Archive for the ‘Purveyors’ Category

Gimme My Burrata!

Beets, Burrata, Etc

When the Everyman and I were in Chicago recently, we went to a restaurant called The Publican for dinner that we’d heard amazing things about.

One of the items they had on their menu that I absolutely had to order was a chilled beet and burrata salad, because a girl can never have too much burrata.

Imagine my dismay when the plate set before me was covered with daubs of ricotta cheese instead (and I like ricotta!)

Receiving no explanation as to why there was no burrata, I half-heartedly ate my salad, all the while inwardly sulking over the missing cheese.  Had the place been less packed and frantic, I would have said something about it, but it hardly seemed worth the fuss at the time.

Since then, I’ve been unable to get that combination off my mind.  So, after a trip to Cheese Boutique this week, I decided to recreate it myself.

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All The Flavours Of The Rainbow

The Flavour Thesaurus

When I was out the other day buying that ridiculously overpriced ice pop maker, I also happened to be in the neighbourhood of The Cookbook Store which was coincidentally just the place where I had a birthday gift certificate from my mother in law burning a hole in my wallet.

Knowing my habits fairly well, I have never allowed myself to set foot inside their store before.  Since I already own several hundred cookbooks (and counting) going here even semi-regularly would just be a really bad idea.  But, I had the gift certificate and I was in the area so I figured I might as well kill 2 birds with 1 stone, right?

Just as I suspected, The Cookbook Store was a beautifully curated room devoted to nothing but books on epicurean delights.  It was pure heaven for a food/print nerd like me.  After perusing the store languidly for nearly half an hour, I was in the unenviable position of finding way too many books to take home with me.  Standing firm, I decided that I would only choose 1.  Of course, I couldn’t decide which one it should be, so I put down the whole pile and begrudgingly prepared to leave.

Out of the corner of my eye I spied this colourful tome sitting atop a stacked table and hesitated.  After quickly paging through The Flavour Thesaurus I immediately knew that this was the book for me.  Aside from the vibrant colour wheel on the cover and the fuchsia-tinged pages, the concept of the book resonated with me.  Since I don’t often cook from actual recipes, being able to easily identify clever flavour pairings is right up my alley especially when they’re collected all in one handy reference place!

Author Niki Segnit divides the book into 16 central flavour profiles, such as woodland, marine, bramble & hedge, sulfurous, etc and then divides each group into several pertinent subsections (i.e. sulfurous contains cabbage, brussels sprouts, eggs, etc).  Each subsection then lists ingredients that pair well with the highlighted base foods in a manner reminiscent of a textbook entry.  Some suggestions, such as artichoke and lemon or broccoli and cheese will come as no surprise to even the most casual reader, but more subtle pairings such as anise and rhubarb and parsnip and banana definitely intrigued me.  Proving that the book is also on the pulse of the culinary world, the au courant chocolate bacon marriage gets a nod, too.

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And I Killed Some Prawns, Just To Watch Them Die

See The Whites Of Their Eyes

As someone who developed a fairly serious allergy to most varieties of shellfish during the past few years (severe enough that I now carry an epi-pen) I don’t often consume much in the way of shellfish.

But last year, after eating smoked prawns at The Black Hoof, I fell head over heels in love with one of the few crustaceans I’m still capable of eating.  BC spot prawns are generally sold fresh (read: alive) and are only available for a few brief months each year, starting in May and usually stretching through to July or August.  I can’t quite explain it, but there is something so much more creamy, sweet and delicately briny about spot prawns than any other shellfish I’ve ever sampled before.  Being that they also don’t induce anaphylaxis in me doesn’t hurt either.

I’ve tried in vain to find them frozen on several occasions, only to come up empty handed.  A few weeks ago when I searched for them at the St Lawrence Market, 2 out of 3 fishmongers had no idea what I was even asking for and the third outright said they didn’t carry them.  Faced with being at a loss for a second season in a row, I half-heartedly reached out to the obsessives on Chowhound who were surprisingly adept at pinpointing several places in the GTA that could help a sister out (I’ve had mixed success with reaching out for help on Chowhound, so I honestly wasn’t expecting much).  Most of the suggestions were out of the way for this non-driver, in the burbs of Scarborough and such, but one happened to be right downtown.  The T&T Supermarket on Cherry St even had spot prawns advertised in their circular, so I emphatically coerced the Everyman into letting me take my practice drive for the day over to said grocery store.

