Posts Tagged ‘food’

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…

Reminiscences

I don’t remember a lot about my childhood, but what I do seems to be inextricably linked to food.

In a way, I suppose I was destined to become a foodie, though at the time I wouldn’t have thought so…

When I was around 4 or 5, I was standing on a chair at the stove, watching my older sister preparing something delicious for me to eat.  Completely oblivious, I put my hand down on the glaring red element to reach for a cookie jar in the cupboard above the stove.  Lesson number one; always pay attention in the kitchen.

I recall how my parents used to refer to me as “chipmunk cheeks” because this foodie never liked to eat.  I’d sit at the dinner table for hours, stuffing my face until my cheeks ballooned.  My parents would often attempt to wait me out and sit there trying to coerce me into eating my supper, but eventually they would give up, leaving me alone at the table to finish, at which point I would spit all of the food into my napkin and flush it down the toilet.  Lesson number two; not everything that is put in front of you is worth eating.

Being sick always meant I got my two favourite foods; buttered bagels and chocolate ice cream, and a chance to watch Mary Poppins on the living room couch.  I’d like to think I was ahead of the curve on that whole dipping fries into chocolate shakes trend, as I used to dip my bagels into the melty ice cream.  Lesson number three; sweet and savoury do mix.

I never got to see my mom.  She worked as a chef, which meant she slept before I left for school, and was gone by the time I made it home.  On rare occasions I was allowed to visit her at the restaurant, which has always stuck with me.  I’d sit at a banquette near the back, happily slurping down the best food the 80′s had to offer a 5 year old pipsqueak like me; tri-coloured rotini with spicy sweet honey garlic Italian sausage.  Yum!  Lesson number four; pasta will please any child.

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Birthdays At The Foodie’s House

Angel Food Cake, Figs And Strawberries, With Crown Royal Ice Cream

Yesterday was the Everyman’s 29th birthday.

If you were to ask him, he’d probably tell you that it is a holiday in Ontario because he was born (he’s so ridiculous).  It’s funny too, because I know 3 people who were born on that day; the Everyman, his sister in law, and an old coworker/friend from my previous job.  The Everyman tells me he also shared this birthdate with one of his grandfathers, but I never got to meet him.  It’s a small world after all, I guess…

Aleppo Chicken, Wheatberries And Chili Corn

At any rate, one tradition I’ve always loved is allowing the birthday celebrant to pick whatever they’d like to eat, and then preparing it for them.  We’d been to The Black Hoof on Sunday after having a craving for ‘nduja (what with mine not being quite ready yet) plus we’d been out to eat for lunch as research for an upcoming Taste T.O. piece I’m working on, so we were both really jonesing for some home-cooked fare.

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There Go(es) My Hero(es)

I think it goes without saying that Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and Mrs. Obama are some of my heroes.

I also can’t forget the guys behind King Corn, who have a new documentary coming out this winter called Truck Farm, that deals with their quest to grow a market garden in the confines of the flatbed of a pickup truck.  It’s such a stupidly funny concept that it’s got me wondering why I didn’t think of that.  But to my credit, I am growing most of my food in ugly kiddie pools.

All of these ongoing efforts to bring the campaign for healthy, local, sustainable food to North America are admirable in their dedication, and are definitely not going unnoticed.  More than ever people are taking an interest, whether by reading labels, shopping at farm stands or just growing their own food at home.  We’re witnessing a pivotal moment that could shape the way that food is mass-produced for the children of tomorrow.

However, a few recent articles have put me on to two other people whose goals I admire.  Over at NY Times, you can read about Will Allen, a former professional basketball player who is now putting his talents to use by growing crops and feeding people in urban food ghettos.  The man’s charisma literally oozes off the page, with an aw-shucks kind of quality to everything he says.  Not only is he changing the world, but he’s humble about it, too.

Building on the concept of aquaculture, there was an article about this guy in the Globe and Mail about two weeks ago.  I’m not a huge fan of most cooked fish though I adore sushi, and I would never have a use for one of these setups, but nonetheless, I think what he’s doing is amazing.  It’s that kind of fringe thinking that makes me optimistic that our global community can find a path to sustainability.

