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!

The one kitchen gadget I couldn’t live without…

I like gizmos.  Gizmos and gadgets to be more specific.  I’m not sure what the difference is between the two but I’m sure there must be a difference and it’s probably an important one.  But I do know that I love them both.

Before I get to the one “gadget” that I am absolutely smitten with, I need to offer some context. As your read the following take a moment to consider – what is the one item that you have in your kitchen that many would think is a simple gadget that you simply couldn’t live without.

We also have less than 4 feet of workable counter space and very limited storage in our kitchen.  We have a single drawer which stores a mess of these things – enough space to hide anything that you are precisely looking for while not allowing you room to expand by a single other item.  It’s a bit like pandora’s box – once you open it you may never be able to close it.

Alas, all is not loss – we, indeed, have more room to store things.  An old flour container (which, despite being pretty, never actually contained flour) efficiently robs us of a remaining square foot of counter space to store every long tool we can jam in it.  We store two types of tools in this space:

  • spoons and other long-handled instruments of precision cooking that we use once a day or more.
  • spoons and other long-handled instruments of precision cooking that we use once a decade or less.

Life is, after all, about balance.

All cheekiness aside, there are many things I love about our kitchen.  There’s a massive exposed brick wall, open concept which means our kitchen is also our living room, main room and living space.  Preserving space is thin but it’s never lonely.  It’s great to host a party in and our dog loves to run around.  I’m just trying to illustrate that there is not a lot of room to waste and we have to be selective on what tools we add to our lives.  There are many things I want to add long-term – for now I collect a lot of patience and selectively add (and subtract) items to our arsenal of cooking tools.

We have purged many items over the years.  I can think of a few:

  • many broken/ inferior meat thermometers
  • spoons and spatulas – especially broken ones.  I’m not sure how one breaks a spoon although I seem to (there was the unfortunate incident of dropping one in a running food processor of course)
  • a juicer
  • bowls
  • bad glasses replaced by worse glasses (they broke frequently) replaced by no glasses
  • a tortilla press.  I didn’t use it once in 3 years and I often wish I had it – though I likely wouldn’t use it.
  • cookie cutters (note to self: I haven’t made cookies in 20 years, probably don’t need any for a while)
  • many different versions of measuring cups, spoons and other such devices.

Most of all I got rid of things that we were given or added to the kitchen that we never used and I simply don’t remember.

All of this got me thinking: If there was one inanimate object in my kitchen that I had a little bit of a man-crush on, what would it be?  When it comes to gadgets, I’ve loved and lost – certainly this experience must help me discover some sort of passion for some remaining item in our kitchen arsenal.

The process of elimination took nanoseconds.  I am simply in love with my microplane.

The one kitchen gadget I couldnt live without... January

It is deceptively easy to clean, super affordable and something I use almost every day.  I find myself consistently surprised at its many uses:

  • Cheese.  It is the King, Queen, Prince, Princess and Emperor of grating cheese.  Super fine shreds which melt softly as they are eaten and add massive flavor to every bite of a salad, dressing or more.
  • Grating spices.  Frozen ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and even garlic in a pinch.
  • Bread crumbs – grating stale frozen bread
  • Zesting.  Way faster than a speeding train – or even a zester.  The pieces are not as long as a hand zester (which we also have) but it makes amazingly fast work of citrus as we learned with more than 40 lemons and limes last weekend.

It’s like my BFF in the kitchen – always there when no other tool is while not burdening me with the guilt of not calling for days on end.  I find myself surprised on how often I use it (almost daily) and can’t imagine life without it.

Any other guilty pleasures out there?

When life gives you lemons…dehydrate them…

The learning continues.

I had a bounty of organic lemons.  The time was at hand and the mission simple – clean, cut and lay them out.  Put them on trays and insert into dehydrator.  6-8 hours later I would pull out golden jewels which would be a secret ingredient for citrus canning later this month (yeppers, for the Tigress Can Jam).

Instead it took about 20 hours and I pulled out something closer to a series of bronze medals:

When life gives you lemons...dehydrate them... Preserving Recipes Lemon January [Read more…]

Learning about making your own pizza

I made my own pizza again lest night.  It’s not something I do on a regular basis but it’s not something novel either.  Pizza is close to being a favourite – a status it achieved through almost a month exploring Italy about 7 years ago.

I decided to try something different last night – I turned to Jim Lahey’s – yep, the same one who invented No Knead Bread – for pizza advice.  The results were stunning:

Learning about making your own pizza January

There were several things I learned from this recipe and it’s approach which challenged my past experiences making pizza:

  • He does not use a pizza stone – a baking tray will do.
  • No need for cornmeal or flour at the bottom of your cooking tray either, line it with olive oil.
  • No rolling pins, no tossing.  Hand stretch it in your pan.This created a few tears which were patched up – I worried these would cause the pizza to stick to the pan but that was a non issue with the oil.
  • The sauce is extremely liquid.  In fact it is a can of plum tomatoes (14.5 ounces of tomatoes and 2/4 cup of the juice) and some olive oil.  This flys in the face of commercial pizza “paste” and what I thought made sense.  The liquid sauce keeps things moist and does not reduce to to the sweeter side of things.
  • Avoid saucing the middle of your pizza.  This I realized previously but this recipe took this to new heights.  I “kissed” the middle with sauce and want heavy on the outside as it tends to cook first.  Common sense but this had alluded me previously.
  • Cook it hot and long.  Hot I knew – but I did not expect my Pizza to survive at 500 degrees for almost 30 minutes.  The instructions were to wait for the edges to pull back from the pan and become slightly charred.   I thought this effect was only produced in a pizza oven.

The crust was thin and crispy on the outside as it gave way to a wonderfully soft and chewy crust in the middle.

Any tricks out there from other pizza lovers?  We’d love to hear them.

Check your fruit – dehydrated cranberries

Craisins.  Beautiful, sweet and bitter all at the same time.  Great in salads, granola or just for eating as is.  I love them.  I couldn’t wait to get cranberries into the dehydrator.

Lesson learned: craisins are not dehydrated cranberries.  Our small, shrivelled bits are intriguing, bitter, and interesting.  Did I mention bitter?

Check your fruit   dehydrated cranberries Preserving Recipes January Cranberry [Read more…]