Come and Jam with Us… Challenge Reminder and offer for Torontonians

We rarely post on the same subject twice – there’s always room for exceptions and this is well worth some extra attention.  For those of you familiar with the preserving challenge she is hosting there are a few offers that are new and may help motivate you to join in the fun.

There are more than 20 people signed up to join a 12-month preserving challenge hosted by our friend Tigress.  She is a monster supporter of WellPreserved and we try to return the favour – it’s easy to be a fan of her two blogs (Tigress in a Jam, Tigress in a Pickle) and it is her genius and hard work.  We posted the original details here and her full concept is best explained on her blog here.

For those who are interested, the deadline to sign-up (it’s a free commitment) expires on December 22nd.

Now it is time to sweeten the deal…

  1. Knowing that some may not be participating because they are new to preserving I want to encourage all to give it a try.  If one person emails us to ask us to create a series to walk through the basics of our first batch (a step-by-step how-to), we will do so before the end of the first month.  We have a generic walk-through linked on the preserving page above.
  2. If anyone is short a recipe we will gladly share.
  3. We will try to answer any questions we can to support the mission.
  4. For those of you in the Toronto area (close enough to meet face-to-face), we will literally sweeten the pot.  I am proposing a local swap at the end of the 12 months (we could meet at 6 month intervals of course) that would be very simple.  I will save an extra jar of each batch we make to trade with you at the end of the swap and will include recipes.  We can compare results and learn from each other.  If people want to try more than my goods I will offer to be a matchmaker and arrange a 2-way, 3-way or more.  Participants must be able to meet in T.O. for a swap.  If you are interested, leave us a comment or email us.

You can reach me at email: joel (a) elevenideas.ca

Come join the community and let’s get jamming!

Tips on buying holiday cheese

I must have been a mouse in a  previous life.  Cheese is one of my most favorite things in the world.  During the holidays I tend to load up for hosting friends and family and the Holidays typically finish with a glutenous macaroni and cheese made of the leftovers of  a month of feasting.

Tips on buying holiday cheese December

I have learned a few tips (most are straightforward) that have made a major difference in the quality (and sometimes price) for my fromage:

  1. Buy directly off a cheese specialty store when possible.  Even if other places sell “the same” thing, be weary.  Cheese is sensitive and storage, humidity, access to air (or not), age after cutting and general handling can change the taste considerably.
  2. Expensive cheese may not be.  Some flavors are so intense that small portions are better than big.
  3. Forge a relationship with your cheese dude or dame.  This is a bit too late for this year but go back to the same person behind the counter each time.  Pick someone you like and someone who knows their stuff.  I have 3 cheese dudes which I know by name who help me learn a great deal.  If they are with someone I will wait.  I have learned so much off these passionate people and love interacting with them.  I have also learned that there are cheeses that are so limited that they are not put on display or available to most dairy seekers.
  4. Find out when the Holiday shipment arrives.  My cheese shops ordered their Holiday cheese 6 months ago and most of the specialty items arrive on a single day.  Some of the best cheeses will be gone before most customers even see it.  One of my cheese guys is hiding a selection of cheeses away for me until I arrive so I don’t lose a chance.
  5. Although a busy day at the shop is not the time to challenge your cheese tutor, ask lots of questions when they appear to have some time (I ask if they do).  Ask what to pair with your cheese or, even better, tell them what you are eating or drinking and ask them for a recommendation.
  6. Have a budget.  Know if you are going for variety, quantity or quality.  It’s ok to share this – sometimes I am looking to buy cheap and plentiful and will ask for guidance.
  7. Learn the temperature your cheese tastes best at.  I leave most of our cheese on the counter for 3-4 hours before serving.  Some are better warmed in the oven (and in one case, covered in wine).
  8. Ask for tips on pairing jams, breads, crackers.
  9. Texture can change the flavor.  We slice some, shave others and crumble more.  A set of 3 cheese knives can be had for around $15 and learning what to use when can add to the enjoyment (and it’s not complex).
  10. Understand seasonality and find out if there are cheeses that are only available this time of year – Christmas is typical of this.  These tend to be the more expensive and sticker shock can be hefty so be comfortable enough to ask.
  11. Taste, taste, taste…and enjoy!

