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May, 2011:

Wychwood Barns

Four months ago I had a vague idea that the Wychwood Barns were somewhere way out on St. Clair West and hosted a weekly market. Last night, for the Lifford Grand Tasting, I was back for my second event in the main hall in two months–Brewer’s Plate was the other. Added to a brunch in the cafe and two trips to the Saturday morning market, Wychwood is becoming a frequent hang-out of mine.

The next time you’re at an event in the main barn sneak up to the second-floor gallery. There is no better place catch your breath and get a sense of the room’s vibrant energy.

My attraction is not without justification, I think. As I wrote on Spotlight Toronto, between the Mennonite bacon, St. John’s bread, and seeds from Urban Harvest (as well as the wares of many other vendors) this is one of Toronto’s finest year-round markets.

The greenhouse at Wychwood in March.

The greenhouse at Wychwood in March.

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman this week wrote about his positive impressions of the food programmes at Wychwood. He’s right that The Stop does very important work but for me the opportunity to wander through a greenhouse and stare at a wood oven in March is valued for the recharging of psychic batteries.

With the completion of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way this far west, Wychwood has become more accessible to those of us who don’t live in the neighbourhood. I’d love to see Toronto replicate this model of reclaiming old buildings for productive, food-focussed community use across the City.


Apps at e11even

I have an admission that some readers probably won’t like: I have never, not once, directly used the services of a restaurant’s sommelier. Sure, sommeliers decide what wines make it into a restaurant’s cellar and onto its list and are key players in delivering a restaurant’s services, but I have never brought myself to say something like, “I’m thinking of having the short ribs, can you recommend a wine that will go well with that dish?”

Not many Toronto restaurants have a sommelier so the opportunity to use one is pretty rare but even when it is there I find myself cautiously shying away from it. Toronto Life feature compared the role to being “equal parts psychotherapist, fishing buddy, performance artist, real estate agent, magician, and private eye.” The parallel to the mixed interests of a real estate agent (is the sommelier really trying to help me find the wine that will go best with my meal or improve his restaurant’s revenue?) is what drives my skepticism.

When I was invited to a media tasting at e11even I was given the chance to re-examine my take on the diner-sommelier relationship. Before I talk more about the wine a few words are definitely due to the delicious food, selections from the appetisers on the menu, we tried. (more…)

A Weighty Debate

It can take some careful investigation and testing to distinguish good recipes from bad but one that lists ingredients only by volume always starts with a yellow card in my book. Other writers, like the author of this article on Ochef, have discussed this problem but I believe there is a uniquely Canadian perspective here that I’ll deal with in this post.

But first, what’s the difference between a certain amount of an ingredient measured by weight or volume? Density, usually. Some of the things we cook with, like flour, are compactible so that depending on how they’re measured a widely variable amount of air will also be included and this will change how much material goes into the bowl. Others like salt are manufactured in a variety of crystal shapes and sizes. So, a tablespoon of Diamond Crystal kosher will always have the same weight as another from the same box but have a weight that differs significantly from a tablespoon of Morton’s.

To those who ask “does it really matter if I use five percent more or less flour than the recipe called for?” I say “you, sir or madam, obviously don’t bake many (excellent) cakes”. But also, convenience is an issue because all ingredients (I can think of) are easier to weigh than scoop, pour, or dollop. Whether we’re dealing with sticky ones like honey, maple syrup, shortening, and peanut butter or even just water for bread dough it’s easier to press the tare button on your kitchen scale and pour until your target is hit. Measuring by weight means never again having to bend down to eyeball the gradations on a measuring cup or care what a meniscus is.


Royal Wedding Dinner

Last week was a simpler time. Instead of worrying about assassinated terrorist kingpins or federal elections we used to wake up at ungodly hours to watch two people–who probably would have much preferred a quiet ceremony in a country church–get married. For the second big meal at the cottage this year my cousin and I cooked a feast drawn from the current Commonwealth and former Empire to mark the occasion.

Lamb vinadaloo with rice for the subcontinent.

The spice-and-heat of Alex’s vindaloo matched surprisingly well with the sweet-and-heat of the jerk potatoes from the West Indies. (more…)