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June, 2011:

The Bowery Launch

In the space on Colborne Street that used to be Six Steps the Uniq Lifestyle Entertainment Group (Ballroom, Cheval, Jacobs & Co.) have opened a restaurant that they hope will evoke the New York City neighbourhood of the same name. Now that they have a food-focused location critics who want to dote on executive chef Tawfik Shehata and the “punk-meets-farm menu” that he and chef de cuisine Jason Maw have created, can do so without having to mention the exorbitantly-priced bowling lanes.

Thanks to an invitation from Dana Fields of Fields Communications I had the chance to attend the media launch of the Bowery, see the space, and sample some of the food and cocktails. (more…)

A Taste of Russia

In the summertime a farmer’s market should, in my view, offer three things: local produce that is more delicious and better-handled than what is for sale at the grocery store; a connection to the people who actually took part in growing or preparing the food; and the opportunity to shop for a picnic meal in a pleasant environment.

The North York market at Mel Lastman Square has always been pretty good at the first two. Willowtree and Thiessen farms bring remarkably good fruit and vegetables from two different, but local, parts of the province. Thames River Melons adds a third source and their much-appreciated, ripe-when-you-want-it melon expertise. We were spoiled, last year, for cheese selection from both Montforte and Thornloe.

Bread and prepared lunches are the weak spot for the picnic part of the equation at North York. The Kountry King Sausage tent has some great bacon and dried sausages but their hot peameal, steak, or sausage on a bun really aren’t any different than the usual vendor fare. (more…)

One Step Safer

Beef ready to be sterilised

As our neighbours in the EU are finding Escherichia coli (or e. coli for short) is a frighteningly dangerous bacterium. It kills more frequently than it should but this is still a statistically very low number. Just as concerning though are the cases of life-altering kidney and liver disfunction that can afflict the survivors. E. coli ought to be taken seriously and as new, more dangerous strains evolve eating like our grandparents did is not good or safe enough.

The two leading causes seem to be improperly-washed green vegetables (spinach, sprouts, lettuce) and ground beef. At this point I am unequivocally unwilling to give up eating and making my own hamburgers, cooked medium-rare to medium, from freshly-ground beef.

I feel that by grinding large cuts of meat that were bought from trusted sources I can reduce the risk of infection enough that the burgers can be cooked to the temperature where I would eat steak. Or at least that’s where my feeling stood before this large outbreak. Even though the tragic events in Germany are probably not (directly) related to beef I’m willing to consider options that will make hamburgers safer. (more…)

Beef Tasting at Steak and Chops

Mark Michelin owns and operates St. Jamestown Steak and Chops on Parliament just north of Carlton. Thanks to an invitation from my friend Joel of Community Foodist I had the great pleasure of participating in a beef tasting that Mark hosted last weekend.

When I know that I’ll be writing about steak I prepare by re-reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s “High Steaks” (including in his second book It Must’ve Been Something I Ate which I consider pretty close to mandatory reading for anyone interested in food). This tradition started before the Quinn’s media tasting.  There is something about Steingarten’s obsessive attention to detail and intellectual snarl that fits so well with steak. I can’t think of another food that is so standardised, full of jargon, and comparable by various statistics. Steak is the baseball of eating.

Red-skinned mashed potatoes and local asparagus.

Red-skinned mashed potatoes and local asparagus.

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Reflecting in the Deli Case

Salads cllockwise from top: spicy couscous, 7-grain, quinoa, and pasta.

Salads cllockwise from top: spicy couscous, 7-grain, quinoa, and pasta.

Expensive restaurant meals and recipes for esoteric meat (a post on comparing beef aging is in the works) or complicated desserts are fun things to write about. And they get the Google hits. As a change today’s post is going to be about the prepared salads in the deli cases at grocery stores. These are remarkably popular with lunchtime customers and have, in many cases with nearby offices or premium competitors, been revamped to drastically improve quality.

For a picnic in one of the ravines that connects to Alexander Muir Gardens I picked up two salads from Loblaws, and one each from Sobey’s and Rabba.

Listen, I see that this is not a scientific test but rather an apples-to-oranges comparison. I had no desire to sample four different seven-bean salads and then run the test again for all the various mediterrenean pasta salads. The purpose of the exercise was not to award a blue ribbon to a particular dish or crown one of the stores as best. Rather, I was after rough observations that might be useful for drawing future conclusions and that could yield surprise gems.

If nothing else, like all other posts, this one will be a good personal reference in the future. (more…)