Review: Pata Negra

Trust chefs. They know where to eat and plenty eat at The Black Hoof. Food critics too: on my inaugural visit, I glanced over to see Corey Mintz, beloved Toronto Star columnist, delving into a pile of glorious steaming meat.

Since the secret of The Black Hoof is already out, I should state the obvious should any of my beloved readers wish to go: the sign on the red awning humbly reads Charcuterie, but this place is much, much more.

Named in the great tradition of Spanish hams, the eating experience combines modular, unconventional, bite-sized treats with the minimalism and merriment of a bar.

We arrived at 6:30 on a Friday night. In spite of hearing horror stories of endless lineups, we were ushered quickly to our seats.

The staff alternated between three or four servers, all of whom were were charming, polite, and unpretentious.

I hate pretentiousness in fine dining above all else: ask me about the blog post I was supposed to write about Madeline's during Summerlicious. Meh.

I ordered a delicious cider and my companion had a something bitter. I had starved myself (somewhat) intentionally by eating fruits and pureed vegetable soup for breakfast and lunch. By dinnertime, my appetite was voraciously carnivorous.

We opted for the standing menu options: meat & cheese. We selected the large charcuterie plate ($23 large, $14 small), a small cheese plate ($24 large, $15 small), olives ($4), and bread ($4 for large, $2 for small.) The kitchen made an error and brought us the large cheese plate which suited us just fine.

Our waitress explained that the cured meats were arranged from mildest to strongest in flavour on the wooden board so you don’t dull your tastebuds by overpowering the subtlety of the softer flavours.

We started with the jowl, then duck prociutto, followed by the foie gras. It was heavenly. The foie gras was simply amazing. It makes my mouth water just to think about it. Venison bresaola then pheasant rillette with dried cranberries and tarragon. Then came pork liver salami, and horse.

I was expecting drama and controversy from the horse meat, but it just tasted delicious. I actually found most of the flavours to be subtle and fresh-tasting.

Accompanying the meats were assorted pickled vegetables – broccoflower, roasted peppers, and eggplant.

Each of the cheeses which were all from Quebec comes with a confiture pairing, the mildest with a nut butter.

Montenegro paired with quince jelly, Bleu Benedictin with slices of pear, Robiola met elderberry jam: sweet, pungent, heavenly. If any of this sounds foreign or intimidating, it needn’t: all the cheeses we tasted were very mild, except for the blue cheese.

Luscious, luscious food, I achieved complete satisfaction- but not without the Chocolate bread pudding with bacon ($7)! Maybe I was meat immune, but it tasted mostly like chocolate and, once again, delicious.

I’ve read reviews on Chowhound (surprise, surprise) that balked at the value of the food, but I vehemently disagree. Given the quality and perfection of our meal, I thought the prices were reasonable.

For me and my companion, the bill came to $63 including a couple of beers and dessert. Our bellies were happily stuffed and our taste buds tingling. Next time I hope to try scallops in bone marrow sauce, the raw horsemeat sandwich and the famous foie gras PB & J.

Rating: 5/5

The Black Hoof
938 Dundas St. W.

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Whisky, not just for old men anymore

I recently attended a Glenfiddich Taste and Talk event. Richard Poplak, author of The Sheik's Batmobile - In pursuit of America's Pop Culture in the Muslim World, shared some anecdotes with us while we sipped on Whisky sours.

Following his readings, we were lead through a single malt whisky tasting by kilt-wearing Glenfiddich global brand ambassador, Ian Millar, who has worked for more than 30 years in Scotch Whisky, including bottling, mashing, distilling and warehousing. I vigorously took notes on his recommendations to share with you:

A whisky tumbler is usually thought of as the traditional whisky conduit, but should be reserved for mixing whisky into a long drink or with a lot of ice.

Whiskies have bouquets that are both complex and yet sutble. To best direct the aromas towards the nose, a fluted or tulip-shaped glass is best. These nosing glasses are important because half of the experience of tasting whisky is in the aroma, much like wine.

You want to warm the whisky up at least room temperature. The easiest way to do this is to warm it up in your hand, swirling it about. I particularly enjoyed watching it coat the side of the glass as I did this. Warming takes some of the bite off the whisky.