Try som

Thomas Keller…live

I had the distinct pleasure on Monday evening to attend a live interview with Thomas Keller.  If the name is a new one to you, Chef Keller is considered one of the top chefs in the world today.  Two of his restaurant (Per Se  in New York City and French Laundry in Yountville, California) are perennially listed on the world’s Top 10 restaurants and he is the only American born chef to have two restaurants with 3 Michelin stars.

Thomas Keller...live December

Chef Keller was focused, sweet, engaging, funny, uncompromising and delightful.  I found the interview to be inspiring with stories from his life.

I took detailed notes of the interview and the following are my highlights.  Quotations represent quotes to the best of my ability, the rest are stories or observations I had during his 90-minute interview:

  • “Good Food = Good Product (ingredients) + technique”
  • He went out of his way to thank people and singled out the young Chefs from a local college who volunteered at the event.
  • A pivotal moment in his life came when his brother (also a chef) taught him how to make hollandaise sauce from scratch.  From there, repetition was a critical.
  • “You only start to learn how to do something the second time you actually do it”
  • His first cook book was a gift from his Mom and she bought it because of the looks – A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price (yes, the same one from Michael Jackson’s Thriller)
  • His second cookbook was My Gastronomy by Nico Ladenis.  This was another big moment in his life and a turning point as it had a great narrative which helped with technique.  Keller adored the narrative so much that he tried to pitch his first cookbook as a book without recipes.
  • Cookbooks have regressed with the picture, recipe, picture, recipe format.  We are not building technique and you need to develop technique to make a recipe your own.
  • `Determination (desire) is the key to success.  Passion can ebb and flow; determination endures.`
  • `It`s always about teams.`
  • When he couldn`t get bread up to his standards for French Laundry he opened a Bakery down the street (Bouchon Bakery) because `that is just what you do`
  • Local, fresh and seasonal ingredients excite him and he loves the concept of seasons.  He shared a story about visiting a fancy grocery store in Toronto this week and asking a woman why she would buy peaches since what was being offered was essentially a memory of a peach.  He steered her to apples and pears and was pleased that she did.  Moments later she went for cherries and he gave up.
  • When pressed on local and seasonal and informed by the interviewer (Alison Fryer of the Cookbook Store) he was adamant.  When she commented `Sometimes I want blueberry muffins in November` he replied `Well therein lies a problem.`
  • He was open that the approach to cooking the best food in the world and insisting on local and fresh as possible is somewhat elitist.  He said this in a humble, self-aware way and not as a mean to gloat.  I found this comment refreshing.
  • `At the end of the day, what it`s all about if it`s not about the memories…`
  • Resource products which are better and better and ask your grocer for items which are better and better.
  • When asked if he eats toast he responded that he did when he was sick.
  • `Repetition is the liberation of creativity`
  • `Too many young Chefs want to move on to the next thing before mastering the current thing they are working on.  The thing about the next thing is that there will always be a next thing.`
  • A black iron skillet is the essential pan for the kitchen – if you only had one pot this would be his pick for you.
  • There are 2 teams working simultaneous in his kitchens so he can have 10 seatings a week and still have all staff members (including him) work 5 days a week.  When he learned his craft a 6-day week was the norm and he wanted to change that.  The days are still very long.
  • He`s had 2 knee surgeries that he attributes to being a chef.  It`s tough physical work and it`s vital you plan for your exit early.
  • He believes you must leave the industry in better shape than when you entered it.

There were 450 people in attendance and many, many chefs (the event was held on a Monday to accommodate the industry.  It was part of the launch of Ad Hoc at Home and was a great evening.

