Is salad really this much fun?

I recently watched this Kraft salad condiment commercial and laughed. Salad is not this much fun, yet advertisers continually try to tell us it is. It turns out I'm not the only one who feels this way. Edith Zimmerman posted a series of photos on Hairpin, entitled, Women Laughing Alone with Salad.

Click the image below to visit the full photo series.

Purify your gum habit with Pur gum

I recently received a selection of Pur gum flavours to try - peppermint, spearmint and pomegranate mint.

The gums are made without artificial flavours or colours. At first I thought little of that angle, but then started to reflect on how much gum I chew, and consequently, how many chemicals I must unknowingly consume. We're all much more conscious of drinking a diet soda than we are of absentmindedly chewing gum.

In Pur gum aspartame is replaced with Xylitol, a natural sweetner that has been found to aide in digestion, and potentially prevent tooth decay. Pur gum is also GMO-free, gluten-free and safe for diabetics, making it seem like the proper choice.

My colleagues at work have been happily 'taste sampling' the Pur gum flavours for me.  Spearmint is the favourite, followed by Peppermint. The taste seems shaper than that of synthetic gum. The gum itself is hard in texture to bit into, but it softens up comfortably.

You can purchase Pur gum at Pusateri's,, and other health food stores. Give it a whirl.
Follow @purgum on Twitter

Restaurant Review: Delux

Last Saturday, I went for dinner to Delux, a restaurant that chef Corinna Mozo says is a fusion of Cuban and French cuisines. I appreciated the decor immediately: it looks spacious and laid back like a high-end diner with soft, modern lighting. With its grey booths and whitewashed walls, they must have had me in mind.

The menu has a tight but solid offering of well-made cocktails that have a retro feel. I had a Kir Royale, consisting of cassis syrup and champagne. Other's drank Manhattans and Cosmos. For brief moment, I felt self-conscious about our cocktail selections, like a young adult ordering a drink in a bar for the first time. But I had conversed only the evening before with Adam McDowall, one of the cities top cocktail advocates. I had decided during that conversation that I would relish in more cocktails when drinking. And so, I had begun.

Warm bread starts the meal out on the right foot.

The menu includes a tempting lamb sausage main with lentils, roast chicken and fish dishes. In the winter time, the Cuban side of the menu is confined to only the Cuban Sandwich, which one of my companions had and enjoyed. I had the steak frites and it was lovely. I had been craving red meat. Somehow they infused the crispy, shoestring fries with a meaty, brothy flavour. I'm curious how it was performed, whether they treated the potato before frying or infused the flavour into the oil.

As a decadent and delious finish, I ordered the made-to-order chocolate chip cookies. They arrived - all SIX of them with a glass of 2% milk. And they were hot, gooey and heavenly.

I found the atmosphere at Delux to be laid back and relaxing with excellent food and attentive service. I was very pleased with our meal and I'd go back in a flash.

(I've heard their brunch is great. I can't wait to try it.)

92 Ossington Avenue
(At Humbert Street)

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Tarragon: The latest 'It' herb?

On Friday night, I order mac 'n' cheese at the Drake Cafe. It arrived laced with tarragon. Just now, I ordered the Sandwich of the Day at O&B's Canteen, next-door to where I work. It's contents included:

  • Focaccia (more like pizza)
  • Provolone
  • Prosciutto
  • Arugula
  • Tarragon...
What do you think? Has Tarragon been on your radar lately?
Photo evidence obtained of the sandwich in question

DIPE: Documented Instance of Public Eating

There was a great article in the New York Times this week about hollywood actresses and the incongruity between their claims about diet versus actual practice. In magazines like Esquire, Vanity Fair, Vogue or Harper's Bazaar, it is customary for journalists to sit down for meals with actresses while they conduct interviews. In good and thorough journalistic practice, these stories usually disclose what the starlet consumes. Often, the celebrity being interviewed will surprise us by ordering something significantly heartier than one would expect for her frame.

Film publicist Jeremy Walker has actually coined a term for these instances: DIPE - documented instances of public eating. Apparently, Hollywood publicists stage mealtime interviews with celebrities that may have borderline (or full-blown) eating disorders, knowing the details of the meal will be published.

Cynical as I might be, I'm surprised that this practice is so pervasive that it has developed it's own acronym. I find this false representation that actresses project to be irresponsible and utterly selfish. I think it's cruel and twisted to stage publicity scenarios where celebrities enjoy food, when, in fact, they really don't. But I think it also speaks to a greater social disease in America where Michael Pollan could certainly weigh in. Our relationship with food and nourishment has  become so fragmented that there is an elaborate Hollywood conspiracy to fool the masses into believing celebrities do not torture their bodies when, in fact, they do. I wish people could just own their consumption habits for the sake of impressionable people who look up to them (rightly or wrongly.)