And then there’s Jamie Oliver; during the last 2 months The Food Network has been airing a whole slew of his programs geared toward food awareness.  First there was Jamie’s Ministry Of Food, which focused on teaching a town in England to cook.  It was so popular that it’s been picked up for a US version that will feature Ryan Seacrest (ugh!)  Then there was the kitschy, slightly game show-esque Jamie’s Eat To Save Your Life, in which the charming Oliver gets all bedecked in a ridiculous looking suit and perambulates around the stage, informing 18 Brits about the many ways that their terrible eating habits are quietly killing them.  Using shock and horror to poignant effect, one segment shows a woman sitting in a bathtub filled with all the fat she would consume in 5 years at the rate she was going.  The next one hour episode in the series, Jamie’s Fowl Dinners shows a room full of guests excited to have a dinner cooked by Oliver being educated on the vast differences between free range and battery farm chickens instead.  Jamie even manages to get an interview and inside look at one of these battery farmhouses, which is more than could be said for the guys behind Food Inc. It’s seriously disturbing, from the way the coops are extremely overcrowded, to the fact that most of the chickens can barely walk, right down to the end of the show where Oliver learns and demonstrates how to humanely dispatch a chicken.  It’s not something you’d necessarily want to see, but if you’re going to eat meat, you should be able to stomach how it happens.  As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also got an episode on pork (yet to air in Canada) cheekily named Jamie Saves Your Bacon.  I suppose if anyone can do it, Jamie probably can, although even I will admit that after a while some of the shock-rockery of his schtick gets a little bit old.

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The Pervasiveness Of Food Porn

Nom

Years ago, the term food porn primarily referred to those glossy spreads of salaciously styled meals in culinary magazines or chef-authored cookbooks.

The food itself almost seemed to take a back seat to the implications that one could not possibly enjoy a meal unless it was as artfully arranged as that displayed between the covers.  As entertaining as it might be to flippantly peruse the pages of the latest foodie publications, all of this imposed perfection has the detrimental effect of discouraging home cooks from actually cooking anything, by setting them up for failure.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought twice about trying a recipe (on the rare occasion I use one) because the accompanying photographs left me with an uneasy sense of dread, knowing that whatever I made would never look like this.  To that end, I don’t subscribe to many foodie magazines anymore, whereas at one time I couldn’t move around my tiny apartment without tripping over a stack of Gourmet, Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, etc.  Now I tend to focus on magazines with a purpose that is more substantial than superficial or skin deep, like Edible Toronto.

Plus, now I have the internet when I need a fix of some food porn…

First there were sites like FoodPorn, then came Tastespotting, Foodgawker, Photograzing, and countless others.  The community-driven visual potluck (as Tastespotting calls itself) is page upon page of softly lit, flawlessly portioned food, each photo portraying fare that is more preciously unattainable than the last.  On several occasions I’ve submitted content to Tastespotting and Foodgawker, only to have the editors inform me that my food is not appealing enough.  While I suppose that charcuterie’s heyday has not yet hit its apex of popularity, I still think that my photos had some merit.  It’s nice to know that society’s consistent across the board now in judging food solely on it’s looks, as we do with just about everything (and everyone) else (sic).  Though I still keep tabs on a few of these sites today, I find that instead of being a place to share all manner of food photography, they’ve become an exercise in unrealistic one-upsmanship.

They say that you eat with your eyes first, and to a certain extent I agree.  However, throughout history there have been many dishes and even whole cuisines whose appeal goes far beyond their rustically plebian presentations.  One dish in particular that comes to mind is the Italian dessert brutti ma buoni, which roughly translates to ugly, but good.  The meringue-like cookies, which are typically chock full of pinenuts, hazelnuts, almonds and orange zest, might not have the visual fireworks of a New York Black And White, but they are quietly tasteful, and still pretty darn good.  And truly, if we only concerned ourselves with ingesting “pretty” food, we wouldn’t have sludge like Taco Bell, now would we?  As with people and all things in nature, just because something isn’t beautiful, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.  A well-prepared veal cutlet on a bun is a delicious treat, but in most cases is nothing to look at.  There’s no reason that visual blahness should invalidate its culinary significance.  At the end of the day, taste should be the overriding priniciple that we are striving to achieve.

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Are We Hooked On Food?

Growing up I often wondered if I had an addiction to food.

As I became an adult, I would jokingly offer it up for conversation when asked if I had vices.

