have always loved the irony of this post – the dehydrator being a primary tool of a vegetarian diet and smoke being a primary tool of a BBQ-loving carnivore.  These really are great – just make sure to use a mandoline for best results!

#9 Preserving Autumn – Spicy Pickled Carrots
From 2010, these are a constant hit and the feedback on them is always great.  I still laugh because this recipe was a mistake – the original recipe called for 3.5 teaspoons per batch (for pint jars).  When adapting the recipe, I misread that part and put 3.5 teaspoons per jar.  They are very hot but GREAT.

#8 Dehydrating Orange Slices
From 201, this was from some of our early experimentation with the dehydrator.  Funny piece of trivia – although this article was written in January of 2010, the next time I bought an orange was this month (almost 2 years later in December, 2011).  We don’t buy a lot of fruit from far away (with the exception of limes and lemons which I cook with); but we still have some of this batch of oranges that I cook with from time to time and love.  I think I’ll always keep jar of these around – even if I make them once every 2 or 3 years.

#7 Preserving Spring – Wild Leeks (or ramps)
From 2010 this piece represents our cooking very well; though I do wish the pictures were better.  I’m happy that this piece is high in the rankings because of it’s mention of sustainably harvesting leeks – something I cringe when is omitted from any mention of ramps.

#6 Thinking of Buying a Pressure Canner?
From 2010 I hope this article has helped people launch into pressure canning and am really excited that people are getting more and more excited about other types of preserving beyond waterbathing – which I love but doesn’t offer the full range of possibilities multiple preservation techniques can (CAN – get it?!?)

#5 About (Page)
Dana and I have had re-doing the ‘about’ page ever since we started the blog.  These things are really tough to write about oneself  and even more bizarre to think about.  Any one have any input?  🙂

#4 Canning Tomato Sauce – Time to Jar
From 2009, this is an item of personal pride and I’m thrilled that this is viewed as much as it is.  Canning tomatoes with my family is the absolute peak preserving experience to me.  We eat them effortlessly without even thinking of them as preserves and sauce is just an absolutely lovely thing to make, share and have.

#3 The Periodic Table of Waterbath Preserving (Our Latest Article in Edible Toronto)
From 2011, our centerfold in Edible Toronto that went nearly viral.  It was an exciting day when it launched – the buzz around the table was fantastic.  This piece took around 100 hours to produce and was a labor of love and we’re glad so many got behind it and excited about it.

#2 Possible the Best Homemade Calzone Recipe (Technique) Ever
From 2011, my obsession with pizza and making dough and calzone from scratch apparently got a lot of interest.  This post continues to get new links to it all the time and I imagine it’s going to stay in the ‘Top’ list for some time to come.  It’s BY FAR my most demanding recipe and the results really work – in fact we have a full calzone in the fridge right now, bottom in tact, that’s ready to be re-warmed for lunch. 🙂

#1 Preserving (Page)
This page was created this year as a temporary page until we could finish our menu system (boy it takes a long time to come up with a system to index 1,200 articles and then start to retroactively do so!).  I’m predicting that we’ll get the menu done soonish and that we’ll actually delete this page this year!  So there’s lots of room for other pages to sneak their way up to #1 for next year!

Thank you all for your visits, sharing and participation – and Happy New Year to you!

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For most of the rest of the year (and perhaps a bit into the next), I’m going to share reflections of the last year and what I’ve learned in the kitchen.  Sometimes daily posts miss the flavour of the larger lessons so this is an attempt to take a step back and share the lessons that I’ve taken from the last 365 days.  We’d love to know what you’ve learned this year too!

This may only apply to those who write out there but it is an important lesson of the year: we’re learning where this project fits in our life.