What do you think of DIPE? Does it surprise you? Are you offended by the practice?

You can read the New York Times article here. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


On a recent purchasing binge at David's Tea, I came across a mysterious and unfamiliar herbal offering called 'Greek Mountain Tea.' The description suggested the tea was comprised of only one herb, Sideritis, exclusively regional to the nation of Greece. 

The name "Sideritis" can be translated to "he who is or has the iron" and the Sideritis plant has been traced back to ancient Greek society, specifically associated with Dioscorides and Theophrastus. In ancient times, Sideritis was used as a generic term for plants that could heal wounds caused by iron weapons during battle. I've indicated many times before that I have a love of ancient foods: legumes, grains and mysterious herbs that have stood the test of time are dearer to my heart than any broccoflower could ever manage. These foods connect us with our forefathers and they are the least processed and most healthy because they have stood the test of time.

My very favourite nugget of wisdom about Sideritis is that the plant is found on rocky slopes at elevations over 1000 meters. These tenacious, hardy flowering perennials have adapted to survive with very little water and soil. In my favourite scene in the movie Sideways, the protagonist, Miles, describes a Pinot grape in a similar way. He feels that a plant that fights so hard to survive must generate a more compelling outcome /flavour based sheerly on the Darwinian struggle. I think it's a compelling theory. You can watch that famous video clip below. 

Today, Sideritis is still used as a herb in the preparation of tea. Stems, leaves and flowers are boiled with water and then served with honey and lemon.

Sideritis has been most famously used to aid digestion and respitory ailments, strengthening the immune system and suppressing the common cold, flu, allergies, shortness of breath, and sinus congestion.

But that's not all it's good for! 

Modern tests have indicated that the tea helps in the prevention of osteoporosis while its anti-oxidant properties aid in the prevention of cancer. Studies of Sideritis also indicate a positive effect on almost anything that ails the human body, with its anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant properties.

Take a whiff of the herb and you'll understand all these purported health benefits. The mere aroma of Sideritis is enough to add a little hair on your chest.

Give it a whirl today!

Almost Famous Recipes

People's Choice Winner: Christine Amanatidis
Earlier this week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the 9th Annual S.Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Canadian Region Competition. Jean-François Daigle of George Brown won for his Honey Seared Bison Tenderloin. He'll continue on to complete at the Finals Competition at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, in Napa Valley next month. Christine Amanatidis of The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Vancouver won the People's Choice Award for her Crispy Duck Breast with Chestnut Bread Pudding, which I loved dearly!
Me, Jean-Francois Daigle, and Alexa Clark of CETO
It was so exciting to be able to taste the eight Canadian competitors' signature dishes. The very best part, however, was hearing them describe their dishes in their own words. People's Choice Winner, Christine Amanatidis, took bread pudding and made it savoury to change turn a classic tradition on its head. Nathalie Des Rosiers from the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (Montréal) experimented with fourteen different kinds of tea to hone in on the best smoking technique for her tea smoked scallops with pickled beets. When asked why she picked Atlantic scallops over Pacific, she responded with no hesitation: "First of all, I wanted to honour the St. Lawrence region where I grew up. Secondly, Pacific scallops are saltier and I prefer the more subtle and natural flavour of Atlantic scallops." Boom!

It was also terrific to catch up with my food blogging friends. David Ort of Food with Legs, won the blogger challenge and got the opportunity to sit as a judge at the judges' table. He did a terrific job and asked some rather difficult questions. Alexa Clark of Cheap Eats Toronto was one of the runner ups in the contest, along with yours truly. It was great to meet Jenny Tryansky and Neil Faba of Communal Table! They have a great blog. 

Below, I've included the recipes for Jean-François Daigle's winning Honey Seared Bison Tenderloin and Christine Amanatidis' Crispy Duck Breast with Chestnut Bread Pudding. I cannot wait to experiment with these dishes! Enjoy!

Honey Seared Bison Tenderloin with Apple Parsnip Puree
Jean-Francois Daigle, The George Brown Chef’s School (Toronto)

Creamy apple parsnip puree is the base for the decadent richness of bison and adds a delicate sweetness to this recipe. A chunky vegetable sauce finishes the dish, along with a few asparagus spears for added colour.

