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I 'heart' exotic flavors



Governor General of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, gutted a freshly slaughtered seal, pulled out its raw heart, and ate it to demonstrate her support for the traditional seal hunt in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

My boss thought it would make a great blog entry and I have to agree. (Thanks Louise!) Would you eat a heart? How high is your food tolerance?

Fair Victoria

As if I needed another luxury fetish (leather, cashmere and diamonds were bad enough!), I spent a lovely evening at the launch party for handmade, family owned, Canadian premium spirit: Victoria Gin. There's no going back now. It's worth the price.

To explain gin simply, it's like a natural vodka that has been infused with herbs and flavors and then redistilled. (I think the technical term for this is “London dry gin”, as opposed to Plymouth gin or compound gin.)


The most prominent flavor in gin is juniper and the berries are responsible for spirit's name, which is a shortening of the Dutch word: genever. Juniper berry often accompanies quail, pheasant, veal, rabbit, venison and other gamey meat dishes.

Conceptually, I find gin to be a charmingly attractive alcohol option because of all the different aromatics and infusions. One of the lovely people I spoke to at the launch event, Kato Wake, said she saw gin as a more refined alcohol, free of the drab and loaded associations of other hard liquors. I tend to agree.

Vic Gin is hand made in small batches from a wood-fired still on Vancouver Island. I don’t know a great deal about stills, but this still is reputed to be particularly attractive: handmade, wood-fired and copper. Only the middle part of each run, known as the hearts, is saved for bottling. The result is a gin with more flavor and complexity, earning it the premium title.

I first tried Vic Gin on the rocks while in the backyard of the company’s creative director, Mia Hunt. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol straight on ice, but I was impressed by the array of flavors I noticed in addition to juniper: lemon and orange peel, anise, even rose petals. The sheer appearance of Vic Gin has a look of luxury about it, coating ice cubes with a pleasant viscosity.

For a comparison, Mia gave us a shot of Bombay Sapphire to try after our Vic Gin. Compared to heavenly Victoria, it tasted flavorless like rubbing alcohol and swirled around with the thinness of water.

The launch party was held this past Wednesday night at Camera Bar on Queen West, which is attached to the Stephen Bulger Gallery. I was told by a charming crossed-dress incarnation of young Victoria that the Queen used to drink gin as a tonic for her flatulence.

It certainly is pleasantly aromatic.

Maybe it’s my witchy ways, but I’ve always been drawn to elixirs. The botanicals from Victoria Gin were laid out in tidy little vials for the guests to examine.


Amongst them, the secret ingredient was also displayed and my friend’s superior nose accurately sniffed it out. I won’t say what we think it is, but it’s a well-known herb long renowned for its beneficial properties.

Anna Hunt, Culinary Consultant at Victoria Spirits and Chef at Victoria’s Paprika Bistro, produced a number of hors d'oeuvres that were inspired by Victoria Gin. The menu included:
Pork & duck terrine with Gin gêlée
Gin-infused Gazpacho of cucumber and tomato served in little shot glasses

Gin-marinated Venison canapés on a slaw of apples and cabbage

Gin-cured gravlox on a bed of rolled cucumber and lemon tea sandwiches
The Gazpacho was wonderful, but the terrine was a close second. I generally don't opt for terrine or pâté so that's saying quite a lot. For more lovely gin-infused recipes, click here.

Handsome and charming Frankie Solarik from barchef played mixologist extraordinaire for the evening. I had a drink with kiwi, mint, grapefruit and Victoria Gin. Other fabulous concoctions included egg whites and nutmeg plus variations of fresh rosemary, mint and basil.

Curtis Elson, sommelier for One Restaurant, attended with his girlfriend Amy Milligan. My brother’s ex-wife’s mother’s cousin-through-marriage was also there: Saul Rubinek. Most impressive of all, however, was the presence of the kind and personable Kevin Brauch, who foodies might know better as The Thirsty Traveler. (He also works the floor on Iron Chef America.) What a gem of a human he is.


All in all, it was a charming night for a fabulous product. Victoria Gin retails $49.99 for 750 ml at the LCBO. Right now, the quantities are limited for this season so check the LCBO website for stock at your local retailer.

Get ready for a new luxury habit.

A freshly-squeezed reminder

Yesterday, a colleague at work tweeted a link about the perils of boxed orange juice. I knew these things previously and had stopped drinking juice entirely (except fresh squeezed) a year or two ago. But then I got kind of forgetful/ fat/ complacent and plead ignorance and started drinking prepared supermarket juice again. I was thankful to have a reminder of how sugar-laden and mediocre prepared juices really are.

These things happen. I have to constantly remind myself that these fluctuations in habit (and weight) are ok. For now, I’m off prepared juice again. Only freshly-squeezed from now on! Freshly-squeezed was the habitual norm in both France and Australia when I resided in those countries. It's an easy and delicious thing to get used to.

Oh, and water. Remember water?