Next, experiment with adding water to the whisky. Add one or two drops. (You can't take it out once it's in.) Taste. Continue until it tastes more palatable to you. This is entirely based on preference, like how you take your coffee. This socially acceptable whisky ritual makes it more accessible and enjoyable to experience.

When tasting whisky, you analyze its flavour based on its
  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Depth
  • Complexity
  • Finish

We tried Glenfiddich's 12 year, 15 year, 18 year and then 21 year in sequence:
12 Year - Fresh and fruity with pear. Balanced. Sweet butterscotch with a mellow, long and smooth finish.

15 Year - Complex aroma with honey and vanilla. Smooth taste reveals sherry oak, marzipan, cinnamon and ginger. Rich finish with lingering sweetness.

18 Year - Aroma of ripe orchard fruit, spiced apple and robust oak. Taste reveals dates, dried fruit and candy peel with oak. Warming finish.

21 Year - Intense and sweet aroma with floral hints of banana, figs and toffee. Initially tastes soft then vibrant, peppery, smokey with vanilla, ginger, lime, spices and new leather. The finish is long, warming and spicy.

This variety is finished in barrels that previously contained carribean rum which infuses the whisky with spicy sweetness.
Although we did not try these varieties, Glenfiddich also offers:

30 Year - Aroma contains oak and sherry. Complex and woody taste with fig, florals and dark chocolate. Long, honeyed and warm finish.

40 Year - Floral with rose and herbaceous borders. Fragrant and honeyed. Then beeswax. Polished oak and leather armchairs. After mocha coffee and pain au chocolat, boxes of dates. Chocolate truffles in crème Anglaise. Raspberries and redcurrants with a malt-doused vanilla ice cream. Balanced by fruitiness and acidity. Finish of bitter chocolate pralines with root ginger, burnt-tasting caramels in front of a smoky, aromatic log fire.


For the month of October, the CBC Book Club has been talking about books about food. You can review the different entries here.

Hannah Sung posted an entry earlier this week that discussed the trend of annualism, when a journalist or blogger does something for a year. In the case of Julia Powell, she cooked her way through all the recipes in Julia Child's, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible, attempts to eat only locally grown food for one year in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

The trend is not limited to food: A.J. Jacobs read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z, Charla and Brad Muller tried to have sex every day for 101 days, Colin Beavan and Michelle Conlin stopped generating waste for a year when they gave up buying anything new or disposable.

Sung questions whether these efforts are exhibits of stunt journalism or genuine attempts to achieve goals. They certainly do garner attention.

What shall I do? 365 days of avocados? Give up wheat for a year? Make everything from scratch? Eat like a French person?

The possibilities are endless.

To weigh in on the CBC discussion of annualism, you can leave a comment here.

What's Anthony Bourdain up to?

Anthony Bourdain gained fame first from his book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, then from hosting the television series Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

Now he will gain fame through computers as he stars in an animated series about himself, produced by the Travel Channel in the good ol' U S of A. The show will be called Anthony Bourdain's Alternate Universe and will be distributed as in 6-part animated web series.

It's described as humorous, gritty and colourful and is set to launch in 2010.

You can watch the trailer below:

The culmination of my Italian education

I've worked in my fair share of European coffee shops. Here's a little refresher on coffee- the way it's meant to be made. Perhaps a little caffeine will soothe the Monday morning blues? ;)


Caffè (coffee) - We call it espresso; a little cup of strongly flavoured coffee, topped with a caramel-coloured foam called "crema", an indicator of good quality.

Solo (single) - Single shot of espresso: typically 1 fl. oz/ 30 ml
Italians don't really sip and linger with their coffee, in fact they usually don't even sit down in the morning. An espresso shot is an actual shot. Pow!
Ristretto (restricted) or Espresso Corto (short) - Less hot water is forced through packed ground espresso, resulting in stronger flavour. Usually yields 1/2 fl. oz/ 20 mL.