2 cups (500 mL) beef broth
2/3 cup (150 mL) dry red wine
1 cup (250 mL) each diced carrots and onion
3/4 cup (175 mL) diced celery
2 bay leaves
1 tsp (5 mL) whole black peppercorns
1 buffalo or beef tenderloin, about 2 lbs/1 kg, cut into 8 equal portions
Sea salt and pepper
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil or garlic oil
2 tbsp (25 mL) liquid honey
2 tsp (10 mL) chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp/2 mL dried thyme leaves

Apple Parsnip Puree:
1 lb (500 g) parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 lb (500 g) apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tbsp (25 mL) 35% whipping cream, hot
2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
Salt and white pepper

Apple Parsnip Puree
In pot of boiling water cook parsnips, covered for 15 minutes or until tender. Add apples, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until very tender. Drain well and puree in a food processor until smooth. Whisk in cream and mustard and season to taste with salt and pepper; keep warm.

Meanwhile, in saucepan bring stock, wine, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves and peppercorns to a boil and simmer until reduced to 2-1/2 cups (625 mL). Remove bay leaves and discard.

Sprinkle tenderloin with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet, in batches sear both sides of the tenderloin and place on lightly greased baking sheet. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with thyme. Roast in 425 F (220C) oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted in centre reaches 145 F (63 C) for medium-rare.

Spoon apple parsnip puree in centre of plate and top with tenderloin and spoon vegetable sauce around plate.

Makes 8 servings.

Duck Breast with Chestnut Bread Pudding
Christine Amanatidis, The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver

Crisp and moist bread pudding is the delicious backdrop for a crisp and juicy duck breast. Serve this dish up with roast beets and cranberry sauce to dip the duck into.

4 boneless duck breasts
Salt and pepper
Chestnut-Chai Bread Pudding:
1 cup (250 mL) chicken broth
1 cinnamon stick
5 each whole cloves and green cardamom pods
3 slices fresh ginger
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1/4 cup (50 mL) minced shallots
1/2 cup (125 mL) whole milk
2 eggs
8 roasted chestnuts, quartered
1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
8 cups (2 L) 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubed multigrain sourdough bread
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter, broken into tiny pieces

Chestnut-Chai Bread Pudding: 
In saucepan bring chicken broth, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and ginger to boil. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and discard spices.
Meanwhile, in a skillet heat oil over medium heat and cook shallots for about 4 minutes or until lightly browned; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Add steeped chicken broth, shallot, chestnuts, pepper and salt. Stir in bread to coat well. Spread evenly into 13 x 9- inch (3 L) pan lined with parchment paper. Scatter butter on top and bake in 400F (200C) oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is golden brown. Let cool slightly before slicing into 8 pieces, approximately 4 x 3- inches (10 cm x 7.5 cm).

Score duck skin in a cross diamond pattern and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and place duck breast skin side down. Reduce heat to medium and let cook for about 5 minutes or until crisp and brown. Turn duck and place in oven for about 8 minutes or until thermometer reaches 155 F (68 C). Let stand before slicing. Place bread pudding on each plate and top with sliced duck.

Makes 8 servings.

Really into rapini these days

I've got a crush. I'm really into rapini these days. It's so peppery and bitter. I can't get enough of it. For my personal interest, here's a little backgrounder on the vegetable I'm having a love affair with.

Rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, is a member of the Brassiceae vegetable family, also referred to as the Cruciferous vegetables. Attractive cousins include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, and collards. Like its vegetable peers, rapini is high in iron, calcium and potassium and vitamin A and C.

The plant's origins are in southern Italy, China and Portugal. Legend says the plant is a descendant of a wild and poisonous herb related to the turnip.* No wonder I like it so much: dark, evil and mysterious. What an alluring vegetable, fit for a witch.

I like to eat it gently steamed with a light, lemony vinaigrette. It glows a bright and lovely green. I also enjoy it sauteed with garlic, and butter if you're into it.

In the wintertime I hardly ever eat salad. The thought of a cold floppy salad doesn't appeal to me. Instead, I eat steamed vegetable salads, which can be dressed just like regular salad, but are heartier and can be served warm.

* Story Dramatization: the predecessor to rapini was not actually poisonous

Ontario Baco Noir Caramel Apples

Ontario Apple Growers recently launched their very first blogger challenge: a quest for the very best candy apple recipe. The challenge was inspired by the 200th anniversary of the McIntosh apple and the grandiose Winter Apple Ball, a free family event taking place at the Westin Harbour Castle this Family Day, Monday, February 21st. Attendance is free and they will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for most simultaneous apple bobs.

The rules for the blogger challenge in which I am entering are pretty simple. Candy apple recipes must include any apple variety grown in Ontario, from the following list, and recipes can contain as many ingredients as desired.