Food has always seemed to hold a great deal more fascination for me than for most other people I know.  I relish eating it, I enjoy preparing it, and in my off time I take pleasure in reading (and writing) about it.  For a long time I naively assumed that most people felt like this, that there were 2 kinds of people when it came to food; those who live to eat and those who eat to live.  But, as I’ve grown older, I find the more I talk to others about food, the more I encounter glazed looks of incomprehension.  To wit, it seems I have become a “food geek”.

Over the years I’ve been all sorts of shapes and sizes too, owing to my complex relationship with food.  From the rail thin years, to the Rubenesquely plump ones, (again, thanks to Mr. Lee for searing those words permanently into my consciousness) my love affair with food has seen me at all points in between.  The worst was probably in 2003-ish, (what I fondly refer to as my binge-drinking bender years) when a friendly cashier who I often chit-chatted with at the grocery store inquired when I was due.  What made up for it was the sheer look of horror on her face when I sputtered that I was not pregnant at the time, and the back-pedaling that ensued.  A rule to live by when it comes to women; if you’re not sure, don’t ask.  You only risk making yourself look like an insensitive moron if you’re wrong.

At any rate, back to food.

It used to be that addictions were primarily the stigma of gamblers and druggies, but it seems like modern day psychiatry and psychology have expanded their definition.  Now we have addictions to sex, addictions to pain, addictions to just about anything you can dream up.  So why not food?

From personal experience I can tell you that while I happen to overindulge in certain kinds of foods (chocolate, great bread, charcuterie, cheese and Tempranillos, specifically) I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a food I felt inclined to eat so badly that I wasn’t able to stop.  I don’t suffer from Doritos-itis or Pringle-ocity, just the occasional bouts of rampant gluttony.  My brand of obsession is slightly more complicated; I have an affectation for diversity.  When I go out, I want to consume as many different flavours as possible, and I’ve often said that if I were to ever open a restaurant one day, it would be for those people who are just like me.  I envision a place specializing in tiny nibbles of all manner of things, from a duck confit sliver, to a fresh fig stuffed with cheese, to a chocolate covered strawberry, I want it all… just in minuscule portions.

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Not So Convenient, Actually

I’ve said it before, but it looks like I don’t need to say it again.

Someone has finally gone and done a study to prove that convenience food isn’t actually all that convenient (nevermind the long term effects some of it will have on your health).

As it is so succinctly put in this Grist article, just because something is pre-packaged doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any easier in the end.  For example, if you use canned vegetables instead of fresh ones in a casserole dinner, you may save a few moments between opening the can vs washing and preparing a whole food, but it becomes pretty moot once you realize that the food still takes the same amount of time to cook, anyway.  Essentially, it will take you a comparable amount of time to prepare something wretched like Hamburger Helper as it would to cook fresh pasta and toss it with a quick veggie sauce.  So where’s the disconnect?  Is that extra 10 minutes or so of prep time really that hard to come by?

Food prep is relatively minimal unless you’re trying to create elaborate, multi-course meals, anyway.  This is part of the reason why I don’t understand the appeal behind the glut of prep kitchen centres that are popping up all over the burbs, lately.  Why would I want to drive there (or in my case, walk), figure out what I want to make, then pay a premium to assemble a small armies’ worth of dinners in little ziploc baggies amidst a room full of frenetic soccer moms, instead of just being mindful and planning my menus in advance?  There’s no doubt that life has become increasingly hectic, but at a certain point one has to draw the line and make time for the things that are important to them.  Health, would ideally be one such priority.

Meal planning in and of itself is a lost art that could help people save so much time in the kitchen if they bothered or knew how to use it.  Planning a week’s worth of meals and then shopping for the ingredients to prepare them is simply…smart.  You can purchase foods that might be more time-consuming to prepare, and then cook them in bulk so that they are ready for you to use several times over.  An excellent example of this would be cooking with dried beans.  Yes, they usually take 12 hours to soak, but if you soak several portions’ worth and cook them, you can save leftovers to use in other dishes.  A surprisingly small outlay of time on the front end can drastically reduce the time spent further down the road, if you have a plan.  It’s not rocket science; just another version of mise en place.

