Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – Slow Baked Beans

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet continues with another vegetarian option this week – after a month of pork I feel like we are paying our karmic duty.  :)  I suppose that baked beans challenge the definition of gourmet but this was not a series emphasizing gourmet – it was about trying to eat healthy home cooking without burning a hole in your wallet.

Learning to work with dehydrated (“dried”) beans can be a massive help for healthy, affordable living if you live in a cold climate.  With local food at their lowest availability, dried beans make a lot of sense.  They don’t contain the additives that cans do, use less packaging, ship in lighter quantities and are ridiculously affordable.  The tradeoff comes in patience as you rehydrate the beans before cooking (not always necessary – most can be cooked without this step though you will have firmer beans that some don’t like).

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet   Slow Baked Beans January Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet Beans

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Update on Infused Vodka – what to do when an infusion goes bitter

For those of you who followed WellPreserved over the Holidays you may recall a post on infusing vodka.  The idea was simple and we followed tested techniques.  We were on a path to success.

And then I left the fruit in too long…

Despite warnings in all I read, I did not pull the apples and pears out in the recommended 24-26 hours.  The fruit went brown and the liquid followed. The color isn`t the end of the world – in fact I like it.  It`s lovely on the shelf – medicinal to the mouth.

Update on Infused Vodka   what to do when an infusion goes bitter January

Since this experiment started with almost a litre of vodka, this was an expensive flop.  It was time for a rescue mission – all faith is not lost.  I am pleased to say that while it was not ready for the Holidays, our infusion experiment is turning the corner towards success.  We did some research, tweaked our recipe and it`s starting to taste fantastic.

Here`s what we`ve learned about `saving`an infusion that was left too long:

  1. Don`t panic.  Don`t throw it out.  Keep calm.  Carry on.
  2. Strain the entire lot through several layers of cheesecloth to remove any solids.  This worked well and lowered the bitterness from battery acid to that of a 9-volt battery.  Progress but not success.
  3. Wait patiently.  Like preserves, taste can change over time.  It will likely get milder over a 30-day period.  I`ve been tasting it weekly and it`s calming down.
  4. Dilute with more vodka.  An obvious remedy that I would have missed.
  5. As a measure of last desperation, mix in sugar – I would create a simple syrup (water and sugar) to mix at the last-minute.

We tried a combination of things:

  1. Strain it.
  2. Mix the two infusions together.
  3. Add vanilla bean to infuse a smoother, sweeter undertone.  We left it in for a long time (about 7 days).  The beans will be used with ice cream.
  4. Wait 30 days and see if it needs further tinkering.

Our tipple on New Years Eve was tough to swallow.  A small sample last night showed clear progress is happening – it`s not a struggle to force back and, in fact, tasting smooth and special.  I think we are headed in a great direction here.

Our future infusions (starting soon) will be done in smaller quantities and will risk under-infusing as opposed to soaking for too long.  We could always add a second batch of apples to continue a mild infusion if we wanted more flavor.  Just like cooking, it is easier to add more flavor than remove it after all.

Together at the table

We’ve been really fortunate this year to have met a lot of new, interesting friends. Through WellPreserved and through the path of life in general. I’ve long made a joke that one of my hobbies is ‘collecting people’. Meeting different people brings all kinds of new perspectives, experiences and flavors into our lives. Our idea of great evening is being able to bring friends together at the table for a fantastic meal. Last Saturday was one of those great evenings, but instead of Joel in the kitchen, Massimo Bruno was our host in his Kitchen Studio.

Together at the table January

image courtesy of Diana Mikas (

Massimo learned to cook from his grandmother, mother and aunts in their own kitchens in his native Italy. He came to Canada in 2001 and worked at his aunt’s restaurant 7 numbers. Now Massimo is sharing what he has learned with his catering, personal chefing and at his amazing Italian regional Supperclubs.

Joel and I were introduced to Massimo, his wife Marnee (and their lovely new baby) by our mutual friend Andrea last year…of course over a meal.  Andrea’s kitchen table set the stage for our dinner party in which Joel did pre-dinner preserve pairings and Massimo served homemade foccacia and some of his wonderful Italian home cooking. By the end of the meal it was like we had all been friends for decades – the power of amazing food, great conversation and a big table.

Massimo had just started hosting his Regional Italian Supperclubs and with Andrea and Marnee’s help was getting the word out about the great event. Joel and I attended ‘Tuscany’ which he hosted at the Manor and were completely blown away by the meal, and the concept of sitting at a big communal table with strangers passing platters of food back and forth listening to Massimo talk about the region, it’s food and culture. It was such a great time, you couldn’t help but tell everyone you knew about it.