Since this contest was honouring the McIntosh, my apple selection was straightforward. In researching a bit of apple history, I discovered that all McIntosh apples are descendants of a single tree that was discovered in 1811 by John McIntosh in his farm near Dundas, Ontario. It feels extra special and extra local because the McIntosh has been consumed by us in this region for so long. I always have a special relationship with apple recipes because my mother's maiden name is Õunapuu, which means appletree in Estronian. This fruit is in my blood!

For the rest of the ingredients, I wanted to show love to the Ontario Apple Growers' compadres so I stuck with local ingredients. Organic local hazelnuts, sugar and Ontario cream. My real inspiration for this recipe came from the cozy winter flavours of mulled wine and hot apple cider. I added a big, bold Ontario baco noir to the caramel for a little adult flavour and a crispy crunch from the toasted hazelnut topping. I've been quite pleased with the result.

8 small McIntosh apples, stems removed, washed well, and dried
8 cinnamon sticks
2 cups of whole hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups of Henry of Pelham's Baco Noir or another bold Ontario red
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup of water
6 tablespoons heavy cream

8 wooden sticks
candy thermometer
wax paper
spray vegetable oil
baking tray

To wash the apples, I mix up a little baking soda into a paste and scrub them down. I recall from a previous attempt at making candy apples that their skins can't have any hint of wax or surface coating or else the candy won't stick. 

Small apples are preferable over big ones for candy apples because they offer a better to candy-to-apple ratio as well as  a less overwhelming portion.

  1. Insert a wooden stick halfway into each apple at the stem end. Line a tray with wax paper and lightly grease paper.
  2. Boil wine in a small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 12 minutes.) Remove from heat.
  3. At the same time, roast the whole hazelnuts  until they darken in colour. Once gently toasted, remove from heat to let cool.
  4. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Boil, but don't use any stirring devices. You can swirl the pan occasionally so the caramel darkens evenly. Simmer until it's a dark amber.
  5. Add reduced wine (combination will bubble and steam) and swirl pan. Add cream, stir as it simmers until all the ingredients are incorporated, then continue to simmer until thermometer registers 238°F. Remove from heat and cool to 200°F.
  6. Chop the hazelnuts and place them in a small bowl.
  7. Holding apples by the sticks, dip them in caramel and swirl them to coat. Let the  excess drip off, then hold apples up (stick end down) for about 15 seconds to allow caramel to coat apple tops. Roll the bottom (stick up) gently in the chopped, roasted hazelnuts. 
  8. Put caramel apples on greased wax paper and let stand until caramel firms up (30 minutes.)
Enjoy the sophisticated flavour of toasted hazelnuts and wine as a new pair with the classic comfort of a caramel apple.

    Mussels and Kelp

    BC Gallo Mussels in
    Panang Curry Sauce

    Species: Gallo Mussels
    Supplier: Fanny Bay Oysters, British Columbia

    5 lbs fresh Gallo mussels
    2 cans of coconut milk
    (put in the fridge until coconut
    milk is solid)
    1 oz Thai red curry paste
    2 oz chopped ginger
    2 oz chopped green onions
    1 oz chopped garlic
    2 cans of pineapple juice

    1. In a large pot, cook the garlic, onion, and ginger until they start to brown
    2. Add the curry paste and solid coconut milk and continue to fry until the curry paste cooks out
    3. Add the coconut water and the pineapple juice and simmer until it reaches the desired consistency
    4. Add the mussels and bring to a boil with a lid on
    5. Once the mussels are open, remove them from the pot discarding that don’t open
    6. Reduce the sauce again and then pour over the mussels and serve

    New Brunswick Kelps with
    Citrus and Quinoa Salad

    1 lbs fresh New Brunswick
    kelps, rinsed well and chopped
    8 oz red quinoa
    Citrus segments from 4
    oranges and 4 red grapefruits
    Reserved juice from the
    oranges and grapefruit

    1. Marinate the chopped kelp in the juices from the citrus for 2 hours
    2. Drain the kelp well and pat dry
    3. Meanwhile cook the red quinoa in salted boiling water until tender
    4. Drain the quinoa and cool completely
    5. Mix the quinoa, marinated kelp, and citrus segments in a bowl
    6. Drizzle olive oil into the salad to help it stick together and for body
    7. Season the salad with salt and pepper
    8. Serve on canapé spoons or in a decorative bowl
    Blue mussels are native to Atlantic Canada and British Columbia, and are farmed using ‘suspended culture’ – so there’s no sand or grit in the meat. They’re high in protein, low fat, and a plate of mussels gives you just as much omega-3 as a serving of fish.

    Kelp contains over 70 minerals, growth hormones, trace elements, enzymes, vitamins, including potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, and iodine.

    These recipes came courtesy of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance. For more great seafood recipes, visit their website.