Dana and I no longer think of WellPreserved as a blog.  We’re not really sure what it is any more but know it includes:

  • Daily posting on a blog-type website
  • Daily interactions with others on:
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • Pinterest (generally less than daily)
    • Instagram
  • Cooking demos
  • Hosting events

It’s not a complaint nor a means to brag – but it is important to note that this wasn’t an easy balance at times.  We shared the mechanics of how we find the time back in November but I suppose the lesson here wasn’t so much about finding the time in so much as it was at how it’s become far easier to find the balance between life and a project like this.  In some ways it’s become both more and less important at the same time.  Although this is a silly analogy (WellPreserved is not nearly life-and-death and is a fun hobby), I suppose it’s a bit like air – it’s something that we do/use without really noticing it’s there.  Unlike air, we’re not dependent on it for survival.

It’s been very helpful that both of us are involved in it.  We don’t always have the same vision but we’re heading in the same direction and it’s a tonne of fun to be doing this as a team.  Neither of us is sure how long the project will go on for but we’re 100% committed for now and that’s good enough for us.

Dana and I made the chance to do some brainstorming yesterday – looking at the year ahead and some of our plans for the blog.  We’re really excited about what’s coming and hope you will be too!  We’re also excited about how it will fit into our lives and not force our life into it – which I think is the ultimate answer to where WellPreserved fits and how we keep it going…

What do you do to ensure your life isn’t consumed by projects or lists of tasks?

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For most of the rest of the year (and perhaps a bit into the next), I’m going to share reflections of the last year and what I’ve learned in the kitchen.  Sometimes daily posts miss the flavour of the larger lessons so this is an attempt to take a step back and share the lessons that I’ve taken from the last 365 days.  We’d love to know what you’ve learned this year too!

It’s a cliché that simple food tastes great.  Like most clichés, it became one because it’s simply true.

The first time I cooked for Dana (about 7 years ago) was a holy mess.  I made spaghetti sauce for the weekend.  Yep, enough for the whole weekend.  I lost track at how many ingredients I used after number 17 went into the pot (an entire head of garlic, chopped finely).  I was a better cook than I showed that weekend but I’ve learned a whole lot more since then (with lots left to learn) – especially when it comes to restraint.

A turning point happened a four or five years ago when Dana took me to see Canadian Celebrity Chef Michael Smith.  I loved his style of cooking (especially his show ‘Chef at Home’ which stressed cooking without recipes – ironically the same show has spawned at least two cookbooks) and his enthusiasm.  We sat in an auditorium at the Canadian National Exhibition to an almost empty room when the Chef presented a few simple recipes.  He presented a few Golden rules and the one that stuck with me was ‘as long as you only use a few ingredients you can use a LOT of them.’  Consider:

  • The amount of pepper (but relatively low ingredients) on a pepper steak.
  • Eating roasted garlic spread on toast.
  • The amount of vinegar in a pickle should be overwhelming – and isn’t.
  • Lobster dipped covered in butter and garlic is something that works.

You get the idea – you can go wild with a single ingredient as long as you don’t use a lot of them.  Smith also left me with the sage advice that many Chinese stir-frys used 5-different colours of ingredients and you could cook a great stir fry with almost any 5 different-colored ingredients (something difficult when eating locally in winter).

But it took a few years to really learn what this restraint and ‘going wild’ meant.  We’ve been fortunate to eat at some of Toronto’s better restaurants this year  (more on how in another ‘something we’ve learned post’) and the Chef’s have laid out example-after-example of such restraint.  It truly is amazing how a relatively small amount of ingredients with the right balance pack a flavourful punch that somehow brings more taste from them than if you had packed the dish full of the same ingredients.  The balance of their flavours with less quantity allows your mouth to perceive the flavours individually and creates an orchestra greater than they could do on their own – or in greater quantity.

Perhaps this is still murky, so let’s go with an example.  A few weeks ago we had a friend over as we waited on dinner reservations (at the amazing Beast Restaurant in Toronto).  We knew we had a large meal ahead of us but were a little peckish mid-afternoon.  In the past I would have defaulted to spaghetti or a heavy soup.  I knew we needed something light so started with what we had in the fridge.  A quick, fine chop, of 2-3 seasonal vegetables, a bit of garlic and ginger and we were off to the races.  The veggies were briefly sweated down in some oil before being covered with broth.  A slow simmer for a few minutes melded the flavours together and it was poured on top of some soba noodles we cooked at the same time.  A very simple broth soup that just punched the flavours of everything without muddling them together.  Simple goodness.