Espresso Lungo (long): More water (about 1.5x volume) is forced through ground espresso, yielding a weaker taste. Yields 1.4 fl. oz/ 40 mL

Doppio: (double) - Two shots of espresso. Yields 2 fl. oz., 60 mL

Americano (American) - Espresso with the addition of hot water, served in a large glass. This is what you order in a European coffee bar when you "just want a coffee."
The Americano was created by American soldiers during WW1 who added hot water to dilute the strong taste of the traditional espresso.
Cappuccino: One-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third microfoam. Sometimes topped with cocoa powder or cinnamon.
Cappuccinos are reserved for the morning because Italians believe that drinking milk after meals tampers with digestion. Espresso is still consumed throughout the day and night.
Caffè latte (milky coffee) - Espresso with hot milk, a cappuccino without the foam usually served in a glass.
Although the name has been shortened to latte in North America, ordering a latte in Italy will get you a cup of hot, steamed milk- no coffee.
Caffè Macchiato (stained, spotted): A spoonful of hot foam or milk is added to the espresso.

Caffè freddo (chilled coffee) - Cold or iced coffee.


Affogato (drowned): Espresso served over gelato, traditionally vanilla.

Guillermo: One or two shots of hot espresso, poured over lime slices. Can be served hot or cold, with or without milk.

Caffe con Panna (coffee with cream) – Espresso with fresh-whipped cream.

"Put a little mussel into it"

In keeping with the seafood theme, here is a simple recipe for mussels, courtesy of the PEI Aquaculture Alliance. (I added garlic and a splash of white wine because that's how I roll.) Mussels take no time to cook and make a very elegant meal for entertaining. A lot of people are daunted by them, but there couldn't be a simpler food and they are fast, fast, fast.

To view a great video with Chef Michael Smith talking about cooking mussels and PEI foodie culture, please visit the Best Health blog here.
Herb Steamed Mussels

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Total cooking time: 15 minutes
Serves 1

1 kg (2 lbs) of PEI mussels
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 thinly sliced lemon
a splash (1/4 cup) of white wine

In large pot, steam mussels until all shells open (5-7 minutes.) Discard any closed shells.

Drain broth into a saucepan. Add wine, garlic, thyme and parsley, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Place mussels and lemon slices in a bowl. Pour broth over mussels. Pouf! You're a superstar.

Aquaculture in Canada

Pacific salmon tartar with avocado, lime, and sesame cracker
Species: Pacific Salmon

Supplier: Creative Salmon Company, BC

Pairing: Red Leaf Lager

I recently had the opportunity to attend an event at Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill, organized by the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance.

I arrived after work as the party was in full swing. To my left was Benjamin Errett from the National Post, to my right was Susan Sampson from the Toronto Star. Sheryl Kirby and Greg Clow from Taste T.O. were chatting with Dana McCauley, food trend expert and blogger extraordinaire. I was impressed at the caliber of food journalists that had come out for the Seafood Extravaganza. These esteemed writers, however, were not the stars of the event.

Nor was the food.

Mind you, it was lovely. The banquet was put together by award-winning seafood chef Kyle Deming. We savoured sablefish poached in garlic olive oil with chorizo salt, pacific mussels marinated in orange, sherry, and fennel, and whole roasted halibut with chive butter. There was scallop ceviche with yellow curry and coconut, Rainbow trout, Atlantic and Pacific clams, and the largest, most beautiful oysters I have ever seen, shucked by oyster-shucking champion, Patrick McMurray, who is also the proprieter of Starfish. He even showed some of us how to shuck a scallop. (Did you know you could do that? I guess you can shuck any shellfish.)

Perhaps, most exciting of all was the Atlantic Cod with Spanish Tortilla and squid ink by True North Salmon from New Brunswick. I've previously written nice things about True North Company before.

As most Canadians recall, we had a strong and stable cod fishery population in the 1980s, yeilding some 775,000 tonnes of fish per year. This number dropped to about 250,000 in 1993 with various theories speculating why this occured. Thanks to the aquaculture, we are now able to enjoy Canadian Atlantic cod for the first time in over 15 years.