Since then I’ve attended: Piemonte, Venice and Sicily as well (poor Joel was away on business for a couple of those and would always be jealous of the details when he returned home). Massimo decided to get a space of his own to host the Supperclubs and use as prep-kitchen for events and catering…happily finding a great spot conveniently close to WellPreserved ‘headquarters’. The debut of the Kitchen Studio was in October with “Thanksgiving in Piemonte”.

Together at the table January

Since then, word has spread and the Supperclubs fill up fast. Last Saturday was no exception, a full house…our group of at least 12 occupied a lot of seats but the two communal tables and the friendly relaxed atmosphere made it feel like one group of 26. Reservations are made via Massimo’s meetup group (you pre-pay, so on the evening of you don’t even have to worry about cash except for your cab ride home) It’s bring your own wine and suggestions are sent out the week before (we’ve discovered a lot of great Italian wines through the experience, a lot of them very budget friendly).

We arrived with our group promptly at 7pm, the studio already smelled fantastic. Andrea added our bottles to the table (the wine is shared throughout the evening), and we claimed our seat at one of the two large tables.

The studio is one room, Massimo’s kitchen is behind a big island, open to his guests. He waves and greets everyone that comes in, popping in and out of the kitchen to shake hands and introduce himself or hug returning guests, all while preparing the meal to come.

After socializing, meeting the other guests and enjoying a glass of wine, we take our seats. Stomachs are rumbling, some had previewed the menu on the meetup site and hadn’t eaten all day in preparation. I had spent some of the week before designing the menu for the event, so among my design duties I was reading about “arancini’ and ‘melanzane ripiene” not to mention “sedani with trapani style pesto” and “cannoli siciliani” and looking forward to dinner.

At the beginning of the meal Massimo spends time to tell us about the region, the influences and the culture of the food…all of this with animation and passion, punctuated by questions from guests and good natured heckling. About 3.5-4 hours later, stomachs are full (some are trying to enjoy a second cannoli despite this, they were just so good), bottles are mostly empty and mouths are tired from eating and talking. The measure of a good meal is also in the ‘afterglow’ of the experience, everyone that attended has been talking about it all week, the food was stellar and the company was perfect…a truly wonderful way to spend a chilly winter evening.

I always forget to take pictures of the food before it’s too late!

I’d encourage anyone with a love of food, or Italy, or people (better yet, all 3) to get yourself a seat at one of Massimo’s supperclubs. You don’t even have to worry about bringing a date…you will definitely meet some friends across the table.

~ sign up here for the meetup group to be reminded of upcoming Supperclubs. The next one is Calabria on February 12th and 19th.

~ you can also book Massimo to cater an event or to cook for you and your friends in your own kitchen. here’s the contact info.


Eleven Design (WellPreserved’s ‘big sister’) is working with Massimo on design and visual identity over the coming months. We love to mash food, design and great people together at every opportunity so this is going to be fun. Expect some more features on Massimo and what we know will be a tasty design relationship.

Taste TO – Getting to know our City

I should have written this post long ago – I am actually a little disappointed with myself that I didn’t do it sooner.  Some things are just so obvious that they hide in plain sight in front of your face but somehow stay hidden.  Better late than never… is a Toronto-based website dedicated what’s happening in Toronto around food, drink, restaurants, food charities and stories from around town.  Cheryl runs the site with her husband – they are the main contributors of the site which runs daily features about what is going on around town.

The site often links to articles, newspapers and blogs from around town.  There are also tireless updates which introduce coming events from across Toronto.  TasteTO is a launching point to discover current food news in Toronto.

The site also has a list of our local farmers markets, a great library of links and other great resources.

Sheryl also scribes a blog dedicated to food called Save your fork…there’s pie and Greg is the curator of Beer, Beasts and Bites.  Both are talented writers who are passionate about their topics and the community we live within.  Visit any of their sites for a great launching point into the local food scene.

In the spirit of full disclosure, TasteTO has been a large supported of us over the last year – something we appreciate greatly.  They have been kind enough to mention us many times in the last year.  It’s always a thrill to see our name appear on their pages and we are grateful.

This post is not merely about thanking them – their sites are filled with great information and we encourage you to start many of your food adventures with them!

Stunning Upset…. Raw Milk now legal in Ontario (kind of)

A package of cigarettes is around $10 in the province of Ontario.  40 ounces of hard liquor is around $40.  Genetically modified food is, on occasion, subsidized.  Mass produced cold cuts, municipal water and even broccoli have caused great sickness and even death.