This article, published back in 2000 provides insight into the declining nature of time spent on food preparation in North America.  Looking back to the 1900’s, food prep and clean up amounted to an expenditure of 44 hours a week, which is understandable since everything was manual.  Advances in household technology throughout the 1920’s helped that number dip below 30 hours a week, and by 1975, it had plummeted to 10 hours per week, what with more women working outside the home or running single parent households.  Extrapolating from the Grist article an average of 52 minutes spent on meals today would put our modern total around the 6 hour mark, a pretty dismal amount when you think about it.  At that rate, some people probably spend more time watching TV in one day than they spend cooking over the course of 7 days!?

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Tasting Little Italy

The Taste Of Little Italy kicked off on College St. last night.

Being that Little Italy is right outside our front door, and we had such a blast last year, we made a point of heading down to the festival for dinner.

Once we got to the top of the street, we made a beeline for the completely underrated, but absolutely fantastic chili lime grilled corn from Friendly Magnolia.  This corn was the one thing we were both really looking forward to, because we’d so thoroughly enjoyed it’s smoky, salty simplicity last year.  I was also excited for a second offering that the owner of Magnolia had mentioned to me recently; a homemade funnel cake stand!  I showed amazing restraint, and held off for a bit so that I could sample some of the other fare.

Walking around, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that Italian restaurants are no longer the majority in Little Italy anymore.  Over the years it’s become more of a multicultural area and festival, but you still have Il Centro Del Formaggio, Cafe Dip, and a few others slinging decent Italian food.  We stopped at an amazing little storefront next to Riviera Bakery called Bis Gourmet that had the best selection of Italian foods, so we camped out there and went to town.  Offering tomato and bocconcini salad, puffy mini pizzas, both meat and cheese cannelonis, prosciutto and melon, hot and sweet cacciatore sausages, and the piece de resistance, a whole porchetta splayed on the table, the Everyman and I knew we had possibly found our food nirvana.  We ordered a little of everything (except for the porchetta, which was served on a gut-filling bun, and the prosciutto and melon, which wasn’t available yet) and copped a squat in front of another storefront to dig in.  Both of the cannelonis were amazingly moist and flavourful, but the meat-filled one was the clear winner with it’s smooth and slightly creamy interior and tomato and cheese studded crust.  The tomato and bocconcini salad was passable, but we both found the cheese to be slightly rubbery and unpalatable.  The pizza was killer, and the cacciatore sausage (which we purchased to take home) tasted as good as the wild boar version we’d had at Negroni.

Wandering around to see what the rest of the street had on offer, I saw that Il Centro was selling homemade tiramisu.  I had a little mental argument over my dessert options, but in the end decided to stick with the funnel cake.  The Everyman was lured to a lemonade stand by a passerby sipping on a freshly pressed glass, and wound up with a rather tart and tangy limeade.  Strolling back up the street toward home, we stopped for a funnel cake, and I ordered myself a “premium” which came with strawberries, icing sugar and my choice of flavored sauce (I opted for caramel).  The strawberries were pretty gross; being overly macerated and scooped out of a giant vat, but the funnel cake was exactly as it had been advertised to me.  Light, airy, and exceptionally fresh, it’s heady vanilla scent had festival-goers eyeing me up greedily every time they walked past.  The thing was massive, and even with the Everyman’s help I only managed to eat half, but without the strawberries, it was incredibly decadent.  I could easily go back for another today and tomorrow.

Luckily, there was way too much food around to sample in just one go, so if the weather cooperates this weekend, I plan to return for more grilled corn and other gastronomic pleasures.  Tiramisu, here I come!

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The Power Of Education

Sometimes food can be a surprisingly polarizing subject.

To some it’s simply fuel, but to others (such as myself) it’s a near-constant obsession.  I once worked with a woman who ate the same three things each and every day, and the mere thought a life of such culinary paucity and abstinence made my stomach turn.  As is often said, some people live to eat, while others eat to live, I suppose.

And as more attention is drawn to the subject of what our society feeds young minds at school, it’s become apparent how literally one can take the phrase “food for thought“.  There have been numerous studies examining the correlation between hungry bodies and diminished cognitive ability, which (along with poverty) is likely part of the driving force behind an increase in school breakfast and lunch programs.  The Toronto Foundation For Student Success runs one such program, raising money to provide TDSB schools with funding for food programs (if I’m not mistaken it used to be called Breakfast for Learning, but is now known as Feeding Our Future).  I dated the son of a woman who was heavily involved in bringing that program to fruition almost 10 years ago, so while there are many programs in the city, it’s the one I’m most familiar with.