One thing I’ve found in the journey to simplicity: the size of your ingredients matter greatly.  Items of similar texture (i.e. an onion and a pepper) are almost always chopped to the same size and the chunks are relatively small.  Perhaps this is an amateur observation but cutting my veggies smaller for such things (like these which we used for turkey calzone after the Holidays) have made a huge difference in my cooking and melding of flavours:

What are ways you simplify your cooking to bring out the best in the ingredients you work with?

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Today marks the third anniversary (and beginning of our fourth year) of the day I slept in and the blog was born (the complete story on the birth of our website was told back in 2009).  I often wonder what would have happened if I didn`t sleep in that day and if this project would have happened otherwise.

I spent some time yesterday reflecting of the day before our third anniversary – neither of us had considered launching a blog and would have laughed if you would have suggested that the next day would launch 3-years of daily posting.

I really want to share thanks to those of you who read, share and comment.  The last year has been really special to us and it wouldn`t happen without the support of the community the community here.  Thank you for your support and involvement.

Some of the major accomplishments from last year:

  • Our first solo-events (there will be a LOT more announced in the next week or two).
  • Our second-year cooking at the Evergreen Brickworks Slowfood picnic.
  • Our first appearance in cookbooks.
  • Our first appearance in (multiple) newspapers and other media (including CNN`s Etocracy)
  • Our first kids-preserving workshop
  • An overwhelming response to Pimp-That-Preserve 2011 – both from people sharing their entries and the number of voters we’ve had.
  • The soft-launch of our online store and our first shipments of posters and art.

I think the one thing that gets me most excited is the Facebook group – we had avoided it for a long time, concerned it would add a lot of work and dilute the messages we were trying to share.  What we`ve found is the opposite – because people are on Facebook more than checking a blog like this, the conversation is more fluid and the feeling of community real.  It is the space where people interact with each other, share tips and all sorts of passion around food, cooking, preserving and more.  There is nothing more exciting about this project than seeing people engage with each other and trying recipes and sharing feedback to us and others; where writing becomes action.

That community has grown from 200 people to almost 3,000 in the last year – again, thanks to all of your sharing, commenting and excitement for these topics.

If I was to be greedy enough to have a birthday wish it would be a simple request: What would you like to see from Well Preserved in the future?  We`re open to all ideas and will do our best to incorporate as many as we can…

Happy Birthday to YOU – the community that really is Well Preserved…

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The first time I heard the expression `Umami` was in 2010 – Chef David Kinch was addressing a packed house at Terroir IV (a symposium primarily for te food industry that we`ve attended for the last 2 years).  It`s a Japanese word that describes the `5th` taste (in addition to sweet, bitter, sour and salty).  While most now accept that it is a unique taste, debates were common in the last 10 years as to whether umami was an independent taste – most now agree that it is and that there may be more unique tastes we can detect but we haven`t identified them yet.

And of course the traditional `map of the tongue`was thrown out too (something I learned this year).

The translation of `umami` varies widely.  I`ve heard it most commonly referred to as `savory` while I`ve also seen references to salty + savory and even glutamate.   MSG is packed with umami – some arguing that it is the only true representation of umami.  There`s some interesting arguments starting to appear in defence of MSG but that is an entire series of posts unto their own…

Examples of Umami-rich foods include:

  • Tomatoes (and sauce)
  • Aged food (i.e. cheese)
  • fermented food
  • Lobster
  • Ketchup
  • Soy sauce
  • Seafood
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Fish Sauce
  • Mushrooms
  • Vinegar, especially aged balsamic and ume boshi

For most of the rest of the year (and perhaps a bit into the next), I’m going to share reflections of the last year and what I’ve learned in the kitchen.  Sometimes daily posts miss the flavour of the larger lessons so this is an attempt to take a step back and share the lessons that I’ve taken from the last 365 days.  We’d love to know what you’ve learned this year too!