Tip: when drinking freshly-squeezed juices, you must consume them within 20 minutes of extraction in order to derive all the nutrients and benefits before they start to oxidize and disappear.

Spears so hot right now

Britney asparagus spears are all over the papers this season because they are fresh, ripe and at the top of their game.

To ensure they cook evenly, try to pick a bunch that are all similarly-sized. You can gently steam them, roast them in the oven or, best of all, grill them on a barbecue.

Try rolling them in olive oil, salt, pepper and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano then roasting them in the oven. You can also toss them in balsamic vinegar and olive oil with a little paprika and toss them on the grill.

Asparagus doesn't need much when it's at its seasonal peak so season (salt), lubricate (oil) and go (cook)! Oh yes, and beware of asparagus' anemic white cousin.

A real blind potluck = awesome


Last night we had a potluck for Mother's Day with my immediate family and my cousins' family (a total of ten people.) For a change, my aunt suggested we have a potluck, but instead of "cheating" the way people tend to these days, we did a real, old-school blind potluck where nobody knew what anyone else was bringing.

It was fantastic.

As my aunt anticipated, it worked out perfectly and we got a really nice variety of food! I brought curried carrot and ginger soup, my mom brought the beloved Silver Palate Chicken Marbella. Both my cousins brought pasta, but one was hot butternut squash pasta with pine nuts and the other was Italian fresh pasta salad with tomatoes and arugala. My uncle barbecued shrimp and steak.

Lovely. Recommended to all.

It's been an eternity since I posted a recipe so here is a wonderful one: Chicken Marbella. It's a rustic and wonderfully elegant dish. Serve it to guests and they always say "wow."


Chicken Marbella
From the Silver Palate Cookbook

4 chickens, 2 1/2 lb. each, quartered
1 head of garlic, pureed
1/4 c dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1/2 c olive oil
1 c pitted prunes
1/2 c Spanish green olives
1/2 c capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 c brown sugar
1 c white wine
1/4 c chopped parsley

Combine all ingredients except brown sugar and white wine, and marinate overnight.

Arrange chicken in pan, spoon marinade over, and sprinkle with brown sugar and wine.

Bake 50-60 min at 350 degrees, basting often.

Eat! (Serves 10+, or the leftovers make great chicken salad and sandwiches.)

Dijongate

The latest American media circus is centered around President Obama’s choice of burger topping. (Here's the link to the Toronto Star article from today.)

Dijon.

Sean Hannity from Fox has been lying to telling his viewers that MSNBC, specifically reporter Andrea Mitchell, is trying to keep the public from finding out about Obama’s Dijon fetish. Hannity and has been referring to the Dijon burger as Obama’s “fancy burger.”

Blogger William Jacobson, a Cornell law school professor, was quoted saying that Dijon on a Ray's Hell Burger (Arlington, Va) had "a very John Kerry-ish quality about it."

Ugh. I know this is a food blog and not a political blog, but this whole story makes my blog boil. Republicans are such hypocrites. The same men who habitually frequent prostitutes and partake in extramarital affairs were the ones who pointed the finger at Clinton and spurred on his eventual impeachment.

They’re probably sipping on Dom Perignon and eating baby seals while they point the finger at Obama.

It bothers me because they’re pigeonholing him: “Oh, you’re cool? Your accessible? The ‘people’s president’? You better eat garbage then.”

Don’t get it twisted, folks. This isn’t a matter of taste or opinion.

Obama is right. Dijon is better. Yellow American mustard is one of the few foods that tests my gag reflex.

Ugh. Freedom fries…

Listen Mr. President. Come on up to Canada again and ditch that Beaver Tail for some of my Canadian Orange Sauce (ketchup mixed with dijon.)

Edible Flower

Happy Friday. Here's something to ponder:

What’s red, full of sugar & goes on everything?


Susan Sampson from the Toronto Star reported today that Canadians consume the second largest amount of ketchup in the world, based on information from Heinz. This averages out to 2.5 litres a year per person. (The Finns were apparently the number one ketchup consumers- what happened to the US?!)

Sampson’s article also mentioned that all the tomatoes used in Heinz ketchup are from Ontario, which is nice to know. (Not so fast locavores, that sugar came from Costa Rica!) Maybe that's why I didn't like the taste of ketchup in Australia. I think it was a different colour too.

In case you haven’t heard, Ketchup contains 1/3 pure refined evil sugar so go easy on it. However, it does contain magical lycopene, which your body can only absorb from cooked tomatoes (like in ketchup) and that can help protect you against heart disease.

Fresh


If you've been reading the National Post this week, you'll notice they've been featuring different chefs each day for "My Toronto's Celebrity Chef Week." Today it was Mark McEwan, yesterday was Jaimie Kennedy and Monday was Susur Lee.

I found what Lee had to say about fresh ingredients in Toronto really interesting. That's something I definitely take for granted.