On the other end of the spectrum, I recall an article in Edible Toronto’s Fall 2007 issue that profiled a company called Real Food For Real Kids and how they were catering lunches to daycares and schools after finding the offerings at their own child’s school inadequate (the article can be accessed from their website by clicking on the Edible Toronto link).  While the TFSS program tries to provide funding so that no child ever has to experience hunger as an impediment to learning, the RFRK approach counts on parents to pony up the fundage for nourishing their budding Einsteins.  It’s realistic to expect parents to take ownership of their child’s relationship with food, and I think healthy food is important for all children, but I don’t agree with the undercurrent of elitism that this program implies – because people (especially children) should not be denied nutrition just because their parents don’t belong to a certain tax bracket.

The presiding theory behind both programs is what’s relevant, though.  Neither organization believes in feeding children processed, freeze-dried, preservative-laden crap; rather, they intend to give kids fresh, balanced, satisfying fare.  Looking at some of the options available to children around the world, it doesn’t seem like this should be such a difficult concept to master.  Yet for some reason, in vast swatches of North America and the UK, it is.  If you’ve ever watched any of Jamie’s School Dinners, then you know how similar their situation is to the one on our side of the pond.  When I was in high school just about everything coming out of the caf was deep fried or pre-made, and pop machines were ubiquitous.  When searching for something remotely healthy, you were often met with some pretty slim pickings.  We’ve made some strides in a positive direction, but there are still way too many schools that serve those ridiculously disgusting aberrations known as “Smiles” and call them food (if you’re unfamiliar with “Smiles”, they’re a mashed potato-type product that is processed into the shape of a smiley face and served to kids as a side dish).

It would appear that the areas of the world that struggle with healthily providing for their children the most are the industrialized nations that don’t have a defining national food culture.  America, the UK (and to a lesser extent Canada), don’t have much in the way of a cuisine that is uniquely their own; at least not in the sense that we recognize bulgogi is Korean and carbonara Italian, or paneer as an Indian ingredient.  We lost our food identity (if ever we had one) a long time ago, and all we’ve replaced it with is synthetic (fast) food.  As a perfect example, someone asked the Everyman and I recently what we would consider Canada’s national dish and neither of us could come up with a steadfast answer.  My first thought was either peameal on a bun or poutine, but even those aren’t widespread enough to be considered national.  Multicultural countries are wonderful for a myriad of reasons, but one thing they seem to suck at is upholding the traditions of food.  If someone asked me what America’s national meal was, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with anything more creative than hamburgers, apple pie or tv dinners.  And you know that can’t possibly be it, but if no one is taking the time to preserve the identity and pass it on to future generations, how are we supposed to teach children the ways that we (healthfully) nourish ourselves?  Grease, sugar and empty calories have become the de facto answer, but I’m telling you, that answer is wrong.

I sometimes wonder if the lack of proper nourishment also directly increases the onslaught of online content diarrhea that has become a hallmark of the younger generation (otherwise known as the “overshare”).  Not following my meaning?  Think Facebook, Live Messenger, texting and Twitter, for example.  There have been studies that have proven how poor diet can aggravate conditions like ADHD, so it stands to reason that poor diet could also affect the concentration required to maintain one’s internal filter v.s. the constant need to spill all the vacuous minutiae of your day.  As the internet becomes ever more prevalent, it seems like nobody knows when to stop, hold back or contain themselves anymore.  The universe doesn’t need to know that you just bought a Coke or stopped to tie your shoe.  Really.  If you just had an apple instead of that slushee, perhaps we could avoid all of the resulting white noise.

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Food As A Form Of Salvation

It seems like everywhere you look lately, food is in the mainstream media.

There are the articles about food crises, like salmonella in your spinach or listeria in your deli meat.  The provenance of our food is increasingly unknown, and it’s amazing how disconnected we are as a society and how few people actually seem to care.

And you can’t forget the stories about food security or impending scarcity, and how we’re all going to hell in a handbasket for enjoying too many hamburgers or copious amounts of factory-farmed meat.  Not to mention the hullabaloo over obesity epidemics caused by the vast quantities of processed crap that most of us have become too accustomed to swallowing, making us akin to force-fed fois gras geese.

