Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Breaking a Parmigiano-Reggiano record

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Last Saturday, Loblaw Companies Ltd. broke the record for the most number of Parmigiano-Reggiano wheels to be cracked open simultaneously. 305 wheels were cracked open at more than 250 stores across Canada. The previous record was set in 2008 at 176 wheels.

I was at the Loblaws in the former Maple Leaf Gardens at 60 Carlton for a preview. A representative from Guinness World Records was on hand, as well as a couple of cheese-makers and a representative from the Consorzio Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano to tell us all about what makes Parmigiano-Reggiano so special, and why cracking instead of cutting it is crucial to appreciating its wonderful flavour and texture.



Parmigiano-Reggiano 101

What to look for in Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cracking Parmigiano-Reggiano

Parmigiano-Reggiano tuile salad

Popcorn with basil oil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cheese Tortellini


Posted by: Mark Rodas

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cold Weather Cooking

Thursday, March 22, 2012
Well, we've been blessed with warm weather this week, but things can go back to the deep-freeze in a snap - we'll be cooling down this weekend a bit although we're lucky to still be above seasonal.


So what are the best things to cook and eat when the cold weather makes a reappearance?

At the end of February, Mark and I took a Green Bites Cooking Workshop at Evergreen Brickworks - the class was focused on cold-weather cooking. The size was nice and intimate, with 6 participants and a few facilitators.

The class was mostly led by Kate Leinweber, a microbiologist and registered holistic nutritionist (she's also a preserver/lacto-fermenter). I liked her approach because she dislikes recommending dietary exclusions - she believes there is a place for fats, carbs and proteins in our diet and so do I. It's all about that ever-present balancing act - She tries to figure out what her clients are missing and aims to give them a healthy way of getting it.

Mark loved her cold-weather breakfast, which was simply rolled oats, yogurt, and - the key to the flavour - a dash of apple cider vinegar (or, in our case at home, apple balsamic). Believe it or not, apple cider vinegar is high in probiotics which assist in the digestive process. And, of course, yogurt also has probiotics, so you're getting a double-shot of goodness! You can make this a night ahead and just cover it and put it in the fridge. Add some fruit on top if you like.

I didn't mind it, but I've always had this weird on-again off-again relationship with yogurt. I don't know why. Sometimes it just repulses me. I know, it's weird - I've been in the "0ff-again" stage for the last few years. I still ate all of it but I don't crave it for breakfast. My breakfast has been the same for years - a piece of twelve-grain toast with peanut butter, a few berries, and cinnamon. Gotta have some OJ too but I add lemon juice and water to it because a full cup of pure OJ is just full of sugar, so I keep it to about half a cup.

Our other favourite dish we made at the class was a rosemary chicken tagine with some garam masala, potatoes and rutabaga. Not really a traditional Moroccan recipe but boy did it warm you right up, and it was so delicious we made it again this week! It gives you a ton of energy.

I also learned some other fun facts during the class:
  • The most "warming" spices for your body are dried ginger, cinnamon, cloves, basil, rosemary, cumin and coriander.

  • Cilantro helps chelate heavy metals from your body - all you need is about a tablespoon a day to receive the benefits.

  • Grating frozen liver into soups is a great way to get more iron without even knowing it's there!

  • Anything that takes a long time to grow, like root veggies, are naturally warming. It also makes sense to eat what's seasonal - there is a reason root veggies thrive in cold weather - they are there for us to eat and to subsequently thrive as well!

  • It's important to balance anti-microbial foods (like onion, garlic) with probiotics because anti-microbial foods, while they kill the bad bacteria, can also attack the good flora in our gut.

  • Most of our immune system (think it was something like 99%) lives within our large intestine so keep it healthy, people!
Also I'd highly recommend walking a trail to get home from Evergreen Brickworks - we did at about 9:30pm at night - thank goodness we took the one beside the Bayview Extension and thank heavens it was a full moon - otherwise it might have been a tad dark and scary. No idea why it wasn't listed, but where we came out was right at the end of the 75 Sherbourne bus line, which happens to go straight into our neighbourhood and it whisked us home. It's not listed in the "transit" area of Evergreen Brickworks site, unless I missed it -pretty sure it said instead to go to Castle Frank Station. I hope they will add that the 75 Sherbourne bus line is also an option once you reach the top of the trail.

Yours in food,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nyood Brunch

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
If you think that Nyood is just a fancy place for dinner I have news for you, they also do brunch!



There's nothing like refreshing mimosas and Illy coffee to kick start your weekend. We had Strawberry & Lychee, and Mandarin Peach mimosas, featuring Moet & Chandon Champagne. Our coffees were an Americano and a Cappuccino, as they don't actually serve drip coffee. Interesting forced decadence.

We started our meal with a Cobb Salad: hard boiled egg, bacon, lettuce, avocado, roast chicken, tomato, and St. Agur blue cheese. The salad was eaten Korean style, using the lettuce leaf like a taco shell.


