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August, 2009:

How do you like them apples?

The last two weeks of August and the first two of September are, in my opinion, the most interesting time to be at the cottage in Ontario.  The lake is at its warmest, the mosquitoes have gone, the nights are cool enough to actually sleep and hot days are now a welcome surprise.  Best of all, my favourite wild produce is finally ripe enough to eat.

Apples picked from a neighbours tree

Apples picked from a neighbour's tree

Picking apples in an orchard sounds like fun–I’ve never done it–but not really that much different than visiting a farmers’ market.  The fruit is fresher and you’re outside but where is the challenge?  The varieties are known and more often than not the apples are sprayed with something and grow on dwarf trees that are pruned to make the apples as accessible as possible.  Consider this Sunday afternoon in contrast: I was out walking on an ATV trail that cuts through the middle of a pasture that hasn’t seen a cow in fifty years.  No buildings, power lines, or roads in sight I was surrounded by nothing but grass, wildflowers, and the occasional clump of trees.  Walking on this track–to my chagrin google maps has somehow managed to detect it and marked it as a road–one gets to a point where the view is dominated by a haphazard-looking oak tree surrounded by a clump of smaller trees and assorted bushes.  Every time I walk this track my attention is always diverted by the oak tree’s peculiar shape–it has probably lost a major branch or two on the track-side –for long enough that its neighbours remain unnoticed until I’m almost right on top of them.  At this time of year one of these trees has vibrant spots of red interspersed amongst its coat of green leaves.  An apple tree, of course. (more…)

Dill Pickle Showdown

Homemade kosher dill pickles in their cloudy brine

Homemade kosher dill pickles in their cloudy brine

I am very happy with the results from this year’s batch of wild cured pickles.  Most telling even my brothers who are usually cautious of my food experiments will eat these.  I can understand the default inclination to be wary of these pickles.  It is very unusual in our refrigerated and chemically-preserved food culture for fresh vegetables to improve their flavour and remain edible after two weeks of summer room temperatures in a kitchen that began to smell more than faintly of dill, garlic, and tangy pickle brine.  But these are really good and at a jar a week rate of consumption they’ll be gone before Thanksgiving.  (more…)

Review: Fresh on Bloor

The all veggie menu

The all veggie menu

This was my second visit to the popular, vegetarian eatery on the U of T campus near Bloor and Spadina. My dining companion, John G., and I talked in some detail about why vegetarian hasn’t really caught on as a restaurant category.  As I see it, the first battle that veggie restaurants face is that most people view eating out as something special, involving celebration, adventure, or entertainment and some expense.  I imagine that for at least eighty percent of North Americans a vegetarian meal at home–pasta with a meatless sauce, vegetable soup, or a cheese omellete–is a choice motivated by convenience and economy.  When we go out we want something special and for those who eat meat that means more than just vegetables. Secondly, there really is no equivalent to the sushi house’s chicken teriyaki or the bistro’s steak frites to satisfy dyed-in-the-wool meat and potato eaters and override their objections when selecting a restaurant with more adventurous companions. (more…)

Devils on Horseback

Figs + blue cheese + bacon = my take on devils on horseback

Figs + blue cheese + bacon = my take on devils on horseback

Traditionally devils on horseback is an appetizer made of a prune stuffed with mango chutney or cheese and wrapped in bacon.  Figs are in season and go perfectly with blue cheese and bacon so this is my take on the appetizer with the catchiest name.  The bacon on top is home-cured and because it was thickly-sliced before being sauteed I think a piece on top is more appropriate than a whole slice wrapped around the fig.  No need to break out the Roaring Forties (or other uber-pricey blue cheese) for this recipe but one on the creamier side will melt best.

The how-to is extremely simple: Halve the figs, place a piece of blue cheese on top and a piece of sauteed bacon on top of that, bake at 400F until the cheese is slightly melted (3 – 4 minutes).  A very delicious balance of salty and sweet that would make an excellent passed appetizer or with a frisee salad a great first course.

Review: The Stockyards Burger

Reviewers can’t seem to say enough good things about The Stockyards Smokehouse and Larder; The Star puts it at 3.5 out of 4 stars; NOW Magazine goes all the way to a perfect five “n”s; and Eye Weekly agreed (a couple weeks later) with a five-star review.  So much attention has been paid (deservedly, I’m sure) to the porchetta sandwich, the pulled pork, the pastrami, and the ribs that I thought I would focus on a less noticed corner of the menu: the burger.  I have eaten a lot of burgers in Toronto (some quite bad) and I think I know a thing or two about them.  With this plan in mind I took myself last week to the Stockyards for a lone burger.

Burger and fries; next time Ill move the bun for a better view

Burger and fries; next time I'll move the bun for a better view

Foodies (and food snobs) should prepare themselves for a swift turning up of the nose but please bear with me.  The closest comparison–especially in terms of general characteristics–to this burger and fries duo is the McDonalds Big Mac.  Shocking, I know.  What I mean is that the bun is sesame seed, the patty is relatively thin and (I’m pretty sure) cooked on a flat-top griddle, and the fries are one step on the thinness scale from shoe string. (more…)