Food’s permeated entertainment media too, with movies like No Reservations, Spanglish, Ratatouille, and the soon to be released Julie and Julia using the culinary arts as their captivating backdrop.  Not one to be left out, in recent years reality television’s also jumped on the edible bandwagon with a plethora of shows to satisfy rampant foodies, like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, The Chopping Block and many more (dishonorable mention goes to the crapfest that was The Restaurant – shudder!)

While I love the vast majority of content coming out of the food media menagerie, the segment I’m most keen on (and which coincidentally is growing) is that which is focused on using food as a humanitarian equalizing aid.  There’s a whole new division of people using food to teach, transform and heal, and taking the idea of food as nourishment to it’s altruistic climax.  Jamie Oliver did it when he first started Fifteen, shepherding misguided British youth to a more purposeful existence.  Jeff Henderson took a stab at it too with his rather popular Chef Jeff Project, rehabilitating young drug dealers, gang bangers and other ne’er-do-wells by mentoring them in his catering business.  And on our side of the border, Marc Thuet is currently giving ex-cons a second chance by staffing his newest venture, Conviction with them (results supposedly will air this fall).

This seeming trend is all the more reason why the appearance of this documentary warms my heart.  I empathize with those who don’t have enough; specifically people who are marginalized and made to feel like they have no other options.  That there are kindhearted individuals finding ways to use food to unite, inspire and help those who are less fortunate is truly a godsend.  For those of us who are lucky, food is something we might not think too much about, other than for brief moments leading up to it’s consumption 3 times a day.  For others, what may have once been a cause for concern or anxiety is now becoming a lifeline for making something of themselves and seizing a golden opportunity.  Food always had the power to bring people together, but now it’s on the cusp of  becoming the medium to purport positive life change.  That’s a really amazing thing to witness.

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Abstinence Is An Anti-Social Virtue…

I am bitter.  In the general direction of the City of Toronto, actually.

My dissatisfaction stems from the fact that for years I’ve yearned for the city to allow more than just vapid, pre-cooked hotdogs to be sold by street carts.  For the last 10 years I worked downtown, impatiently waiting for this day, but also satiated by a close proximity to the St Lawrence Market and its bounty of edibles.  Now that the city has finally gotten their collective shit together and the varied food carts are almost upon us, I’m stuck in the ‘burbs, in what I quaintly refer to my ‘burb dwelling friends as Miserysauga.

I’ll admit, at my previous job I was spoiled for choice.  From 2002 to 2008 I was a hop, skip and a jump from the St Lawrence Market and took advantage of it almost every day.  There was never a need to brown-bag it with such amazingly fresh and delicious chow at my fingertips.  Then my office relocated slightly west, squarely in the middle of the theatre district.  Again, there was a dizzying array of culinary options, but most required you to have a sit down lunch.  I mourned the loss of the market, but sniffed out a few gems, Ravi Soups, Le Gourmand and Craft Burger among them.  Then in November of 2008 I accepted a new job, right in the heart of Mississauga.  Not to sound like a snob, but there is a dearth of quality food around my new office.  It’s spitting distance from Square One, but one cannot exist on shopping alone, thus I’ve been saving my pennies by brown-bagging it every day.  The worst thing about brown-bagging it is that it robs me of the opportunity to socialize with my peers, because everyone just gets sucked into eating food at their desks, alone.

This article from NOW Magazine delves into the chief problem with food courts.  It’s written with Toronto in mind, but I’d say the article is just as fitting for Mississauga, if not more so.  In Toronto I found that most of the food courts in the downtown core had at least one or two original, notable places to nosh.  A few that specifically spring to mind are Fast Fresh Foods in Commerce Court or across the hall from that, Petit Four Bakery by the people who brought us Far Niente.  At Spadina and Adelaide (as well as several other locations) there’s a Lettuce Eatery, which while on it’s way to becoming a small chain empire, still provides the opportunity to eat well and healthfully.  These vendors taught us that food need not be greasy, pre-made or bad for you, and provided a somewhat healthier alternative to all of the processed, preservative injected crap that’s normally found in food courts everywhere.  Some days it feels like penance to be so isolated that the only access to good food I have is my own.  The Everyman works in Brampton now and has it no better, so most days he gets a Foodie bagged lunch too.  It becomes exhausting at times to constantly prepare enough food to bring for well-balanced meals, and there are days that I wish I had access to somewhere that I could go and have a tasty meal in the area.  Am I just spoiled, or is there really not enough good food in Mississauga?  I welcome your thoughts, comments and recommendations and would love for someone to prove me wrong.