"The culinary scene in New York, it’s all sorts of classes. It can be medium to extreme. Our standards are like, 80% to 90% in Toronto, but in New York, it can be all over, from 20%, to 70%, 100%. It’s actually very difficult to find ingredients in New York. To get Vietnamese basil, Vietnamese lime, we have such great ingredients here, you can taste the freshness. Toronto is spoiled when it comes to food, the quality is very high."


How's that for lucky, Toronto?


How do you like dem apples, you Chowhound cynics?


After those heated dialogues on Chowhound regarding the authenticity of the Kobe beef served at Charlie’s Burger’s, I decided to leave the whole issue alone. But then I received an email from Chef De Guzman this morning…

For those of you who weren’t following the dialogue, someone who had attended the dinner created a thread on Chowhound talking about how awesome the experience had been at De Guzman’s dinner. Chowhound people started to write comments saying there was no way the Kobe was real and it was Wagu from Chinatown, et cetera, et cetera. They even accused me of posting under two different identities. (I did not.)

A little bit of the dialogue spilled over onto my previous blog post reviewing Charlie’s Burgers if you care to scroll down to read the comments.

Anyway, so I received this e-mail today from the charming and earnest Chef De Guzman thanking me for my blog post and appreciating that I had enjoyed the experience. His email was so sweet and so genuine. At one point, he wrote:

“If I were to expire right after my last supper, I'd love to be remembered for my sincerity. My goal that evening was to make sure that all my 36 guests were happy and also the people who were involved with the collaboration of this dinner ... Charlie and his awesome staff and my kitchen team. We did it for fun and for a culinary adventure. My goal for my kitchen staff is for them to learn something new, whether it's about cooking or learning how to work under pressure and have fun at the same time. Unquestionably, cooking for Susur Lee and 35 foodies is priceless and unforgettable.”
He continues on to mention reading the comments about the Kobe Beef and reaffirms that it was real and he has the Japanese Kobe Certificate in his office with the stamp from the Japanese Ministry of Health. He even quoted the certificate number for me:

# JPN-CA08017

De Guzman promised he would not disclose the supplier, but Enzo Spigarelli from The Butcher Shoppe, his good friend, can source the real Kobe deal if buyers are interested. They have to buy the whole box though; you can’t get 10 oz of Kobe. This is why it lends itself more suitably to a dinner party of 35 people, like Charlie’s Burgers. After De Guzman contacted me, I also received an email from Charlie himself, confirming that the beef was certainly “Kobe priced.”

De Guzman's email continues on to discuss his intention in participating in the underground dinner:
"… my menu was not designed for profit, but to make people happy. It is a chef's dream to cook anything ...no rules, no special dietary restrictions, no 33% food cost and no labor cost at the perfect venue for the perfect guests. For me, that is genuine pleasure. It would be heart-breaking for me if one of my guests went home unhappy and feeling duped."
I’ve been thinking about why people have such a difficult time believing the Kobe beef was real and I’ve decided that it’s the same reason why people might not understand Charlie Burger’s in general:

It’s so un-capitalist.

It’s not-for-profit, but it doesn’t save sick babies or plant trees. The idea is genuinely wholesome and the intention is pure, but the act itself of eating the food is decadent and indulgent.

People are so accustomed to bottom lines, profit and overhead that they almost can’t see something good when it slaps them in the face. If it’s not-for-profit then they think it’s all about the gimmick, the stunt: publicity. There must be some ulterior motive, right? Right?

No.

The cynics at Chowhound should eat some humble pie and take a page out of Charlie Burger’s book: stop being so cynical and do something that makes people happy for a change.

(Here are a couple pages from that book):

What is Charlie’s Burgers?
The Anti-Restaurant is about the food experience first. It is not-for-profit, so the costs involved resume their proper place as something simply incidental to the event.

Who cooks?
A Chef who CAN and still loves to – someone whose love of a kickass meal has not been dulled by soul-crushing food and beverage managers and bean counters – someone creative, innovative and fun.

White anything just seems less flavorful



I had a nice laugh today after reading Mark Bittman's post about white asparagus. ("Oh, now I get it...")


He seems to mirror my sentiments about the anemic and emaciated albino-fleshed relatives of otherwise vibrant, nutrient-laden and flavor-rich foods.


Sure, a white raspberry might sound exotic and it looks like of cool, but it's bland whiteness extends to its flavor too. Don't be fooled.

By request

This one's for you, Night Terror,

I was looking over the recipes I've posted and I'm somewhat embarassed to admit that there aren't a lot of vegetable dishes. Yes, there are healthy things: legumes and whole grains, salads that would be fit for entertaining, but just vegetables? Not really.

In terms of simple, elegant vegetables, one of the techniques I like to use in cooking is to make a dish then infuse the recipe with additional nutrients by adding collards, spinach, peas or broccili towards the end of the cooking time. That way you can make something really tasty and rich like a cream pasta sauce and get lots of vegetables too.

One of my favourite ways to start any meal is with a fresh baguette, chèvre cheese and some homemade roasted red peppers. The ones in jars don't taste as good as ones you make at home and people are always impressed when you say you did it yourself.