But raw milk was long ago deemed too dangerous to sell at any price.

For those of you whom know this story, pardon the brief introduction of Michael Schmidt.  He is a farmer who moved to Canada with his wife in the late 1970s and has challenged our dairy system ever since.  Michael believes in selling (and consuming) raw milk – unpasteurized and direct from the cow.  The Government of Ontario (and our extremely powerful dairy board) do not believe it is safe – fears of E. Coli, Salmonella and Listeria are some of the risks that Health Canada warns consumers of.

There are plenty of places in this world – and on the internet – to debate the merits or risks of raw milk.  This story is about a very surprising turn of events that happened in Ontario today.

Schmidt was fined for selling raw milk in the 1990s and began to look for alternatives.  There wasn’t many in Ontario – generally people stop selling it or turn underground where it is sold in secrecy.  It is an odd reality that, in a province where marijuana is de-criminalized, raw milk is traded in greater secrecy.

Michael and his wife came up with an option when there appeared to be none.  They realized it was legal for a farmer to drink the raw milk of their own cow so they sold shares in their cows.  For $300 you could purchase a quarter cow for 6 years – you still needed to pay for milk.  Participants were educated to the reported merits and risks and, as part owner of a cow, became part farmer.  Raw milk would arrive in Toronto in a magic blue school bus often changing locations to avoid attracting too much attention and further trouble.

Schmidt has been in a long legal battle since a raid in 2006 and has continued to challenge the law – in and out of the courts.

But trouble came indeed.  The operation was raided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and has been in court ever since.  Today was another day in court and the first sign of good news for the family was handed down by a judge today – they are not selling to the public and are selling to an educated group of co-owners.  His co-op model, according to the ruling today, is not illegal.

The judge stopped short of jumping in to the entire issue of raw milk – this does not make it legal to the mass market but allows for a co-op model such as this to act legally.

It is a fascinating day for dairy in our province and a historic time for local food.

Tart inspiration

We’ve been thinking a lot about lemons this week, with Joel concocting the lemon squash for the Tigress Can Jam. Thought we would keep that lemony fresh feeling a little longer with another post on Lemons!

(see the bottom for some links and explanations…)

Tart inspiration January

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Canning Citrus – Lemon Squash

We have a lot of jam from last year.  We have a lot of preserves period – more than 50 of our own flavors and another 75+ plus from trades, swaps and gifts fill more than 500 jars in our kitchen.  Not all of it is jam, but there is a lot.

Did I mention that I don’t eat breakfast very often?  Bad habit, especially for a jam maker.

At any rate, the Tigress can Jam has started and we’re fully onside.  I am so excited to get going on a secret ingredient of the month.  More than 120 preservers from around the globe have joined up to make preserves and report back to central command.  It’s an idea I love.

The flavor of the month is citrus.  Images of marmalade, jam or jelly passed my mind.  I love these things and have seen some amazing versions of these appearing in the can jam.  Several versions of marmalade featuring port and wine have me salivating.  Roasted Lemons?  Who knew?  Lemon curd?  Didn`t know one could preserve it.  Blood oranges, Meyer lemons, Seville oranges?  And what the heck is Buddha’s Hand?

Canning Citrus   Lemon Squash January #tigresscanjam

I just knew I had a lot of jams, including jellies and marmalades.  I needed something different – something I wouldn`t feel guilty about NOT putting on toast.  I have all sorts of new ideas after seeing everyone else`s fabulous work (Tigress will be linking to them all – you can see many of the updates linked through the twitter tag #tigresscanjam for now).

It was a dire time.

I stumbled into organic lemons at a great price – $2.99 for 2 pounds.  I bought 4 bags and headed home.  We already had more than a pound of limes from the Holiday season so we were ready.  Almost.  Still needed an idea of what to do with them.

Canning Citrus   Lemon Squash January #tigresscanjam

I`m kind of like that – a little bit all or nothing, a little bit flying without a plan and a little bit crazy – I just believe it will all work in the end.

I dumped the lemons on the counter and stared at them.  I waited for them to speak.  I thought if I built it, they would come…  They showed up but they didn`t give me any hints.  I started to laugh at myself.

