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March, 2011:

Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook

Without an unseasonably warm March for inspiration I found myself a week behind schedule with my vegetable gardening. So, I was happy to get a bump in the right direction when Bonita from Thomas Allen & Son sent me The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook: Design Plans, Seasonal Checklists, Fresh Recipes, Plant Profiles, Growing Tips, and Flowers for the Table by Jennifer R. Bartley to review.

The book is divided into four sections with one for each season. Each season is divided between crop information, recipes, and garden plans.

There is an aggravating social construct that demands of homeowners who want to grow fruit or vegetables for eating that they hide this shameful gardening away in their backyards and keep their front yards for monotonous swaths of grass and flowerbeds. So, right off the bat, I’m happy to see that The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook offers four seasonal plans for an edible front yard that include a diverse palette of plants. (more…)

Quinoa and Company

I really like the idea of quinoa. The Andean pseudocereal is a complete protein, filling, easy to cook, and relatively cheap for what it delivers. My problem is that in its simplest prepared form it tastes musty and faintly of digestive biscuits and cat. In other words, the flavour of old-lady cardigan.

On Twitter I put out a call for recipes that avoided this common pitfall and ikapai sent me a link for a Serious Eats recipe called Quinoa Pilaf with Sweet Potatoes, Kale, and Bacon. I’ve had good luck with recipes from Serious Eats and all of the principal ingredients sounds appealing.

Bacon is especially appealing. I admit that the price of small-batch, high quality bacon (even when bought directly at the farm) can be twice what we pay for the watery stuff from the supermarket and that sticker shock is a relevant concern if you’re cooking it by the pound and expecting it to fill a particular space in a sandwich or on a plate beside eggs. But if the bacon is intended for one of the increasingly popular recipes that render its fat for flavour and reserve the bits for garnish (or if we’re honest, sustenance for the cook and kitchen onlookers) then the good stuff is definitely what’s called for. (more…)

Maléna Spring Media Dinner

Considering yesterday’s misty-then-sunny weather I was happy to have been invited by rock-it promotions to taste the spring menu at Maléna and be reminded of a warmer, sunnier climate. Maléna’s owners David Minicucci and Sam Kalogiros bill their restaurant as Ionian Coastal Cuisine with inspiration from that sea’s Greek and Southern Italian cultures.

The partners started with an Italian osteria and wine bar called L’Unità in 2008 and added Maléna in 2010. Since opening it has received high praise including a spot on James Chatto’s list of the top ten new restaurants in 2010.

The private dining space upstairs at Malena

The private dining space upstairs at Malena

After enjoying cocktails and salumi (the first act was stolen by the bacon jam) at L’Unità we moved to the private dining space (that holds 40) upstairs at Maléna. (more…)

Learning to Crawl

Dividing up an extra-large bowl of pho at Golden Turtle

Pub crawls are easy. Pick a neighbourhood with several watering holes local to each other and drink your way from one to the next. If you want to get frat-boy fancy about the operation go ahead and google the rules for pub golf.

Food crawls–especially where the aim is to  make critical comparisons–are an entirely different beast. Over a series of crawls with friends Suresh, Mike, Alex, and Mark I think we’ve gained a bit of experience that I’d like to share.

Decide on classic vs. outright best: This was a hindrance for us on our wing crawls. Should we care how well a particular restaurant’s offering satisfies a (rigid) standard or do we just want delicious? The answer is probably either but not both. Wings with spicy HP sauce are okay but they’re difficult to compare (and I’m a purist).

Accept oddball suggestions on a whim: Out of nowhere on our last wing crawl Alex announced that he knows where to get stuffed, butter-fried wings. (Bamboo Cafe Chinese Restaurant at 494 Danforth Ave.) These things have a freak-show appearance but were absolutely delicious and I would have regretted it if we’d passed that suggestion by. (more…)

Wine at the University Club

Earlier this month, I was happy to accept rock-it promotion‘s invitation to attend one of the University Club of Toronto‘s wine society’s dinners. We worked through a five-course menu of dishes paired with wines from Italy, Spain, and Portugal. (more…)