One of those sophisticated adult things

When I was younger, I felt ambivalent toward eggs. Naturally, that changed considerably as I've gotten older. (Those of you who have been following my posts will recall my rant about the budding source of life.)

My hesitation toward eggs extended to egg salad: sloppy, rich, and potent-smelling. I never trusted other people's egg salad, but I'd still eat it. It was never my first choice, but I guess it never bothered me that much either.

Everything changed with the addition of tarragon. I don't think there has ever been a more perfect pairing than that of eggs with tarragon. Consequently, I am reposting my all-time favourite Epicurious recipe to which I can change nothing to better it. It's heavenly.

Lately, I've tried to exercise more restraint in my cooking. I used to err on the side of over-flavoring everything. I liked curries and bold, spicy flavors: complex components that combine to become something entirely unrecognizable. In holding back and limiting myself to fewer, more deliberate ingredients, I've been surprised how much I enjoy certain flavors. I used to be more like an Indian chef, I suppose, and now I'm moving toward French.

Tarragon does have a flavor reminiscent of licorice, but it's not what you think. Much like fennel, it's more complex than overwhelming anise. (I've successfully converted heaps of people to team fennel.)

To urge you, all I can say is simply: try it. You will not be sorry.

My brother always says that egg salad reminds him of traveling. I suppose it's one of those things we would eat on road trips as children and, more frequently, as adults. Now, when I eat egg salad, I get a nostalgic and content feeling: one more reason to look forward to road trips.

Note: I've switched around some of the measurements and instructions to make the recipe as simple as possible

Tarragon Egg Salad (The Best Egg Salad Ever)

8 large eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 finely chopped shallots
2 tbsp of finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tsp of white wine vinegar
pinch of kosher salt + to taste
pinch of freshly-ground black pepper
1 fresh baguette
3 cups of tender pea shoots

Gently place eggs in an electric kettle. Bring to a boil. Set timer for 15 minutes. Once finished, immerse eggs in ice water. Peel eggs, rinse, and finely chop. Mix with mayonnaise, shallots, tarragon, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Create sandwiches. Ta da!

FYI, you could always add basil or chives if you just aren't down with tarragon. It being the season it is (hurrah for spring!), I'm going on a hunt for garlic leaves, thanks to a lovely article from Vitamin T. I think they would make a great addition to this egg salad if you substituted them for the shallots (...or not and just combined them if you're me and you love pungency.)

Breakfast of Champions

It's been a few posts since I've shared a recipe so I thought I might offer one that everyone should eat for breakfast. I've felt terrific since I've been doing so.

You may have heard a thing or two about steel-cut oats. Essentially, they are whole oat groats that have been chopped into smaller pieces. Compared to rolled oats, quick cooking oats and (least nutritional of all!) instant oats, steel cut oats are entirely unprocessed and therefore retain all of the oats' nutritional value.

And what kind of nutritional value do oats have?

Well, oats abound in seven B vitamins, Vitamin E, calcium, iron and seven other minerals. They contain protein and fiber while being low in fat. You get to control the sodium when you cook them (because they don't come out of a package.)

Consuming a cup of steel-cut oatmeal has more fiber than a bran muffin and oats have been demonstrated to lower cholesterol levels and aid in the prevention of heart disease, thanks to their beta-glutan.

Unlike other cereals that are heavily processed and contain sugar which will make your blood-sugar skyrocket, steel cut oats are remarkably low on the glycemic index. They help you to feel fuller for longer, make your bowel movements regulate and I've definitely noticed my mood seems more balanced when I eat them.

For this recipe I take superfood and turn it into a super-duper crazy power food with the addition of quinoa, which has remarkable protein (12-18 per cent.) I'll write another post about quinoa soon enough. It deserves its own glory.

Breakfast Oatmeal of Champions

1 cup of steel cut oats
1 cup of quinoa
4 1/4 + 2 cups of water
1/4 tsp of sea salt (optional or to taste)
1 tsp wheat germ (optional)
1 tsp ground flax seed (optional)
1 tsp vanilla

To top each individual portion:
2 tbsp of thick Greek-style yogurt in your favorite flavor (I like Liberté!)
2 tbsp of fresh strawberries
drizzle of Canadian Grade B maple syrup or honey
1 tsp of toasted slivered almonds (or any other nuts)

Fill an electric kettle with ample water and get out two separate saucepans. Once the water has reached boiling, combine 4 1/4 cups of boiling water with the steel cut oats in one saucepan and 2 cups of water with the quinoa in the other. Cover the quinoa with a lid. Cook the quinoa for 15 minutes and then set it aside to rest. The steel cut oats will take 20-25 minutes and need occasional stirring as the mixture thickens. Once they are cooked, combine the quinoa and gently incorporate. Add salt. Add the wheat germ and flax seed, if using and then the vanilla.