Peat smoked Atlantic salmon with horseradish creme fraiche
Species: Atlantic Salmon

Supplier: True North Salmon Company, NB, NS & NL

Pairing: Devil’s Pale Ale

I drank a lovely pumpkin ale from the Great Lakes Brewing Company- so good in fact- that I released an embarassing "mmm" noise that did not go unnoticed by the people around me. (Yikes.) I appreciated that they are environmentally and socially conscious brewers of award-winning, all natural beer. Brewmaster John Bowden of Great Lakes advised us on the art of pairing seafood dishes with craft beers (instead of wine for a change!) and offered other tempting limited-edition samples like the ominous 666 stout.

Oh yes, I was saying: neither the journalists nor the delicious food nor the natural ale were the stars of the evening.

Atlantic and Pacific oysters
Species: Atlantic Oysters
Supplier: Maison Beausoleil, NB
Species: Pacific oysters
Supplier: Fanny Bay Oysters, Mac’s Oysters, BC
Pairing: Orange Peel Ale

The most compelling people I spoke to were the farmers: mongers of mussels, salmon, scallops and trout.

I spoke to one gentleman in particular, Terry Innis, who worked in mussel farming in PEI, and mentioned that my parents have a cottage in Tracadie Bay on, um, Musselbed Road. Not surprisingly, he said his company, Canadian Cove from Atlantic Aqua Farms PEI, had beds in our bay. I said I went kayaking there. He thought that was neat. For some great mussel recipes from the PEI Aquaculture Alliance, please click here.

Farmed fishing has gotten a bad rap. It’s a loaded issue that has been scorned in the mainstream media as environmentally irresponsible, but that’s not necessarily the case. The latest innovations in farmed fishing reduce waste and environmental impact by moving inland to a controlled environment.

The goal of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance is to provide a strong, independent and united voice for Canada's aquaculture industry. The people who work in the aquaculture industry have not previously had a voice to defend their practices and that was very the purpose of this gathering: to dispel myths about farmed fishing and educate the media and public at large on what's really happening in Canada.

Aquaculture is the only sustainable mechanism to increase seafood production. It has to be sustainable; there is a profit-driven industry relying on healthy seafood stocks. It is simply not in the best interests of seafood farmers to pollute the waters in which their product thrives, nor to deplete the source of their income. They want to regulate the industry, make it safer, eliminate water pollution, and create and abide by ethical standards.

Ruth Salmon, the aptly-named executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, explained that half of the world's seafood is now farmed and aquaculture is a billion dollar industry in Canada. With demand continually growing in this industry, Canada is poised to be a major player. Salmon explains our assets,
"Canada has the world’s longest coastline, largest freshwater system, and largest tidal range. Combined with skilled scientists, research facilities, managers and employees, those natural attributes put Canada in an ideal position to help meet growing demand."

Atlantic mussels
marinated in orange, sherry, and fennel
Species: Atlantic mussels
Supplier: Canadian Cove, Atlantic Aqua Farms, PEI
Pairing: Golden Horseshoe Premium Lager

Aquaculture has the potential to relieve the pressure from over-exploited aquatic resources depending on the use of marine resources, the density of the farmed fish stocks, how secure these stocks are in relation to the wild population, risk of pollution buildup, and licensing and industry standards.

Some facts about aquaculture:

  • The ideal environment for farmed fish is a land-based, closed containment system, which eliminates risk of fish escaping or transferring disease to wild stocks. Water conditions can also be controlled with waste disposal systems.
  • The varieties of fin-fish that fair best in a farmed environment are rainbow trout, arctic char and catfish.
  • Tilapia is a great poster child for aquaculture because it offers more protein than it requires to raise the fish. Vegetarian, these fish can survive on soy protein and rice, which eliminates strain on the wild stocks.
  • All forms of farmed shellfish are considered sustainable in a natural coastal environment because these fish survive on plankton and don't require any supplemental feed; by eating excess plankton, they actually improve the water quality. Oysters and mussels are farmed using a method called off-bottom culture, which means they are raised from the seafloor and cause little damage to the environment when they are harvested.

Vodka cured arctic char
with beet and dill salad
Species: Arctic char
Supplier: Icy Waters Ltd.,YT
Pairing: Orange Peel Ale

For more information on aquaculture practices in Canada, see the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance's White Paper, Aquaculture, A Canadian Opportunity. For a complete list of CAIA members, please click here.