Once we got there, we found a large tank at the back of the store teeming with the vibrant pink beauties.  The tank was overcrowded though, so the spot prawns didn’t seem as lively as I had expected them to be, though they were certainly still alive.  Asking for 2 pounds, the fishmonger deftly scooped them out of the tank with a net, which set the previously docile prawns to wildly thrashing about.  Once bagged and tagged, I didn’t waste much time before exiting the store and returning home.  Live stuff generally doesn’t stay alive for long when trapped in a small plastic bag.  As a last ditch effort at giving me the finger, the spikiness of the prawns managed to pierce a hole in their bag unbeknownst to me and leak seawater all over the floor mat of my car.  Note to future intrepid purchasers of live prawns – always place them into a cooler or some other hard bottomed storing device when travelling, so as not to suffer the same fate, unless you enjoy washing floor mats for fun.

At home, I had no concept of how to prepare live prawns, and after turning to the internet I was faced with the realization that I had to rip off their heads.  The picture above is what was left of the prawn heads once I accomplished that task; an experience I found more than a little chilling since they were still moving about.

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Do Me A Fava, Will Ya?

The Raw Shit

When I was at the market this past weekend, 2 of the other luxuries of spring that I came across were fresh fava beans and fiddleheads.

To the best of my knowledge I’ve never eaten a fresh fava bean before; I’m actually trying to grow purple favas on the roof, but in the meantime these seemed like an acceptable substitute to test drive.  And we all know how much I love fiddleheads, so of course I had to buy some of those too.  Is there anything that signifies spring more than these dainty and curly ferns?

But soon after I paid for the goods, the question became what to do with such delicate beauties?

The asparagus bounty was easy enough to tackle, and in a move I’m not necessarily proud of (yet wouldn’t do any differently if I had to do it over) the Everyman and I consumed 4 pounds of the stuff in less than 72 hours.  In case you’re wondering, that’s a heck of a lot of asparagus salad.  It was only a pound that went into this dish, courtesy of our most recent Meatless Monday.

Over a gentle simmer I combined milk, veggie stock and water in a pot.  Then I added a cup and a half of polenta and began the furious stir.  As it approached a bubblingly critical mass, I briefly stopped churning and grated a few ounces of mixed cheeses (pecorino pepato, 1608, manchego and mozzarella) into a pile that was then incorporated into the polenta.  Allowing it to cool and firm up slightly, I sautéed a pound of asparagus with some fiddleheads, fava beans and a few sliced mini red peppers for colour.

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First Meals Of Spring

Figgy Deliciousness

Every year for Mother’s Day, the Everyman and I go to a brunch buffet with all of his extended family at his grandfather’s golf club in the K-W.

And every year, we come home from these smörgåsbords of deliciousness full of so much good food to the point of illness, as does most everyone else in the family.

Of course, this year was no different, and even I gorged myself on buttery soft rare roast beef, oodles of chilled shrimp and mounds of pea and asparagus salad.  Generally, after these events if we end up eating dinner, it’s bound to be something light.

Several hours after the feasting, the only thing I felt up to was the gentle taste of spring.  Luckily for me I’d made a stop at the St. Lawrence Market on Saturday, and picked up 4 pounds of asparagus and a few pints of figs, among other things.  Sautéing a few pounds of stalks in a beurre noisette until they bloomed a vibrant green, they were then tossed with salt, pepper, halved figs, parmagiano shavings and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  If you wanted to add some more protein to it, you could always wend a few slivers of prosciutto around the spears, but personally, I love it just the way it is.

Vive le printemps!

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Soma-mbulatory Persuasion

Cocoa Beanie And Friends

Last weekend, the Everyman and I had the opportunity to dip into Soma Chocolatemaker before catching Glengarry Glen Ross at Soulpepper.

Now, I fully admit that the Distillery District is one of those areas of Toronto I don’t spend nearly enough time in, especially considering the sheer number of artisans packed into its demure acreage.  But, now that we have semi-regular tickets at Soulpepper and I’m spending my Saturday afternoons in the general vicinity, I’m sure passing through the cobbled arches will become much more common.

On our latest trip, aside from picking up a few items for a housewarming gift (FYI the tumbled green Iranian raisins are awesome, apparently) I decided to help myself to a few products for personal consumption.  Chief amongst these was the barberry Soma tube; an 18 inch long truffle bar that’s meant for sharing, but that I’ve only begrudgingly allowed the Everyman to nibble once.  The bar comes sealed in a folded cardboard tube that contains some of the most mind-bendingly complex chocolate accents I’ve ever tasted.  I chose it for its nut free countenance, which is speckled with barberries (natch), handmade toffee, roasted cacao nibs and feuilletine.  And though I’ve barely worked my way through a third of it, I’m already planning when I can return to the store to procure more of this limited edition deliciousness.  I also used my purse to smuggle tumbled espresso beans, a few bags of varied cacao nibs and a shiny packaged microbatch chocolate bar from the prying eyes of the theatre coat check clerk once we were done.