(This mixture will keep in the fridge for a few days if you want to make it ahead of time, as I do on Sunday nights, to have it ready for the busy week.)

Spoon a serving into a bowl. Top with yogurt, strawberries and slivered almonds. Savor this delicious & hearty breakfast.

I wanted to extend a special thanks to those of you that are subscribing to my posts. I appreciate your readership and welcome any comments on content you would like to see in the future.

Charlie's Burgers: Part II

Disclaimer: this blog post is based entirely on speculation and conjecture.

I have a hunch about Charlie's Burgers, the underground restaurant in Toronto that's got everyone buzzing. Susan Sampson from the Toronto Star wrote an article about the phenomenon in today's paper and, upon reading it, something clicked in my head.

Charlie's Burgers has been written up in SheDoesTheCity, BlogTO, Sweetspot and now in the Toronto Star.

The writers from BlogTO and Sweetspot had not yet attended the secret dinners upon writing their pieces, but, in the piece from SheDoesTheCity, they wrote, "Guests included the esteemed food guru Bonnie Stern and gregarious red-haired sommelier of Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, Jamie Drummond."

Today in the Star, Jamie Drummond comes up again:

"I was incredibly, incredibly impressed by what they were doing," says Jamie Drummond, wine director for the Jamie Kennedy restaurant group. "Everybody is looking for something a little different. It has the potential to be a hit."

Drummond says he was both "worried" and "intrigued" when he and his girlfriend arrived at the anti-restaurant's first dinner, last month. It was held in the tasting room of a public wine storage facility on King St. W.

"It was definitely more like a dinner party – with friends you don't know," he says, recalling there were 18 guests.

Drummond had such a great time, he agreed to be the sommelier for this Sunday's meal. However, he claims he never spoke to Charlie in person about it.

"I like that mysterious air," he says.

Now, this is completely unsubstantiated, but I think that Jamie Drummond is affiliated with or is, in fact, Charlie Burger himself. My reasons are five-fold:

  1. The only person discussing Charlie's Burgers with the media is Jamie Drummond, who previously had a background as a musical journalist in Scotland and would probably know a few tricks about getting news into the media.
  2. Jamie Drummond occasionally DJs around Toronto as DJ Non Doctor, which demonstrates that he is in touch with after hours and underground communities.
  3. Charlie's Burgers places an emphasis on food and wine pairings. Jamie Drummond is a sommelier. (Hey, I'm just saying!)
  4. No stranger to developing elite communities centred around food dialogue, in 2006, Drummond, alongside chef Brad Long and sommelier Anton Potvin, created Monday Lunch gatherings at Toronto's Spoke Club. Over the years these luncheons based around "drinking, dining and discourse" gained popularity and captured the attention of chef Marc Thuet, Leah Mclaren, James Chatto, Jamie Kennedy (chef) , Amy Rosen, champion oyster shucker Patrick McMurray, and Charles Baker.
  5. In his role as sommelier for Jamie Kennedy's restaurants, Drummond would have privileged access to wines and fresh ingredients. The reviews from Toronto's elite food community have been favorable, thus, it has to be someone with special access and above-average competence who is orchestrating this whole thing.

Nobody Does is Better

A geographical tour:

I was born and raised in the fine 125 year-old city of Toronto. I had the pleasure of attending high school downtown, something I loved. From age 12 onward, I would commute on the subway to Bloor and Spadina: a practice that empowered me during those rebellious teen years.

I loved being young and having access to the whole city: soccer practice at Christie Pitts park and gym classes at Varsity Stadium. Every day, I would commute from my sheltered, uptown community to the vibrant buzz of the Annex, brimming with left-wing intellects and dirt.

During this time, I developed an socially awkward and unlikely habit: a penchant for street meat. I'd say I averaged one street meat hot dog per week at my worst and I've never lost that soft spot in my heart. I don't trust hot dogs in other cities and I never will.

Even NYC. I dated a gentleman who resided in Brooklyn and the hot dogs were never quite right. They didn't grill the buns like they do in T.O. They were emaciated and anemic with poor bun-to-meat ratio. Ohh, nothing beats the selection at a Toronto hot dog stand: sauerkraut, green olives, hot sauce, different relishes and tomatoes.

There has been a lot of dialogue recently about a new city project which entails aborting the longstanding monopoly of the hot dog. Eight vendors have been selected from a shortlist of 19 applicants.

People seem divisive on the issue, but in true Toronto fashion, they refuse to be happy: either lamenting the long overdue introduction of new street fare or berating the limited scope and selection of the food.

Toronto, you just can't win. You'll never please everyone and don't worry: I'll always honor thy street meat.