Thomas Keller...live December

No Knead Bread – style tips

We’ve had a few emails in the last day about the look of our last loaf of no-knead bread that appeared in yesterday’s post as part of Cheap Tuesday.

No Knead Bread   style tips December Cooking Recipes

[Read more...]

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – Falling for Pork

We announced the start of a new series of posts last week with a promise to launch today.  The full details are here but the premise is simple – creating good, wholesome food at affordable pricing as a means to support and create a dialogue in which we can share how to eat wholesome food at a fraction of a price of fast food alternatives.  The terms gourmet and cheap are relative – the term Tuesday is not.

Roasted pork tenderloin with the flavors of late autumn – pears, apples and potatoes.

We found pork tenderloins on sale – 1.2 kilograms (approximately 2.5 pounds) of protein for $5.18.   We also purchased 6 Ontario Apples ($2.10), 3 pears ($1.07), white flour for bread ($1), 9-grain flour for the same bread ($1.20), potatoes from a farmer at the St Lawrence Market ($2.40) a small dab of oil and various spices to be named later in bulk ($0.75).  We also used $0.50 of Kahlua which is completely optional (you can buy an airplane bottle of it for $2.55 at the LCBO and need less than a quarter of it) which is completely optional.  All numbers are rounded up.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet   Falling for Pork December Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet [Read more...]

Royal Winter Cows

The Royal Winter Fair came to Toronto a few weeks back – even Prince Charles flew into town for a quick appearance.  Dana and I were the other Royalty that got to visit the fair.

I don`t think I`ve gone to the fair before – if I did it was as a small child.  I grew up in Suburban Toronto and we often went to the Markham fair in the fall.  I have many great memories of our community fair and often looked forward to it.

I remember that the local softball association was auctioning off a cow when I was a teenager.  The cow would be fully butchered and delivered in time for Christmas.  My friend Laura and I bought every ticket we could when they promised us they would call the winner before culling it – our intention was to `save`the animal and keep it somewhere.

I often wonder what we would have done if we had won.  Neither of us ate red meat at the time and we lived in the same subdivision.  In all likelihood Ethics would have given away to practicality and everyone would have gotten meat for Christmas.  Or we would have found a farmer who could have kept it `safe.`

It`s a good memory and funny to think of how much my perspective has changed over the years.

The Royal Winter Fair was awesome – we had a great time and learned lots.  We also got to hang out with some cows (most of whom made milk not meat) and grabbed a few shots.  I love watching cows – especially when meandering in fields but a few posed for us so here they are.

Royal Winter Cows November

Royal Winter Cows November

2800% Markup in your grocery store?

I have spent a lot of time buying food – it’s something I adore.  I don’t mind spending 2 or 3 hours shopping for a single meal when I have the time (less and less these days).  I thought I had a pretty good idea of the lay of the land, so to speak.  I was shocked to learn something new this week that I should have learned long ago.

Before the big reveal of my epicurean epiphany, perhaps you would like a chance to raise yourself to the challenge and test your own savvy.  Here’s your chance:

What is the most expensive food you can buy in the grocery store (pound for pound of course)?

I would have had many guesses and I’m sure it’s different from grocery store to grocery store.  I would have guessed items like Wagyu beef (at around $80 per pound) would have been in the running – and it’s not even close.

I was surprised to see something retailing for $363.20/ kilogram ($164/ pound).  Would you pay that much for food?  What type of decadence would you expect to get for that price?

I was shocked to realize the price.  I was even more surprised to realize I have bought it before.

A jar of Oregano ($3.62 per jar) is the culprit.  I knew that the dried herb was expensive in a jar but hadn’t realized just how little of the light flakes were contained inside.  The jar was a meager 10 grams.  I knew the price was high – I didn’t realize the weight was so low.

To contrast this price, I also found oregano for $12.90 per kilogram, in bulk.  I bought 25 grams for 32 cents – the cost for 10 grams would have been 13 cents.  What makes this even more confounding is that the bulk version was in the same store as the more expensive alternative.