On top of that, Soma even carries whole cacao pods too, so of course I couldn’t resist buying a few of those either.  I have absolutely no clue what I’m going to do with them yet (having already used straight cacao nibs to make my own homemade chocolate liqueur) but in the meantime whilst I figure it out, I’m just hoping our cats don’t abscond with them.

I wasn’t convinced of the awesomeness of Soma on my first visit a while back, but after greedily hoarding that barberry bar, I’m definitely a believer.

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I Came, I Saw, I Ramp-ed It Up

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Ah, ramps.

What has this year been debated as one of foraging’s most overrated bounties are nonetheless one of my most cherished harbingers of spring.

There’s no doubt that I also adore other seasonal offerings like fiddleheads and asparagus, but in my overall stratosphere they aren’t really locally accessible just yet.  Ramps typically come first, signalling my springtime appetite to perk itself up a bit.

And so, I continue to content myself with ramps until others come along, their pungent edible bulbs so funkily sweet and tender.

As I mentioned on Monday, my first ramp preparation of the year was a fragrant ramp butter mixed into a batch of saltwater potatoes.  Delicious as it was, I was confident that even better dishes were yet to come, I just wasn’t certain what those dishes would be yet.

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Not Too Late To The Party

Leaves Of Plenty

Though it’s not yet May, this year I’ve often worried that I might have missed the window for Ontario ramps and wild fiddleheads.

With a warmer than normal March and April, these edible delicacies have been popping up much earlier than usual, which leaves me without farmer’s markets to buy them from, since all of the markets in my area don’t start up until mid May or June.  Last year we found them at The Cheese Boutique several times, but given my tendency to grossly overspend every time I cross their threshold, I wasn’t keen on the idea of heading over there just to get a couple pounds of ramps.

But then, on the way home from the Green Living Show yesterday, the serendipitous happened.

As I was walking along Dundas West, huddled against the wind and the rain, I noticed a lone sandwich board announcing a grand opening.  It turns out that Provenance Regional Cuisine has rented out some space in the existing Palmerston Cafe and is now a mini pop-up style grocery store.  I walked in to investigate, but since the Everyman and I were about to hurry off to a Cowbell brunch, I only made the most cursory glance of the products on offer.  Promising the counter staff that I would return, several hours later the Everyman and I did.

And what a bounty we found.  Not only is the place gorgeously curated, but it finally offers a place to buy local, sustainable meat that’s only a 3 minute walk from our house, as opposed to the 20 minute jaunt it takes me to get to The Healthy Butcher.  After a few minutes I managed to procure a bundle of ramps, as well as some homemade crostini, dried cranberry beans, sweet potato flour and more.  With the ramps firmly in hand, all that was left was to devise how to use them. (more…)

Have Foodie, Will Travel

Pirate Booty

I doubt it would surprise any of our readers to know that whenever I travel, one of my favourite things to do is seek out a local grocery store.

Regardless of whether I happen to be in another province (like our trip to Quebec City last year) or another country, I get an inordinate amount of pleasure out of rooting around to find out what other people like to eat.

Of course, our trip to Aruba last week was no different, so we headed to the store.  Being that it’s a Dutch island, it also happens to be influenced by a cuisine that is popular in Holland; Indonesian.  Thus, much of what I brought home has a slightly Asiatic tinge.

The various products I smuggled in my suitcase included Isinglass (which I think is some form of gelatin thread and according to the package is used in a drink called Irish Moss), something called Gourmet Powder (whose ingredients are salt and MSG), a small jar of sambal oolek, tiny dried shrimps, Pickapeppa sauce, Indonesian flavour paste (which I now think is boullion), tiny cups of something called Tamarindo en Vasil El Liberatador, a block of guava paste, and a massive whole nut Dairy Milk bar that my hungry self succumbed to while perusing duty free.  Also procured but not shown was a bottle of sipping tequila called Milagro, and several bottles of the elusive in Toronto (but utterly delicious) Godiva chocolate liqueur.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my haul yet, but all in all, I think it’s a pretty impressive stash.

