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March, 2010:

First In, Last Out

Tiny tomato seeds only get a very thin covering of soil

This brilliant spring, nay summer, weather is making me wish I was in the garden at the cottage right now.  I am reminded that in the first week of April last year our backyard greenhouse was covered in snow–and it looks like we may get snow next week–and also that this week is the time for starting tomato seeds.  I’ve written about it before but for us to get a good crop of tomatoes ripening by the end of August the plants need to be eighteen to twenty-four inches tall by the time the ground is warm enough for them at the beginning of June.

Potting mix in plugs ready to be seeded


Guernsey Girl Cheese

The Cheese Boutique at 45 Ripley Ave. was the location for the recipe challenge tasting

To introduce their new Guernsey Girl cheese the Upper Canada Cheese Company found fourteen Toronto area chefs who put together recipes using the cheese.  The three favourites of a preliminary online poll were invited to showcase their product for the public and invited media at the Cheese Boutique.

The quickest and most-recognisable comparison to Guernsey Girl is Greece’s (update: it’s been pointed out to me that while halloumi is popular in Greece it actually is of Cypriot origin) well-known halloumi.  Upper Canada’s head cheese-maker Lauren Arsenault stresses that it is actually based on the Bread Cheese of Scandinavia but recognises that Guernsey Girl does share characteristics with halloumi.  The name fits Upper Canada’s tradition of naming their products after an important attribute of their company.  The Comfort Cream is named as an homage to the Comfort Farm which was the first source of milk for Upper Canada Cheese.  Niagara Gold reflects both the company’s location in Jordan Station, Niagara and the gold colour of Guernsey milk.  Finally, the Guernsey Girl moniker is a nod to the fact that Upper Canada gets its milk from one of only three Guernsey milking herds left in Ontario. (more…)

Golden Star

The chargrilled house special burger is the main event here

All burgers can be organised into a few families and no matter how much afficianados bitch and moan the fast food chains do belong to one of these groups.  I have likened the Stockyards’ excellent burger to the flat-top griddled tradition of fast food style burgers that goes from nadir at McDonald’s to its pinnacle at In-N-Out.  Golden Star has a closer relationship to the well-known Canadian burger chain, Harvey’s.  To my mind, Golden Star is like Harvey’s cousin who still maintains his ’74 Dodge Charger and handlebar mustache–the gentleman wielding the pickle tongs on my visit sported just such a mustache–in peak running condition.  It’s both a throwback homage and criticism by contrast.

The decor, from the one-piece plastic benches to the back-lit menu board, are from a time (and colour palette) that one usually has to travel further from Toronto to see.  Places like Hamilton’s most excellent Tally Ho come to mind.  At Golden Star the nostalgic ambiance is executed without seeming dirty or threadbare. (more…)

Popcorn Permutations

Stovetop popcorn featuring melted butter and fresh-ground curry powder

A week and a half ago I wrote a post that compared the two methods for cooking stovetop popcorn.  One obvious element that I didn’t deal with is what goes on the popcorn after it is cooked.  I made three small batches (actually one normal batch divided in three) to test one new idea, and double check quantities and take pictures of two old favourites.

Before we get to the finishing flavours I wanted one last crack at refining the cooking method.  A commentor on the original post suggested bacon fat as a more hardcore popping medium than canola oil.  Probably great but I have given up bacon for a while but luckily I still have a bunch of duck fat in the freezer from December’s duck adventures.  After confirming that duck fat has just as many online devotees for popcorn making as bacon fat I felt comfortable subbing it in for the canola.  I also melted a bit with some butter for topping one of the three mini-batches I made.

Melting duck fat and the thermostat kernels


Homemade Pancetta

Five pounds of fresh pork belly

Remember the sitcom episodes when the trouble-making, bad ass cousin would come to visit?  All the formulaic sitcoms from my childhood in the eighties had one.  Well, pancetta is bacon’s Italian cousin.  Pancetta does have the salt and pork of bacon but instead of being smoked it is air dried and therefore acquires the slightly funky taste unique to fermented sausage.  Yes, I see that the analogy is turned inside out because one of the usual foibles of the out-of-town cousin was that he DID smoke but luckily this is a blog about food not Full House.

As Marcella Hazan notes in the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, “pancetta, from pancia, the Italian for belly, is the distinctive Italian version of bacon.” Hazan goes on to note the differences between pancetta arrotolata which is dried rolled in a log shape and pancetta stesa which is hung in a flat slab to dry.  I have cured (cinnamon version) and smoked my own bacon before but now it’s time to try pancetta.  I haven’t decided whether I’ll roll mine or leave it flat.

Pork belly is becoming a much easier ingredient to find but when it shows up in supermarket butcher cases it is usually pre-sliced at the thickness of thick-cut bacon or in roughly pound-size chunks appropriate for roasting or braising.  If you want to roll your pancetta (as I think I might) you need a larger piece of belly in the four to six pound range.  At the No Frills where I often find esoteric pork parts Friday seems to be cutting day so the best to ask for a large chunk of belly. (more…)