Until next time…

You Say Po-tay-toe, I Say Po-tah-toe, You Say ‘Nduja, I Say Wha???

Several weeks ago, while Foodgawk-ing, I came across a picture of something that looked awfully delicious, but I was unsure of its provenance.  Based on the color, I assumed it was a form of spicy tomato tapenade.  You can see for yourself here.  At the time I didn’t bother to investigate the matter further, other than favoriting the item and figuring I’d come back to it some other day.

Then, earlier this week the Chowhound San Francisco Digest newsletter (because I like to know what’s happening in food all over the world) made mention of this stuff again, and provided additional details.  Whereas before all I had was a name (‘nduja), now I had a rough idea of the components that made up this luscious-looking spread, and I was intrigued…

It turns out that ‘nduja is a regional Calabrian salami of sorts, that is prepared with large amounts of pork, fat and spicy Italian hot peppers.  It is sold in one of two forms, either smoked in animal casing, or jarred and “raw”.  My curiosity piqued, I knew that this was something I had to try for myself, not to mention that it sounded like something that’d be right up the Everyman’s alley (and I do so love lavishing him with things that are right up his alley, the lucky duck).  However, tracking down an authentic recipe is more challenging than it sounds.  As with much of Italy’s regional delicacies, not much is know about n’duja outside of a very small area surrounding Calabria.  Not one to be foiled, I pressed on with my search, eventually uncovering a vague suggestion of what is required for the potential meaty deliciousness.

Some sources say that the mixture is nothing more than ground pork, ground fat and Calabrian peppers, while others refer to pig’s liver as well.  Pig’s liver could technically be considered a form of fat, but the bigger challenge will be the hot peppers.  The specific varieties of peppers are integral to the flavor of this raw meat paste, but no recommendations was made about suitable substitutes.  I have a small list of Italian peppers I’ll be on the lookout for, in the hopes of recreating my own ‘nduja soon.  If I manage to scrape something together, I’ll post my own recipe, too.  I may need to reach out to someone from the Toronto foodscape who’s more knowledgeable on the subject than I.  I think the hardest thing about the whole process will be keeping my hands off it, as I’ve read that it’s meant to cure anywhere from a few months to a year before serving.  Since it’s supposed to be eaten raw (though it’ll be cured, I guess) I think I’ll need to smoke it in order to feel comfortable eating it, but I don’t have a real smoker yet.  Perhaps, once the time comes, I will though.  Lots to think about!

Until next time…

National Grilled Cheese Month, You Say?

Sweavoury Sammy

News has been flying all over the interwebs lately that April is National Grilled Cheese Month.

By all over, I mean on foodie blogs, Tastespotting, Photograzing, Foodgawker et al.

It was first brought to my attention via a post round-up over at Taste T.O. - one that this blog coincidentally happened to be mentioned in…

Over at Closet Cooking, blogger Kevin opined on his combination of grilled cheese with a newly prepared mango cardamom jam.  More than anything, the comments left on his blog were what surprised me.  People seemed astounded to consider the marriage of the two, but I posit this; do you not enjoy Brie-like cheeses with tangy fruit compote, or a figgy jam with a platter of cheese and crackers?  The evolution of grilled cheese to include some form of fruit is pretty natural, and one I would consider borderline mundane.  It’s a pretty close relative to bagels with cream (cheese) and jam, after all.

His post did call to mind a peculiar habit I used to have of slathering my cheeseburger buns with strawberry jam, though.  I’ve often been one for somewhat off the wall flavour combinations; as a child I eschewed ketchup and preferred to dip my french fries in the chocolate shake.  When I moved out on my own, it wasn’t uncommon to find me slurping up a cone of ice cream doused with sriracha before bed or chowing down on a pork and peanut butter sandwich for breakfast.  After our lunch at Mercat Ala Planxa last year, I’m constantly dreaming about garlic dulce du leche every time I eat charcuterie, and the list could go on and on.

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