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April, 2010:

Smoked Bread

My posts about cooking with my Cobb cooker seem to have struck a chord with Google searchers.  I’ve used it to grill burgers, smoke ham and two types of bacon.  Next up for the miniature barbeque was an application I have read about (in the instruction manual and on the internet) for cooking bread on the Cobb BBQ.

Proofed dough just on the Cobb

I had used up the match-light charcoal from last summer, so I grabbed a bag of Jack Daniels Barrel charcoal on a recent visit to Bass Pro Shops.  The bag and my less-than-intensive reading thereof made this product seem like lump charcoal made from used bourbon whiskey barrels.  Too good to be true.  It’s actually just briquette charcoal mixed in with about a quarter as many pieces of said barrels only lightly blackened, possibly just from being mixed around in a bag full of briquettes.

It looks from this post like some people are big fans of this product and that it may have been discontinued.  Well, the Bass Pro Shops north of Toronto had a lot of the stuff a couple weeks ago when I was there. (more…)

Quinn’s Steakhouse Media Preview

Thanks to an invitation from rock-it promotions I had the chance, this week, to sample the offerings at Quinn’s Steakhouse.  This restaurant is run by the same genuinely Irish family behind the Irish Embassy, Six Steps, and P.J. O’Briens.

To prepare for my night of beef I re-visited Jeffrey Steingarten’s essay “High Steaks” that what was originally published in Vogue but has been re-printed in his second book It Must Have Been Something I Ate.  Steingarten ages a large chunk of rib sub-primal, and travels the United States (well, he goes to the outer boroughs of New York and to Tampa, Florida) in search of the steak he remembers from his childhood growing up in New York City.  But, he also has stern words for food writers who waste valuable ink on the width of the floor planks and plushness of the carpet before they manage to get to the main event.

So, first and foremost: the steak at Quinn’s is really good.  Cut from Canadian “AAA” beef and dry-aged in house for between twenty-five and thirty-five days depending on the cut.  Those five weeks is where Steingarten set his minimum bar and as in New York it is very rare to find this in Toronto these days.  For instance, the Windsor Arms’s Prime commits the grievous steak-crime of wet-aging their beef for its full forty days between slaughter and plate.  I can taste the more complex slightly mineral taste of dry-aging, especially where lean meets fat near the steak’s edge and definitely don’t miss the gumminess that wet-aging enthusiasts pass off as tenderness.

Rare-medium-rare 14 oz striploin

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Asparagus Season

Those who follow my Twitter feed (@ortdavid) may  have seen some pictures I tweeted last weekend of the garden at the cottage.  When we got there at an ungodly early hour there was still a heavy dusting of fresh snow on the ground but in the garden green and purple asparagus were poking through the soil and were having none of this held-over winter.

Solitary asparagus spear being kept company by a strawberry plant

Alex–cousin, cottage neighbour, fellow culinary schemer–and I decided to collaborate (we often compete in the world of vegetable gardening) on planting a bed of asparagus.  In late spring 2008 we planted some Isla asparagus that I had started from seed and some asparagus crowns that he found at a gardening centre.  The first year they produced these wispy crosses between a fern and a baby pine tree.  In the second year, 2009, they were a bit more substantial but still too small to harvest.  But, this our third year is supposed to be when we can finally take a limited harvest for eating a sample of the future (some sites say decades) of asparagus bounty. (more…)

Ravine Deli and Bakery

It is getting to the point where a drunkenly thrown wine bottle in Niagara is bound to hit a winery producing very good wine.  Outside of top-dollar places like Treadwell, Inn on the Twenty, Hillebrand, and Peller it is much more difficult to find good food.  Happily, the people behind the Ravine Deli and Bakery are stepping in to fill this void.

On our whirlwind tour of Niagara two weekends ago we made sure to stop in for lunch.  I was there in December 2008 when chefs Michael and Anna Olson were still at the helm and the deli was called Olson Foods at Ravine.  Since then Paul Harber (middle son of the family who operates the winery) has returned with his impressive resume to the kitchen at Ravine.  Chef Harber trained at the Culinary Institute of America, apprenticed under Daniel Boulud at Cafe Boulud, and worked for Michael Stadtlander at Eigensinn Farm.  After Eigensinn he went to Germany to work under Stadtlander’s mentor Vincent Klink.  The rest of the kitchen team at Ravine carries an impressively diverse array of experience in some of Niagara’s best kitchens.

Flat bread and spreads

Our lunch started with the flat bread plate generously sent out by the kitchen.  Hummus often contains cumin but here there is more of a Keller-esque and subtle use of the broader spectrum of curry powder flavours.  The chickpea spread also gave my table-mates an opportunity to correct my horrible pronunciation. (more…)

Terrines Are the New Meatloaf

I try to keep an open mind about all food but I really don’t like meatloaf.  But I really like terrines.  Aren’t these essentially the same combination of ground meats, spices, and filler cooked to well-done and served sliced?  Is my taste difference a matter of cultural perception–surely the creations of Larousse and Brillat-Savarin should be better than the collaborations of the Campbell’s Soup Company and the 1950s American housewife, right?

As a start I think the problem is that when Americans get their hands on a traditional preparation the serving size tends to balloon.  The meatloaf/terrine divide is the perfect example: The French have a purpose-made smaller cooking vessel while Americans usually employ a loaf pan.  The larger serving size and American tastes have combined to breed most of the fat out of meatloaf.  (The more palatable recipes sneak some back in by covering the meatloaf in strips of bacon.) The use of lean ground meat leads to a dry meat that needs filler to hold in moisture and gravy to hide the dry, gray meat.  Definitely not good. (more…)