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July, 2009:

Review: MBCo Rosedale

The Montreal Bread Company (“MBCo” for short) has added their shingle to the block of food-related businesses to the south of the Summerhill LCBO on Yonge Street.  With this opening and Thuet’s across the street the Five Thieves (Harvest Wagon, All the Best, Oliffe, and Pisces–no one is really sure who the fifth thief ever was) are now Six Scoundrels.  Kat and I chose last Friday afternoon to give this new sandwich joint the once-over.

The offerings at MBCo are visually appealing but as a whole the concept strikes a discordant note.  Between eleven and thirteen dollars seems much too high for a simple sandwich counter (even in Rosedale) but these sandwiches are noticeably better than what is offered at Druxy’s; in fact they are at the level one would expect from a bistro or a casual restaurant.  Okay, fine, then why can’t I get a bowl of frites here or a glass of beer?  MBCo does offer such frills but not in Toronto and their website is so hipster-cool that I can only be sure that they do so in Dubai.  The idea that we are only getting a light version of the original would be easier to handle if the full version were less than a ten-hour flight away.  Everything looks so appetising that it’s not difficult to keep an open mind.

The top of this bun sort of looks like a croissant but clearly what we have here is much closer to a brioche

The top of this bun sort of looks like a croissant but clearly what we have here is much closer to a brioche

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Beans and Pearls

The finished product: Beans and Pearls

The finished product: Beans and Pearls

With a pantry full of preserved beets, roasted red peppers, and jalapenos a lot of the colour and flavour that we enjoyed most in our risottos, stir-fries, salads and egg dishes last winter came straight from the Mason jar.  Pickled vegetables offered a visual and taste reminder of warmer times when we were locked deep in winter.  The colour they added to dishes made more seasonal options like potatoes, turnips, and cabbage (literally) pale in comparison.  Best of all, we used just as much as we needed and therefore saved our vegetable drawer from the usual decomposing half-bunches of over-priced and imported winter produce.  But now it’s summer again and time to start preserving for next winter.

My starting point for this pickling experiment was the idea that greens beans, especially when raw, are not very flavourful.  They only really shine when combined with butter and garlic.  To me, they taste “grassy” and “green” and that means that I had more latitude when choosing what flavours to combine them with in the jar.  Also, I know that pearl onions would have been more appropriate for the name but I have wanted to try preserving mushrooms for a while and I was afraid that the onion flavour would dominate.

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Ten Meter Diet

By now just about everyone who is even vaguely aware of trends in food production has heard more than they needed to about the concept of eating locally-produced food.  The movement strikes me as beneficial because, I hope, it causes us to think more about our food and perhaps while we are considering where our food comes from we will also spend more time considering how it tastes.  Like other political/philosophical movements the hundred mile diet begins to lose its relevance when it is taken to levels of dogmatic orthodoxy.  We are not going to destroy the Earth by consuming the occasional piece of imported chocolate or bottle of wine and it doesn’t really matter whether an apple comes from 80 or 120 miles away.  I think the most important suggestion of the locavore movement is that we should be growing or harvesting some of the food we eat within the space we live in every day.
Serviceberries on the bush in my parents front garden.

Serviceberries on the bush in my parents' front garden.

Luckily my parents have a serviceberry tree (these plants have a pack of other names but are second-best known as saskatoon berries)  in their front yard that is literally six steps from the front door.  This tree-bush ripens a crop of small- to medium-sized berries (pomes, technically) at the very end of June and into July.  To get a useable harvest you have to beat the birds to the berries before they have the chance to strip the entire bush.  The season is upon us now.  Serviceberries have flesh that tastes like a sweet-ish (though never very tart) blueberries but the highlight is the black cherry flavour that the seeds release when chewed.  I wonder what it is about early July that produces that flavour (actual black cherries are ripe now as well)?  Has evolution taught fruit-bearing trees that for some reason the birds they need to spread their seeds like this flavour now?

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Book Review: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press, 2001).

There are thousands of cookbooks on the market and they seem to be getting bigger and more expensive.  In order to secure a spot on our cookbook shelves a particular volume should do a really good job of informing and guiding our cooking experiments.  As cookbook publishers continue to sell their product with relative ease their offerings seem to be segmenting and diversifying.  Some volumes are really only about the pictures, others offer a look into the canon of a particular chef or his restaurant’s menu, a long-standing slim minority feature interesting writing about food and the experience of cooking but few recipes, and finally some are a catalogue of recipes.  For the cookbooks which are best seen as a collection of recipes their well-thumbed pages should be filled with weekly standbys (the Best Recipe collection put out by the people at Cook’s Illustrated)  or those perfect special occassion recipes that make entertaining easier (anything by Ina Garten).  The directions should be clear enough for a rank beginner (at least one who is vaguely concentrating and adequately equipped) to follow but also interesting enough to hold the attention of the same cook as he becomes more confident and advanced.

A recent cliche adopted by food writers and chefs (both celebrity and armchair) has been this idea that food tastes better and the experience is more rewarding when we “cook without a recipe”.  This is intoned by a wispy voice in the intro to Michael Smith’s latest, Chef at Home  and then again ad nauseum by the chef himself on just about every episode.  (I enjoy the show quite a bit except when it’s time slot early on weekend mornings, the super-tight and off-kilter camera angles, and night-before revellry combine to produce nausea.)  I’m not sure how I feel about this maxim.  On one hand I agree with Chef Smith that I would much rather see people stress less about what goes into a particular dish and cook adventurously for themselves more often but on the other hand I know from experience that my biggest successes when cooking have come when I have found a really great recipe and followed it almost exactly.  Let’s say for now, that this is an open question and also thankfully take advantage of the exception granted by these cliche wielders to those who are baking when considering the recipes offered in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

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Ikea Restaurant

It has been a while since I wrote a full restaurant review–not to worry I have a couple of ideas in the works–but here is a quick post to tide you over.

Swedish meatballs with fries and gravy at Ikea

Swedish meatballs with fries and gravy at Ikea

When in Stockholm (or Ikea in North York) the obvious thing to do is to have the swedish meatballs.  I’m an obvious kind of guy and that’s just what I did.  The meatballs are alright with a fairly toothsome texture on the inside but they lack the contrasting crustiness that a good meatball should have on the outside.  For this guilty fix I’ll stick with the PC Memories of Kobe (obviously not swedish) meatballs.  On this plate the fries were the star of the show.  Crisp with a decent potato taste and no hint of the freezer.  The lingonberry jam adds a very welcome sweet and tart note to the familiar meat-and-potato flavours that dominate the rest of the plate.