Photo credit: many thanks to Angela Y. Martin

San Francisco Figs

About a week ago, Anthony Bourdain and David Chang spoke on a panel at the New York Wine & Food Festival where they vented frustrations over foods and food trends that they disapprove of.

Both chefs advocated a more creative spirit in New York cooking, insisting that Europe is ten years ahead of the game. Items on the list of grievances included cupcakes (“I hate fuckin' cupcakes,” said Chang), Guy Fieri (“Cooking is not about “fuckin’ sunglasses and that stupid fuckin’ armband,” Chang argued), and San Francisco ("Fuckin' every restaurant in San Francisco is just serving figs on a plate. Do something with your food," said Chang.) For the complete list, please see Grub Street: the New York Times Food & Restaurant Blog.

Well, it seems that the city of San Francisco was listening to Chang. The Asia Society of San Francisco cancelled a Momofuku cookbook signing with before it has even been released.

Chang’s latest comments won’t necessarily mend any bridges either. In an ambivalently-toned apology, Chang firmly stated, "I'm never gonna open a place in San Francisco."

To David Chang’s defense, Kate Krader from Food & Wine’s blog, Mouthing Off proclaimed, "Food & Wine loves Chang unconditionally."

(milk) fed

Everyone’s favourite Toronto food critique has left his restaurant reviewing post at the Toronto Star for a new column, Fed, in which he invites people into his house and cooks for them. His first entry came out yesterday and he shared dinner with Canadian indie darling, Sarah Polley. It turns out the two of them were high school sweethearts who moved in together after growing up in a small suburban town.

(Photo Credit: Vince Talotta/Toronto Star)

The appeal of Mintz’s column is the tone he captures in his writing; he is funny and sharp as a tack. Fed manages to capture the intimacy of making and sharing food with someone you love. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy, I might as well just skip work this afternoon and see Where the Wild Things Are.

On a semi-related note, I’m going to Mintz’s favourite restaurant in Toronto tonight. Review to follow in the coming week.

Bite sized

Note to self: blog posts should be more like tapas and less like Thanksgiving dinner.

One hundred times

This is my one hundredth blog post so I thought I might reflect on the development of this blog..

Let's start with the name: I wanted the title to allude to the the medium of blogging as much as the subject matter of food. I imagined my posts would be disposable; readers would glance quickly (sift) through them, reading whatever they wanted to and rejecting (tossing) the rest.

These words are also used to describe the process of making a cake: sifting flour or dusting icing sugar. Tossing = mixing, kind of.

This blog began with fennel salad and simple and luxurious berry salad, a cleanse based on fresh flavours on the cusp of the new year.

I had been in Australia and returned, somewhat ironically, to endure a full Torontonian winter. This blog brought me comfort during that time. I posted a healing broth recipe and genuinely made variations of the dish for dinner at least once a week. It is a light dish, but it's soothing too. It has always been one of my favourites.

My favourite pasta recipe has a sauce made with pureed chickpeas and garlic:
soba noodles with greens and garbanzo sauce. It's another healthy standby, full of folics and dark greens. It tastes flavourful and delicious, but it's all good stuff for you. I can't imagine a healthier meal.

I found it to be a real pleasure writing these recipes; I enjoyed the meditation; I enjoyed writing.

Things got a little greedy too sometimes. I went through a bit of a butter phase: grilled cheese with five cheeses is still a deadly delicious treat.

I must confess that I strayed from original recipes though. I wrote a frivilous, tabloidy post where I speculated that Charlie Burger was Jamie Drummond, sommelier for Jaimie Kennedy's restaurants.

Previously obscure, I found my blog had been featured in Taste T.O. and the Toronto Star also referenced my post. These events opened my eyes to writing about the Toronto community and the culinary community at large.

I like to think I became more whimsical, writing haikus and sharing little tidbits. I started to be more timely, turning posts over quickly when news was fresh. This was also when I also really fell in love with blogging. I developed a blogging code and began to take the whole business more seriously.

I have gained so much from having this blog.