There is a point to say that cheapest and best dried herbs can be made affordable at home (even in a condo) – there are only so many projects that one can take on at the end of the day.

Paprika was $53/kilo in jars and $11 in bulk.  Pepper was $58 compared to $8.80.  Mustard seeds were $5 compared to $22.  Salt was 50% off in the bulk version.

To put Oregano in perspective, imagine lining up for a happy meal and having two options:

  • Happy Meal served on a plate, $5.50.
  • Happy Meal in a custom bag, $154.47

And keep in mind, both prices are the same Happy meal.

I would love to be in position to grow and dry all of my own herbs – in the mean time I’ll stick to reading prices more carefully.

La Cucina – Regional Cooking of Italy

I love cookbooks.  I rarely follow recipes.  It’s a contradiction I’m working on resolving but it’s been this way as long as I remember.

We have had the recent privilege of being spoiled on Italian cuisine several times through a friend (who is also a client of Dana’s in the spirit of full disclosure) and my eyes have been opened to an entire cuisine that I thought I knew.  I certainly didn’t qualify as an expert but have surrounded myself with a lot of Italian inspired food in my lifetime (including a 25 day tour of parts of the country) and I can freely admit my ignorance – I had no idea just how diverse different regions were.

These dinners arose a curiosity with me and when I stumbled on a cookbook called “La Cucina” I knew I had to take a look.  It tookmere  seconds to realize I would leave the store with it under my arm.

La Cucina   Regional Cooking of Italy November

The cookbook contains 2,000 recipes and no pictures (something I consider a feature in this case).  it’s well-organized and covers the food of Italy by identifying the roots of each recipe.  Local traditions are woven into the book and it feels like reading history as much as it feels like reading  a cookbook.  And there is good reason for this – the book has roots which stretch almost 60 years to a group of people in Milan who decided to preserve the culinary heritage of Italia.  The Italian Academy of Cuisine was born and they maintain this tome today.

The book is designed fabulously.  Red writing tells you that there is a note about the food other than how to cook it and the recipes are straightforward and well explained.

La Cucina   Regional Cooking of Italy November

Food with such tradition is exciting to me – preserving of a different kind but preserving nonetheless.  Preserving culture, tradition and recipes passed down through the ages.

The only drawback?  It’s $54 Canadian for the 900+ page encyclopedia.  You can find copies as low as $30 USD on Amazon (I can save you the search here).

I am most excited to pick something and actually follow a recipe – the problem now is the amount of options at my fingertips!

Paella Party – Recipes that sing and type

It’s Friday and a Thanksgiving long weekend for many of you (we’re working in Canada today as our Thanksgiving is in October) and I thought a post on the lighter side was in order.

I was hoping to find some kinetic typing videos of Food, Inc or another food movie – instead I found a recipe that both sings and types itself through its directions.

Any other fun food videos you are seeing out there?

Guess who’s coming to town?

He’ll be checking his list and checking it twice, he’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…  That’s right!  Thomas Keller is coming to Toronto (you weren’t thinking about someone else now were you?

For those who don’t recognize the name, Keller is one of the top chefs in the world.  He owns multiple restaurants including French Laundry (California) and Per Se (New York) which are typically both featured in the top 10 restaurants in the world.   Ad Hoc is a scaled down and more affordable (yet still not cheap – dinner is around $50 a person without beverages) version.

Ad Hoc has an emphasis on casual, community and family style dinner.  It is open 5 days a week (plus brunch) and has a menu which changes daily depending on the season and market offerings.  The menu appears on the website every day.

Here’s Keller giving a small introduction to Per Se and his view of it:

Keller is in Toronto to promote his new cookbook, Ad Hoc at home.  The offering appears to be accessible recipes for many of us who could find some of his previous cookbooks intimidating thought exciting.  He will be interviewed at the Toronto Reference library.  Tickets are $80 and include an autographed copy of the cookbook.  You can buy them by visiting or calling the Cookbook store.

I’ll be in attendance so if you’re there let me know and say hey!