Next we had what looked like the most unique item on the menu, the Breakfast Banh Mi: Fried eggs, bacon, cucumber, chilli, cilantro, served on a baguette. That was very enjoyable. The fresh taste of the cilantro and cucumber contrasted nicely with the richness of bacon and eggs.


Moving up to a more substantial item, we had the Chicken and Waffles: Buttermilk fried chicken, maple chilli butter. That fried chicken was to die for. Crispy and juicy, with salty accents from the large-flaked salt crystals, it was succulently soft and pulled apart with the lightest touch. A little disappointingly, I found the waffles too firm. It had good flavour but it distracted from the goodness of the chicken.


To finish everything off we had the Italian Breakfast Flatbread: Nutella, bananas, hazelnuts, Frangelico cream. This is simple enough to easily be made at home, but I'm pretty sure it's still one of the more popular items. Who doesn't like Nutella?


This next photo looks like a postcard. Nyood is a luxurious place to have brunch. They really pay attention to the aesthetics of your food and your surroundings.


Here's an interesting concept: For those who don't want their Saturday night partyies to stop, Nyood hold's its Le Brunch parties on the last Sunday of every month, where folks can enjoy dancing and a $45 gourmet prix fixe.

Check out chef Ariel Coplan and others on our Toronto Chefs board on Pinterest:

1096 Queen Street West Toronto, ON M6J 1H9
(416) 466-1888

Posted by: Mark Rodas

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Now Playing: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
While molecular gastronomy is at the cutting edge of food technology, sushi remains the state of the art.

photo_08 - Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Directed by David Gelb, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered to be the world's greatest sushi chef. His non-descript 10-seat sushi bar in Tokyo's Ginza subway station is the only sushi restaurant in the world to be awarded 3 Michelin stars. Reservations at Sukiyabashi Jiro must be made at least a month in advance, with some patrons having made reservations the year before.

Jiro serves only sushi. There are no appetizers or desserts. He doesn't like the idea of guests filling up on other food and ending up having only three pieces of sushi.

We were astonished to see just how much preparation went into producing the deceptively simple morsels. It all starts with the best and freshest ingredients from vendors that specialize only in that particular item, say tuna or shrimp, and ends with a 20-item, 15-minute meal for a price starting at 30,000 Yen (approx. 350 Cdn.) That's easily the priciest meal in the world if you're counting by the minute... and it's in a subway station!

He is really finicky with going above and beyond, such as when he massages an octopus for 40 minutes instead of the usual 30. I know, 30 seems excessive already. I didn't even know they did that. He also has procedures for keeping his rice at body temperature. Jiro is such a perfectionist that it took an apprentice 200 attempts at making egg sushi before Jiro was satisfied and called him a Shokunin (artisan).

I think the distillation of expertise used in making his sushi is like building a car. Let me illustrate that point. Again, it starts with the best ingredients. Fishermen bring fish to the auction, where Jiro's regular fishmongers pick only the very best. As his tuna vendor would say, "if there are only ten fish, there could be only one best, and I'll buy that one." The fishmonger can now sell Jiro the choicest cuts of the choicest fish. Jiro considers himself a sushi chef and not even close to as knowledgable as his suppliers in sussing out the best and freshest ingredients. His job is to bring out the best in the seafood and deliver that essence to his diners. Car companies don't really make most of the car, they only do final assembly and marketing of sub-assemblies made by the likes of Magna and Delphi, which in turn have other suppliers down the line making more basic components.

Come to think of it, Apple doesn't make iPhones either. They're assembled by a Taiwanese company called Foxconn in China, with parts made by Samsung of Korea and Elpida of Japan... but I digress. Jiro says after years of working hard and passing on the expertise to his son and staff, by the time the sushi gets to him it's already 95% done. The quality and skill resides in the chain, and that's the point I was getting at.

There are funny moments in the movie, like when Jiro's sons were kids and couldn't afford to buy Coke. They finally were able to buy one and.... I won't spoil that part of the movie.

There are also serious lessons to be had, like hard work, pursuit of excellence, and satisfaction with your station in life no matter what your vocation may be.

The movie mentions that it takes 10 years for Jiro's apprentices to master their craft. That reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule from his book Outliers, that it takes 10,000 hours or around 10 years to attain mastery of one's domain.

The best part of the movie is just gawking at all the delicious pieces of food art, and thinking one day maybe I'll find such umami elegance in my mouth, and asking questions like: Why do they looks so perfect? Why does the tuna look translucent? Why isn't Jiro making sushi in Toronto?

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a surprisingly good movie, being both informative and entertaining. The singleminded pursuit of perfection and diligence in his calling seems like such an honourable path to follow were it not for the sacrifices it inflicts on one's self and those around him. Nonetheless, the existence of people like Jiro make life much more interesting for the rest of us.

Posted by: Mark Rodas

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is now playing at:

TIFF Bell Lightbox
Reitman Square, 350 King Street West, Toronto, ON - (416) 599-8433

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On the level with Seattle's Best Coffee

Sunday, March 11, 2012
A good cup of coffee is one of life's small pleasures that many people can feel passionate about. It's ubiquitous and, to a large extent, an essential part of daily life.