It has forced me to do a number of things deliberately: to read, to reasearch, to write, to cook and to attend events. I've learned so much more about cooking from having this blog than I ever would have without. It's given me focus and somewhere to channel my energy. It's also been soothing and therapeutic.

Of all these experiences, I think the feast at Charlie's Burgers would have to the greatest highlight. I have you, beloved readers to thank for that. I never would have gotten an invite if it hadn't been for you and this blog.

Thank you for reading the last 100 posts and I look forward to writing hundreds more.


La pauvre, je t'aime encore, quand-même

Poor France. It's been a tough year for you.

Your cafés are almost extinct, your wine production has been threatened by Italy's. Now the final blow has been delivered: Canada has stolen the best cheese in the world title (or, "winner in all categories") at the World Cheese Awards 2009.

The victor prevailing over 2,440 entries from 34 countries is Québec's Le Cendrillon (trans: Cindarella) goat cheese, produced by La Maison Alexis de Portneuf in St-Raymond-de-Portneuf, Quèbec.

The handmade artisan cheese is causing quite the stir.

France's national newspaper, Le Parisien, conceded the loss in an article about the Awards: "The best cheese in the world is... Canadian. Whatever the lovers of pate cuite, lait cru and d'affinages fermiers may think, the best cheese in the world is not French, but Canadian."

The cheese is described as an ash-covered soft surface-ripened soft goat cheese with a semi-strong, slightly sour taste that becomes stronger with age.

It can be found at grocery stores and fine cheese shops for a measly $6.99 and is produced by umbrella corporation Saputo.

Sandwich Calculator

This guy, Rob Cockerham, made this really cool sandwich calculator that I discovered via Boing Boing. Take a look! You can enter different ingredients to see how much your homemade sandwich will really cost you.

Fat, smoke, spice & salt

You may or may not have noticed the trend towards offering house-made charcuterie plates in every single restaurant in Toronto. It's been happening over the past five years, but the tipping point has come.

Charcuterie involves curing and preserving techniques such as salting, smoking, brining and cooking. These processes were previously used to keep meat, but we now use them to add flavour to our dishes.

Salt and meat do make a nice pairing, don’t they?

Emotionally, these haute cuisine deli plates have a nostalgic feel and represent an old-fashioned practice that connects us with our ancestors, much like churning your own butter might force some contemplation. Charcuterie was originally developed by the Romans and then popularized in 15th Century France.

Sue Reidl of the Globe and Mail, credits the movement to British chef Fergus Henderson who subscribes to the philosophy: "If you're going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing."

Charcutier Grant Van Gameren, co-owner of The Black Hoof’s meaty Toronto menus has also waved his carnivorous wand at Amuse Bouche, Lucien, and Canoe. Other charcuterie plates can also be found at The Drake Hotel, The Harbord Room, Bymark, Cava, Table 17, Pic Nic, Conviction, Czehoski and Cowbell.

The charcuterie trend marks a notable shift in public opinion about fat consumption, compared to five or more years ago: suddenly foie gras, lardo, and thick rinds are on target. Flavour is again King.

Alas, there are regulatory concerns in Toronto as there are always regulatory concerns. Some worry about amateur handling of raw meat.

Hell, I’ll take the risk any day. The charcuterie makes a hearty and charming presentation for entertaining guests.

To Serve

Assemble meats and cheeses along a wooden plank. If you feel fancy, you could make labels for all the different varieties. Use a nice mixture of dense and tender meats, strong and mild cheeses.

Prosciutto, salami, bresaola, sopressata, chorizo, duck bresaola and sausage are good bets for the meats. For the cheeses, choose from local goat cheese, local blue cheese and aged cow’s or sheep’s milk cheese: hard and soft, pungent and sweet. It’s all about variety.

If you want to really the presentation extra special, serve with a variety of baguettes, bread sticks, and artisan breads. You could add some Ace Bakery Olive Bread or a cranberry loaf with pumpkin seeds.

Serve with condiments like lavender honey, balsamic créma, a quality olive oil, quince paste, toasted almonds, cornichons and an assortment of olives. Get the red wine rolling and you have an elegant and sophisticated entertaining presentation.

And no cooking!