I took a moment to think about lemons and what I liked about them.  The answer was so clear it was nearly blinding.  Consider:

  • As a child my Mother was famous for making lemonade.  Pink lemonade was her rare specialty.  It was made entirely frozen from concentrate but every one of my cousins thought she made the best commercial lemonade in the world.  I still think it`s true.
  • I`m a sucker for over-priced lemonade at any trade show or food fair.  I have no defense to protect my wallet when I see a vendor in a juice stand designed to look like a giant lemon.  I just can`t avoid it.  Seriously.
  • Dana took me to a boutique hotel in Toronto for my birthday a few years back (the Drake).  The had a maple syrup and Jack Daniels lemonade.  I was in bourbon heaven (I know you thought that was in Tennessee).
  • Mercury Cafe (one of the best places to get a coffee in Toronto) makes a wicked coffee nearby.  I line up in the summer…  for the lemonade.

There had to be a way to preserve lemonade.  It is essentially citrus and sugar – i.e. strawberry jam without the strawberries.

It turns out the English have a different term for lemonade – lemon squash.  I prefer the inversion – squashed lemons.  It`s direct, to the point and accurate.

Lemon squash is essentially concentrated lemonade.  After opening a sealed jar you mix it with 3 or 4 parts water.

The recipe we used called for 7-10 lemons and 650 grams of sugar to make 4 cups of lemon concentrate.  The directions were simple:

  • Wash all lemons.  Zest 4 of them.
  • Bring a pot of water to a full boil.  Add lemons to the boiling water and leave for a minute.  This loosens them up and will coax the most amount of juice from them (a great tip for all citrus – it was awesome).  Keep the lemon infused water for a later step.
  • Squeeze 500 ml (2 cups) of lemon juice.
  • Place 500 ml of lemon-infused water (NOT lemon juice), the sugar and zest into a saucepan and slowly bring to a boil.
  • Add 500 ml (2 cups) of lemon juice into the saucepan and bring just to a boil.
  • Strain the mixture through a fine colander or cheesecloth.
  • Pour into hot sterilized jars and process with a hot water bath.

This should last up to a year.

We did 4 variations of this – a lemon lime variety, a ginger lemon, honey-sugar lemon and maple syrup-sugar lemon.  Changing a recipe isn`t something that should be done lightly – the right balance of acids, sugar, bottle size and cooking time are essential for safety and avoiding a lost batch.

The maple syrup version is done in 125 lm (0.5 cup) portions so we can emulate those Jack Daniels bevys we had years ago.  1 part of lemon squash, 3 water and 1 part Jack Daniels will serve two double-shot beverages on a hot day.  We`re ready for a picnic!

I also made some silly mistakes in this quadruple batch.  I missed some obvious photo opportunities and forgot to add the lemon juice in my final batch.  I had to reopen, reprocess and reseal that batch – essentially made 5 batches to yield 4.  We did manage to dehydrate the rinds from all the remaining lemons and limes – a small victory for us and a bonus batch of preserving.

After I was all done I had another idea.  I missed an even more obvious opportunity than lemonade.  With the help of a pH meter we could have preserved pure lemon juice – to use in the next 11 batches of preserving for the can jam!

This was a lot of fun and it was super thrilling to see the great things so many others made and imagined.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet: Local winter greens…

“Good things will come to those who wait.”  While that may be true in principle, it’s tough to replace the convenience of ramen noodles and a king can of light beer (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

If you follow some of the contents of our posts, you will know there is a bit more of a conversation starting there these days – this is something that thrills me beyond words.  It’s just so much fun to see others discussing back and forth and learning and sharing off of each other and really feels much more like a conversation and not a speech.  It’s just a lot more fun for us and, hopefully, for those involved.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet: Local winter greens... Sprouts January Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet [Read more...]

The apple of my eye – sentimental food..

When Dana placed a 5-pound bag of apples in our shopping cart I barely blinked.  I paid more attention than I would have a year ago – knowing that they are one of the few locally farmed foods that we can buy in the middle of winter.

The apple of my eye   sentimental food.. January

A few hours later I found myself mindlessly reaching for an apple from the counter. It wasn’t a great apple.  Most of them have marks, are fairly dry and wear the look of something stored marginally.  But it was an apple after all.

I sat on the couch and had a bite and, to my surprise, I found myself reminiscing about apples.  The first memory was a strong one – I went to college with a woman named Chow.  We weren’t close; she was shy, academic and quiet while I was loud, angry and smelling my own teen spirit.  We were always pleasant with each other and frequently traded niceties – but weren’t close.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget the one significant conversation we shared.

Chow was from Viet Nam.  She fled the country with the help of her family at a young age.  She escaped as a preteen with a younger brother.  Her parents left the country separately and Chow had to navigate harsh jungle-like conditions for 10 days to guide her brother to safety.  Hunger, cold and fear were all very real.

When the two youngsters made it to freedom they were near starved.  Chow was handed an apple – she described it as her first taste of freedom.  She claimed (and I believed her) that she ate an apple every day since.  I don’t eat apples often but when I do, I almost always think of her.  She continues to inspire me with that memory.