One can have coffee in a multitude of ways: black, with cream, with milk, or with foam. There are even choices of sweetener, from none, to syrup, stevia, aspartame, white sugar, brown sugar, or turbinado sugar. Just as important but often out of mind is the roasting level of the coffee beans. If one even has a choice it's usually between regular or dark.

I recently got to try a Seattle's Best Coffee curiosity pack.


Seattle's Best offers its premium coffee grinds in different degrees of roasting, from Level 1 to Level 5. The numbering system and vivid coloured packaging makes it easier to pick a coffee for one's particular taste profile. Level 1 for example is described as mild, light, and crisp, while Level 5 is bold, dark, and intense.

I personally found Level 3 to be my favourite. It had a velvety, round mouth feel, with a good balance of acidity and bitterness that one would normally associate with high-end hotel or restaurant coffee. All the Levels had a big caffeine kick which I found weirdly deceptive in the light Level 1. Level 5 loses the subtle flavours and comes closer to what would normally be called Columbian (or Starbucks, which incidentally owns Seattle's Best), with that heavy, burly punch that people associate with strong coffee.

Seattle's Best Coffee is available at Mac's convenience stores. The popular Level 3 is also available in whole bean... and decaf, which might be a good idea right about now, given how wired I am now!

Posted by: Mark Rodas

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cabbagetown cool: Winchester Kitchen and Bar

Friday, March 9, 2012
I've often found some of the most comfortable meals you can have are within your own neighbourhood.


There's nothing better than finding a gem of a restaurant around the corner from you. It doesn't have to be haute cuisine. It just has to be comfortable with good food, good drinks, good service, and a good atmosphere. It helps when it's located in the beautiful Winchester Hotel.

I also have a bit of a penchant for taking a walk after a meal out, just to explore the area. But it's even more fun when you can walk home, taking a different route than you do in your normal day-to-day activities, to discover more about your neighbourhood. I am notorious for stopping to read heritage plaques, and there are more than a few of them in glorious Cabbagetown. :)

Thus you can understand my excitement when we were invited to have dinner at Winchester Kitchen and Bar at the corner of Winchester and Parliament. The place bills itself as a spot for the "three Ds:" Dinner, dancing, and drinks. Indeed they had a live band that played after we finished our dinner, and indeed there was dinner and drinks to be had. The menu is divided by size of dish (small, big, etc) so that if you decide just to come for the music, you can order some drinks and small plates if you wish. We did a full-out dinner - I ordered from the $50 five-course prix fixe menu and Mark ordered from the main menu.

One thing I found more unique about this prix fixe compared to others was that an amuse bouche and a cheese course were built in. Lately when we've been out for prix fixes it's been app, main, dessert. Having a few extra bites was a welcome addition. I ordered the braised lamb ravioli, the roasted black cod, and the cherry cheese cake. Good value for $50.

In terms of the standouts, the Winchestacaesar was a neat take on a Caesar, which had a richer taste than a typical one and had a cute skewer of jerky, a pickle, a pickled bean, and olives lain across the rim of the glass. I do indeed love a good Caesar.

The "Three Little Pigs" started us off, with pork rillette, porchetta di testa, and a stand-in for the terrine as it wasn't available at the time. Very, very rich - we were already starting to feel a little full after having the Caesar and this "small" plate - they give you good value - was more of a "medium" plate.

Mark and I both had fish dishes (menus are in the slideshow - he had the BC sablefish and I had the black cod). Both were perfectly cooked with a crispy seasoned skin - but I can't say I loved my ravioli as much. I've made my own ravioli dough and had a disaster the first time around when I didn't make it thin enough. It took me another year or so to want to even tackle the damn task again, and this time I made it so thin I thought I'd rip a hole in it, but thankfully that didn't happen. I smiled, thinking back to my first ravioli attempt with the too-thick dough that was hard and uncooked no matter how long I left it boiling. I had the same issue here. It wasn't NEARLY as bad as my first attempt, but it could've been thinner - the corners were thick and chewy. The filling was good though. Nobody's perfect :)

As a stickler for details, I study a menu carefully and I get a bit thrown off if I don't get what's on it. I guess I have to realize this can't always happen (things run out, or maybe there is a supply issue, whatever the case may be) - I just couldn't find the bee pollen on my cheesecake. Mark searched too since he's had bee pollen before and had described how much he loves it, so I was excited to try it but had no such luck locating it within the dish.

Again, I'm kind of a stickler for details - we are who we are :) All that said, I had a really good time there, again loving the vibe of the neighbourhood and the building as well as the interior, which is really neat as you'll see in our pictures. I think I still dream of the perfectly-executed fish. If you are in the area you should stop in and try it for yourself - that prix fixe is quite a good value and the cocktail list is pretty extensive. I'll cheers to that!

Yours in food,