Chocolate Gets Scapegoated

In a cruel and twisted turn of events, a Scottish representative for the British Medical Association, Dr. David Walker, recommends a tax on chocolate. Junkfood Science explains the details here. Apparently, the tax is being considered in an effort to fight obesity.

Um... I ain't no doctor, but I don't think chocolate kills people: people eating too much chocolate kills people. Even then, chocolate might be responsible for making you a little more rotund, but I think of cocoa connoisseurs as gourmands, not morbidly obese people who can't get out of bed. If medical associations are considering a ban on chocolate, they should also have a restriction on people who purchase 12 chickens a day to eat themselves.

This suggestion is arbitrary at best and prejudicial against chocolate. Not all cocoa is created equal. The flavanoids in dark chocolate act as anti-oxidants against free radicals in our body. When was the last time Skittles did something like that for you?

If you're going to start a battle against junkfood, Doc, you could pick something far worse than chocolate.

7 Ways to Make Kids Like Food

1. Be sneaky

You don't need to use this method all the time, but sometimes kids can be stubborn about their vegetables. Nutrition can hid in delicious places: pureed in pasta or pizza sauces. Maybe you can't get your little one to eat pineapple, but he might like it in a smoothie when it's blended in with other fruits. The defiant broccoli-refuser could be a big fan of cream of broccoli soup. Revisit, reinvent.

2. Make it mini

Kids love stuff that's their size. Maybe they don't like chicken pot pie. Oh yeah? See if it's any different in a little ramekin, in an individual portion. It makes the meal feel like it was specially made just for them. Try mini soups, mini lasagna, mini pizzas and an assortment of baby vegetables.

3. Add colour

Children eat with their eyes, just like adults do. A plate of green vegetables might be daunting, but arranging vegetables like a rainbow is aesthetically appealing. Try to use red onions, orange peppers and a variety of different coloured vegetables. Different colours mean different nutrients too.

4. Be persistent

Just because mini-me didn't like carrots that one time, doesn't mean they hate carrots all the time. Maybe your child doesn't like the texture of cooked carrots, but raw carrots may be delicious. It's important not to feed into a child's negative ideas: "Why don't you like peas?" There's no need to label or generalize. Things may change. In fact, things will change. No biggie.

5. Go with what they know

No kid dislikes pizza. Spread tomato sauce on top of a portobello and sprinkle with grated mozzarella and fresh basil. Suddenly, it's a "mushroom pizza." Do the same on button mushrooms and they become mini mushroom pizzas. Anything can become a pizza. Lots of veggies like peas or tomatoes can slip inside macaroni and cheese. Take something they like and are comfortable with and introduce new foods using those media.

6. Give them ownership

You'll be surprised what children might willing to eat if they take part in the process. Children fear the unknown. If they get to see how things get put together and partake in the methodology and anticipation of cooking, they may eat a lot more. A previously disgusting breaded cod transforms into a labor of love and pride.

7. It's all about marketing

Maybe "Puréed broccoli soup" just doesn't sound as good as "Dinosaur Juice" or "Sludge Water." Perhaps a careless lump of mashed potatoes doesn't look as appealing as star-shaped, cookie-cutter potatoes might. Cookie cutters, egg cups, and ketchup bottles can be useful tools to make food look more exciting. You already know how to make delicious things: consider rebranding.

Oh yes, check out this beautiful watermelon radish from Slashfood.

Meat Reductionism

Just recently, my sweetie and I were discussing how times of economic difficulty breed religious fundamentalism and political fanaticism. He pointed to the emergence of communism and fascism in the period following the Great Depression.

I wonder if the same holds true for meat-eating habits. Meat is already a divisive subject.

We’ve all rolled our eyes at the vegetarian who ruined everyone else’s meal with her violent political ranting. Likewise, I’ve said a prayer for the arteries of a stubborn, multi-meal, everyday meat-eater.

When people ask about my eating preferences, I truthfully respond, “I am a meat reductionist.” This answer usually produces a snicker or snide remark in turn.

I thought I was part of a greater movement. I thought my term referred to a living, breathing phenomenon, but perusing the internet rendered very little information. Consequently, I’d like to offer my suggestion for a coherent definition here and now:

meat reductionism (noun)
[meet + ri-duhk-shuh-niz-uh m]
the practice of minimizing or obscuring the consumption of animal flesh as used for food
I prefer continuums to absolutes.

I've dabbled in lacto-ovo vegetarianism, but I did so while I was young and immature, resulting in bouts of anemia. While my nutritional habits and maturity level might be better suited to vegetarianism now, I’ve become too much of an epicure to abandon the beloved filet mignon.

Those close to me can also attest to my extreme love of burgers.

Sure I enjoy meat as a treat, a reward even. Need I eat it every day? Certainly not. Every meal? Not a chance.