In short, Umami-rich foods are pretty much my all-time favourites.  For years I thought I needed warm food and hot lunches to be saited – I`ve come to learn that what I really crave is umami and that I can reach greater satisfaction on fewer calories (if desired) by exploiting this taste.

Chef Kinch went one step further at Terroir V this year, stating, `We examine every dish to check for the presence of umami – if it`s not there, we find a way to incorporate it.`  I`ve adopted a similar approach and while I don`t add it 100% of the time, the percentage is extremely high.

How do you incorporate umami into your cooking?  Is it something important or an afterthought?  What`s your favorite flavour (i.e. sweet, salty, sour, bitter or umami)?

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For most of the rest of the year (and perhaps a bit into the next), I’m going to share reflections of the last year and what I’ve learned in the kitchen.  Sometimes daily posts miss the flavour of the larger lessons so this is an attempt to take a step back and share the lessons that I’ve taken from the last 365 days.  We’d love to know what you’ve learned this year too!

A big lesson from 2011: making bread and pasta by hand isn`t hard, doesn`t take a long time and is relatively easy.  I`d told myself that it was `too tough` and that I was `a cook, not a baker.`  I now find myself angry that many cookbooks and cooking shows make the task of making bread sound far more difficult than it actually is.  The truth is, it couldn`t be much easier.

Here`s some of our best bread and pasta of the year (other than no-knead bread we`d never made bread before):

What bread and pasta do you enjoy making – or want to try?

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For most of the rest of the year (and perhaps a bit into the next), I’m going to share reflections of the last year and what I’ve learned in the kitchen.  Sometimes daily posts miss the flavour of the larger lessons so this is an attempt to take a step back and share the lessons that I’ve taken from the last 365 days.  We’d love to know what you’ve learned this year too!

The concept of family style service in a restaurant is not new to me.  It essentially means that dishes are shared amongst diners as opposed to each one ordering an individual meal.  It’s not entirely common in North America (although it can be debated that is changing) although it is absolutely commonplace in the rest of the world.

Growing up in Markham (a suburb of Toronto), I was able to enjoy an abundance of authentic Asian dining in my early 20s (the ‘Chinese’ restaurants of my youth were very North American and featured Chicken Balls and other ‘Asian’ treats and generally had a name that included ‘Garden’ or “Rose’ in it’s name).  Markham went from being very Caucasian to very diverse in a short period of time and this led to a lot of culinary experiences that just weren’t available previously.

Dana and I both recall separate experiences of dining with friends who got great joy out of teasing us for ordering ‘our own’ dinners.  Food was meant to be ordered communally and shared as such.  It’s a tradition that took some getting used to and one that’s taken far longer to grow on me than I would have expected.

As we’ve had the pleasure of traveling the flavours of the world within our own city limits (something that you can do with ease here), I’ve found the communal dinner spreads across many cultures.  We’ve had the pleasure of feasting on (friend and sometimes client) Massimo Bruno‘s traditional Italian feasts and have really enjoyed the act of passing a communal salad or bowl of pasta across the table.

We’ve also found ourselves spoiled in the company of some of Toronto’s great restaurants (like a recent meal at Beast) and found ourselves passing sharable plates and enjoying each others company, conversation and observation on what we were experiencing together.

Communal sharing of a meal changes the experience of eating.  Each diner is joined in the act of the meal together – from serving each other to passing plates and to the obvious connection that they are tasking the same thing.  A crowd dynamic is tested when an ‘odd number’ of portions arrives and the group must decide who will miss a serving or if there’s some alternate way to share it than simply diving in.  The conversation and intimacy of the meal completely changes and what you’re eating is somehow more connected to the meal rather than being an afterthought.

I thought this was an appropriate post to share for Christmas – for us today is the largest communal meal of the year.  So if you celebrate Christmas, have a merry one!  And, regardless of what you celebrate, I encourage you to share a meal soon!

Do you eat communally?  What do you enjoy about it or not?

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