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Seasons Change

First Out

With all of the on again, off again weather we’ve had lately, it’s no wonder my green thumb has been itching to get started.

The Shelf

A little over a week ago, I spent the better part of the day preparing and seeding all of my tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and various beans.  Conveniently, the grow lamp-equipped shelf that the Everyman bought me for Christmas a few years ago made it pretty simple to start plants from seed without tying up window space.  This is important because it means it’s less likely that the cats will interfere with the delicate plants (generally speaking, they don’t like the super bright lights).

The top two shelves are usually pretty safe from kitty mischief, but this year they’ve been rather interested in the goings on of the bottom shelf, which in past years I haven’t used.  Because my ambitions for the garden this year are a little bit outsized, I had no choice but to use all 3 levels to light up my seeds, though.  There have been several instances since I installed the little seedlings in the shelving that I’ve come home and found paw sized dents in the plastic wrap tent that’s meant to hold moisture in.  Then, one morning I came down to find an ominous yellow puddle floating on top of the plastic wrap.

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Rabbit – It’s The New Pork

Ragu

I think I’ve pretty handily established how much I’ve come to enjoy cooking and eating rabbit during the last 6 months.

Coincidentally, rabbit’s profile and status has been elevated in the media lately, with some even going so far as to dub it the “gateway” animal to raising their own food.  I wouldn’t necessarily go to that extreme, seeing as I have enough small, stinky animals coexisting with me as is, but I do love to suck the meat off the bones of the occasional, delicious hare.  No longer just a popular protein for immigrant fare, rabbit it seems is beginning to come into its own, whether the mainstream is ready or not.

So, it was without hesitation that I purchased a few whole rabbits on my last 2 trips to The Healthy Butcher, even though I had no particular plans for their meaty little carcasses at the time.

Since then we’ve had rabbit braised in red wine over polenta, a ginger mustard stewed rabbit, and most recently a succulent rabbit ragu (pictured above).  We generally don’t eat a whole lot of red meat or pork on a regular basis (it’s typically one or the other about once every 2 weeks), so rabbit has been a refreshing way to break up the monotony of a diet riddled with vegetarian meals, pastas and poultry.  It’s gamey, yet mild and faintly sweet, lending itself to numerous preparations; small enough to be cooked relatively quickly, while also capable of being braised for many hours.  In our house, one might even go so far as to say that rabbit is the new pork belly, or even the new chicken!?!

While sautéing the base for said ragu on a Sunday not too long ago, I stopped to reflect on a time when I used to think ragu was merely a brand that came in a jar, and how unlikely it would’ve been for that younger me to consume a bunny rabbit (nigh on 25 years ago, I’d reckon).  Oh, how things (and opinions) have changed.  After a 6 hour simmer, the ragu I craftily prepared with a jar of my own preserved bruschetta (subbing in for canned tomatoes) melted down into the perfect, wintry sauce for blanketing a bed of hand cut egg yolk noodles.  It wasn’t the first, but it’s sure to be but one of many delicious rabbits I’ll sit down to over the course of the rest of my life.

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The Serious Mash-Up

Brothy Goodness

One of the main reasons I made a stop at Sanko this weekend was to pick up ingredients for a simmered soybean side dish that I’d read about over at Serious Eats and had been wanting to make for nearly a week and a half.  The Everyman is no fan of soybeans, but the dish sounded just perfect for me to bring to work as a relatively healthy afternoon snack, so I’d been mentally drooling over the umami-ish combination ever since.

Of course, while I was there I couldn’t help but grab a few other odds and ends that I had no specific intentions for, other than random experimentation.  Shopping in Asian stores is always fun for me, because oftentimes packages contain minimal English, so you don’t always know exactly what you’re going to get.  It’s like playing culinary roulette, just not deadly.

Rehydrated Soybeans

Once I got home with my mysterious bounty, I began prepping the dried soybeans so that the following day I could complete the recipe, while visions of deliciousness danced in my head.

Coincidentally a few days prior I had made another Serious Eats recipe, this time for something called velvet chicken, which sounded similar to san bei gi, otherwise known as 3 cup chicken.

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Interesting Things Purchased Today

New Stuff

I went to the Japanese importer Sanko down the street from my house today.

Aside from the fact that the staff kept looking at me like I was horribly out of place, I came away with a good haul of stuff for some experimentation later this week.

Here’s a small sampling of the bounty to pique your interest; it includes udon, kombu, mirin, bonito and a seaweed/sesame sprinkling concoction.

Yum!

Until next time…