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November, 2009:

Cast in Iron

A well-seasoned cast iron dutch oven

A well-seasoned cast iron dutch oven

This post probably should have happened a long while ago.  None of my friends or family members have ever asked me for my thoughts on how to fill an apartment with smoke while cooking pizza or how to pickle daikon but more than once I have been asked for ideas about caring for my favourite type of cookware: cast iron.  And what better reason is there for having a website than being able to answer fairly complicated questions (to which, as you’ll see, I don’t definitely know the answer) with the words “uh…see my post about that.”

Cast iron pans are manufactured by pouring molten iron into molds made from sand.  This process and the nature of the metal creates surfaces (both cooking and outside) that are full of tiny pits and peaks.  Obviously, iron is susceptible to rusting when exposed to water in food or damp environments.  Luckily, fat if cooked hot enough and for long enough will bond to the metal and form a polymer-like coating.  This coating can serve two purposes: It will fill the microscopic pits and make the cooking surface smooth and therefore practically non-stick and by excluding water will protect against rust.  This coating can be created over a long period of frequent, high-fat cooking but for those of us who don’t cook bacon for breakfast every day and don’t deep-fry enough to have a permanently-designated “chip pan’ that sits by the stove full of oil (basically everyone, right?) an original seasoning grants a welcome headstart. (more…)

Review: The Harbord Room

The Harbord Room sits on the flourishing Harbord strip

The Harbord Room sits on the flourishing Harbord strip

On a Tuesday a couple of weeks ago a fellow cured-meat fiend and I found ourselves mutually struck by a strong desire for charcuterie and a beer (or more).  Unfortunately, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the two days of the week when Toronto’s temple of terrines (The Black Hoof) is closed.  We had both heard good things about the Harbord Room (89 Harbord St.) and decided to give it a shot.

This place is definitely on the small (and popular) side.  Even on a Tuesday they’re fully booked so we parked ourselves on two seats at the end of the bar.  Luckily, this is our favourite spot for satisfying our people-watching and more to the point food-watching habits.

The menu is organised into small, medium, and large sections and the best course of action is to order without care for these boundaries–we ordered three dishes from the medium section.

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Fish Cakes

Two trout cakes on some mixed greens

Two trout cakes on some mixed greens

My recent semi-obsession with burgers has started to wane and it’s probably a good point for the Food With Legs content to take a break from red meat.  As part of this detour I took on what I guess is sort of the burger of the sea: fish cakes.  I adapted my recipe from one I found in Serious Eats’ Dinner Tonight column (that they had adapted from Mark Bittman’s NYT column).  I kept the technique roughly the same except that I made each portion into two cakes instead of one burger, I used trout instead of salmon and I added some appropriate flavour highlights.

If you buy a piece of fish with the skin on, not to worry this is an ideal opportunity to practice skinning a fish fillet.  It is difficult to describe the technique except to say that your goal should be to use your knife’s sharp blade to separate flesh from skin without cutting either.  Because it is going to be cut up in the food processor anyway there is no need to remove the fish all in one piece and any that is left attached to the skin can be scraped off. (more…)

Review: Rebel House Brunch

The Rebel Houses uber-canadian decor

The Rebel House's uber-canadian decor

This Sunday morning I found myself struck by a craving for a croissant from Patachou.  I should know this by now but Rosedale’s ultimate home for French pastries is closed on the Lord’s Day so we proceeded further down Yonge to search for other options.  After passing on the relatively new Avant Gout we ended up at relatively ancient Rebel House.  The heated patio was full so we were directed upstairs, not at all disappointing because my favourite setting for brunch is an upstairs table under a sunny pub window.  At peak times the second floor of the Rebel House can be quite difficult to navigate but the light crowd allowed us to spread out comfortably.

I know from past experience that they have one of the best selections of Ontario beer on tap but for brunch a Bloody Caesar seems much more appropriate.  This one is well-balanced with the perfect level of heat and a nice horseradish kick.  Also, I’m a sucker for any drink served in one of those Mason jars with a handle on it.  Coffee top-ups came perfectly-timed and without charge.

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Stop, Burger Police

An unidentified medium burger

An unidentified medium burger

Is there a burger law in Toronto?  Recently I returned to The Burger Bar for my third visit in eight days–I had a free burger coupon that was going to expire–and asked that my burger be cooked medium.  My good-natured server said that she wasn’t sure this was allowed but checked with the kitchen and they said that health code requires ground meat be cooked to 71 degrees celsius, “a little bit past medium”.  This is actually quite far past medium (63ºC) but quibbling with Kensington’s burger joint is not the point of this venture. I am wondering if there is a Burger Law in Toronto?  Would a restaurant actually be violating a mandatory requirement if they served a hamburger cooked to a temperature below 71ºC?

Two things are clear to me: 1. Some restaurants will intentionally serve a hamburger (especially if requested) medium or medium-rare; and 2. The City has guidelines which at least recommend that all ground meat be cooked to well-done.  The point which I wanted to clarify is: Are the restaurants who refuse a patron’s request just timid; and conversely are the restaurants willing to serve a medium-rare burger breaking the law?

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