More memories flooded in as well:

  • Apple pie made by my now-late mentor was his specialty
  • Apple crumble is an all-time favourite – and one that I remember discussing with my Grandmother in grand detail
  • Vivid memories of stuffing apples with brown sugar, wrapping in tin foil and throwing in a fire as a boy scout.
  • Eating apples in the back country of a Provincial Park as I worked on the trails with a small team.  One insisted that an apple could make your mouth feel like you just brushed your teeth.  Not sure why that memory stuck, but it did.
  • Memories of throwing crab apples into the neighbors pool as a child – and the trouble that came with it.

As I ate the apple I found myself surprised at how strong the memories were – as much as facts and mental images flooded my mind’s eye, I found myself processing strong emotions at the same time.  Some were sweet, some a little more bitter – all were very vivid.

Are there any tastes that marinate your memory?

Book review: COCO

It’s been some time since we’ve had a book review here – well overdue as the shelf continues to pile high with new knowledge and so many fascinating new books that I have yet to really sit down and digest.  I love buying books, having books, seeing books, knowing that they are there but I don’t read nearly enough.  I could use my childhood dyslexia as an excuse but it would simply be that.  I have a small goal of reading more cookbooks and following more recipes this year – I tend to be “inspired” by a recipe but lose valuable lessons from others by always interpreting it my way.

Book review: COCO January

COCO is very much about learning off of each other.  I think it’s one of the most fascinating “cookbooks” of the last few years even though it’s publicity has been relatively quiet compared to others (such as Momofuko which I also will get my hands on).  It’s not that it didn’t get a reasonable amount of press – it’s just that much of that was limited to chefs and many foodie types indoctrinated into food culture – many more casual (yet passionate) cooks missed this treasure.

The premise is simple.  The publisher (Phaidon) selected 10 world-class chefs and challenges each of them to identify 10 contemporary chefs that they would feature.  The result is 100 profiles of chefs – profiles created and oozing with the personalities of the 10 world-class leaders.  For people who watch television like Top Chef or Chef Masters, these profiles may prove extremely interesting and introduce all of us to some potentially new names.  Photos of their dishes and many recipes are included as well.

The 10 masters are:

  • Ferran Adria (Spain).  Owned of El Bulli – named the Best Restaurant in the World more times than any other restaurant.
  • Alain Ducasse (France).  Monster French chef owning restaurants in Paris, Monte Carlo and others.
  • Alice Waters (USA).  Credited with starting the buzz of local, organic food in restaurants in the early 1970s.
  • Rene Redzepi (Norway).  Renowned for reinventing Nordic cuisine and recognized for his innovation and approach.
  • Jacky Yu (Hong Kong).  One of China’s biggest chefs with his own line of cookbooks, tv show, restaurants and food products.
  • Yoshihiro Maurata (Japan).  Recognized worldwide for his interpretation and impact on what is considered to be modern Japanese cuisine.
  • Fergus Henderson (UK).  Nose to Tail eating took off worldwide – many credit this eccentric British chef (we featured him here).  Essentially recognized as a top chef for chefs to dine at.
  • Shannon Bennet (Australia).  Fine French dining in the heart of Australia where her restaurant is recognized as one of the best in the country.
  • Mario Batali (USA).  Beyond Food Network appearances, Mario Batali has more than a dozen well-respected restaurants in the US and is a past winner of the James Beard Outstanding Chef Award.
  • Gordon Ramsay (UK/USA).  International acclaim including a 3-Michelin star restaurant in London.

Each star profiles 10 of their favourites, presents a small sample menu, photos, a biography and, often, recipes to go along.  It’s a fascinating read to see why each made their selections as they did and provides culinary sleuths with enough leads to investigate (a la Google) to last a lifetime.

Book review: COCO January

What further separates this book from others is it’s design.  Each Master is given a color on the cover – these colors correspond to 10 colored bookmarks and each section uses the color of the Chef to further convey which one is delivering the message.  It’s a stunning collection and a wonderful attention to detail.

There was some controversy in Canada over the picks.  The Canadian Culinary scene created a petition to protest that no Canadian chefs were chosen and a New York blog fired back that two of the picks were born or started their careers here.  Toronto Life ran the story here if you want more detail.  I don’t find myself offended – I didn’t interpret this as the definitive Top 100 and imagine all would want to add more than 10 simple selections after all.

Regardless of ego, it’s well worth investigating and worthy of a Sunday afternoon and a blanket – which is my play this afternoon!