Our ancestors were primarily gatherers over hunters. When foraging for food in the wild, they ate meat only when they made a kill: perhaps only once weekly, if that. As a result, our bodies have evolved to be all-eaters. But this category is equivocal, leading to the belief that humans digest lettuce and steak with the same grace and ease.

A human omnivore is distinctly different from the primates, bears and rodents with whom we share the omnivorous category.

Deciphering whether a species is a carnivore or herbivore is indicated by the teeth of the animal and the length of its digestive tract. While humans do fall under the omnivore category based on a rigid tri-categorical definition, we should instead consider meat /vegetable preferences as a more broad spectrum.

When we compare the length of our digestive tract to that of a raccoon or a rodent, it is considerably shorter. Longer tracts indicate species that are designed to eat lots of meat because it takes more time and effort for the body to break meat down than veggies. Shorter tracts are thus indicative of a diet that should be primarily comprised of vegetables.

While we do have canine teeth, they bear little resemblance to those of a wolf or lion. Our teeth are actually more similar to a gorilla’s or a horse’s (both herbivores.)

While our bodies are capable of processing and digesting meat, our basic physiology suggests it should not be ultra-prevalent in our diet and the bulk of our nutrition should be comprised of fruits, vegetables, and grains. When considering meat, let us look to the wisdom of Aristotelian moderation as guide.

If a physiological argument will not affect your meat consumption, then perhaps an environmental or humanistic argument might. If we all stopped eating meat, there would be enough food in vegetable crops to comfortably feed everyone in the world. Raising a cow for a year demands 7 times the amount of grain that it would take to feed a human. For more information consider, The River Cottage Meat Book: For Carnivores with a Conscience, to get more information on sustainable meat farming.

No one is asking you to give up meat completely, but to eat it in excess seems both decadent and cruel. My beloved Mark Bittman recently gave up meat before dinner in an effort to reduce his cholesterol. His project was completely successful.

Slashfood also posted a recent article on the subject of daytime meat reductionism. It would seem the meat-eater/vegetarian dichotomy is becoming less pronounced than it once was.

Alas, the next time we are at a cocktail party and someone questions us about our eating habits, let us proudly proclaim:

“We are meat reductionists!”

Simple & Savoury Tofu Recipe

½ block of extra-firm tofu, cut into small cubes
½ cup of cremini mushrooms, brushed clean & cut in half
2-3 table spoons of olive oil
1 small jar of capers + the juices
3 scallions, sliced finely & divided by white and green
2 tablespoons of soy sauce

Heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and tofu. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften and the tofu turns golden brown. Add the white part of the scallions. Saute gently for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the capers and juices, the green scallion bits, and the soy sauce.

Serve over a bed of whole wheat couscous.

My good friend, Edward Harrison, showed me this simple recipe when we were in University at McGill. I added the mushrooms because I like the texture. Thanks Edward!

Toronto's Latest Trend: Secret Fine Dining

If you've been poking around the Toronto blogosphere lately, you may have noticed a few articles about secret dinner societies. For those interested, go to this link for Charlie's Burgers and fill out your e-mail in the form. After a few days, you will be sent a rather cryptic e-mail questionnaire asking you about your food habits.

Based on your responses, you may qualify to go dinner at this secret supper club. Out of 150 applicants, only 8-12 people are selected to attend. The location and chef change each time, but the meals are designed for food connoisseurs and the chefs are reputed.

Jen McNeely and the gals at SheDoesTheCity refer to it as an anti-restaurant, as do the folks at BlogTO. I'm considering attending. Maybe they'll let me in if I blog about it.

Maybe you can ponder this new and elite food-lovers club while making a warm spinach salad.

Particularly in the winter months, I find eating cold, raw vegetables exhausting and unappealing. I haven't gotten to the bottom of this: whether it's psychological or physiological. To be frank, I don't really care. If making warm salad means I'll eat my vegetables, so be it. Warm salad we shall eat.

Find more information about restaurants in Toronto.

Warm Bacon Salad

2 generous handfuls of baby spinach (8 oz, 150g)
8 slices of bacon, chopped or sliced into little pieces
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
pinch of fleur de sel, or kosher salt
freshly-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of honey
1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard powder
5 shallots, sliced into rings
1 pint of white button mushrooms, sliced in half
(optional garnishes: 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced or a crumbling of goat cheese)

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook bacon slices until crispy. Remove bacon from pan. Set aside and crumble.

Add olive oil to pan with bacon fat. Sauté shallots and mushrooms until they soften and brown. Reduce heat to low.

Add red wine vinegar, honey, salt and pepper, and mustard powder to the mixture. If it looks too dry, you can always add another splash of olive oil. Toss spinach into the mix until it is coated and wilts gently.

Serve immediately. Crumble bacon on top of individual portions. If using, top with goat cheese or hard-boiled eggs.

This recipe serves two for a main dinner or four as a starter.