Friday, July 27, 2012

Gone Fishin'

Hey all, thanks for stopping by the National Nosh. I'm taking a break from the blog for the rest of the summer, but will start her back up sometime in the fall.
So long for now, stay cool!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Only the best for Lily

My sister-in-law Deborah makes her eight-month old, the lovely Lily, all of her baby food. I’m super impressed and it looks delicious, but Deborah says she does it because it’s less waste, all-natural, and inexpensive. It also happens to be really nutritious, and since Deborah is a registered Dietitian, she knows what a baby needs for good health. Here are Deborah’s top 5 tips for making homemade baby food.

  1. FRESH IS BEST: Start by using the freshest food available. Use seasonable ingredients where possible, strive for organic but don’t sweat it if conventional produce is all that’s available. “Your kid is better off eating non-organic fruits and vegetables than not eating them at all.” Here’s the  “dirty dozen” that Deborah tries to buy organically since they have the most pesticides. She says frozen fruit and veg are also great if fresh are not available.
  2. BATCH COOKING: Set aside an hour or two to prepare your food in bulk batches and make a variety of items at one time. For instance, Deborah has made zucchini, green beans, sweet potatoes, tofu and pears all in one go. “It may sound like a lot but it means you’re only cooking once every week or so.” Then all you do is portion the various foods out into small containers or ice cube trays, freeze, and defrost and heat as needed.
  3. SALT-FREE: Deborah says now is not the time for added salt and sugar. “Babies should become accustomed to the natural flavours of the foods themselves rather than additives. There’s enough time for them to develop a sophisticated palate later.” That said, some parents do add mild seasonings and spices such as cinnamon, garlic, basil and curry, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
  4. THE RECIPE: Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables, then all you need to do is cook them until soft. On the stovetop this means boiling or steaming, and in the microwave, just add a touch of water. Cool, then puree with a blender, hand blender, Magic Bullet or Baby Bullet until very smooth for younger babies, and then build up to coarser textures for older babies. Note: hard fruits, like apples and pears have to be lightly cooked, but soft fruits, like mangos and berries need only be pureed.
  5. BON APPETIT, MON PETITE: Deborah says variety is key. She usually serves Lily three to four different items at one meal. In this photo Lily is eating tofu, butternut squash and zucchini, and for dessert she enjoyed mango and yoghurt. Lily must like her mama’s cooking since I have yet to see spit something out, and she’s the happiest – and healthiest -- baby on the block.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Eat here: Oru

I love, love, the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver: From the ethereal design to the waterfront setting, the luxe rooms and the impeccable service. And now, after eating at Oru, where new chef Darren Brown is kicking some serious Pacific Rim ass, my relationship with the hotel has crossed over into stalker territory. 
Installed a few months ago, Brown retrofitted the kitchen, broke down some walls to make it more transparent (literally and figuratively; for instance, they pickle their own everything and 
are now making their own charcuterie), so if you thought that hotel dining wasn’t for you, think again. The menu is created using almost exclusively local products, which these days, gladly, 
is no big whoop. But food like this? Huge whoopee! This is one of the best meals I’ve had in ages, and for my vegetarian pal, one of the best she's had, ever. 
The best bite of the night was the first one: "North Arm Farms Sunchoke Soup", a velvety veloute of pure roasted sunchokes topped with a truffle foamed milk and cocoa-morel powder. Sounds a bit old school, but tastes like a Ph.D in deliciousness. "Notch Hills Beet Salad", pickled and poached baby beets, beet chutney, chimichurri vinaigrette, and Cabrales blue cheese, was also a tasty local spin on an old favourite, while the Filet Mignon Oscar topped 
with fresh Dungeness crab, was 5-star decadence.

As a side note, when I visit B.C. it takes all the willpower I’ve got not to hole myself up in a dark room with a trove of the amazing local cheeses and wines we can’t get in Ontario. So, imagine the intense joy I felt with the all-local wine matches – from Blue Mountain to Joie, and the all-local artisanal cheeses in the fromage to chariot. (Best idea ever!)
In conclusion, ahem, if you’re lucky enough to visit Vancouver, not only should you stay at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, but you should definitely eat at Oru.
I'm fairly certain you'll like it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Eating Vegas (and happy Canada Day!)

A few weeks ago many of the world’s celebrated chefs gathered in the 35 C alfresco heat at Bon Appetit’s Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace, part of the sold-out annual culinary weekend where more than 30 events are packed into four days, with some 60 restaurants, 50 chefs and 30 sommeliers snacking, chatting and swilling together. At the Grand Tasting, the biggest and splashiest of the weekend’s events, I positioned myself at the end of the red carpet, where I asked everyone from Nobu Matsuhisa to Gordon Ramsay what their favourite dish is at their own Vegas restaurant -- plus a dish they enjoy at a friend’s Sin City table. Then I feasted on their top picks during a chefs’ grand tour, which ran in the Globe & Mail this week.

This trip actually changed my mind about Vegas. I had been a couple of times before, and wasn’t a fan. Too much of too much – people with gallon-sized colourful frozen drinks strung around their necks, other people chained to the one-armed bandits for days -- the whole thing just rubbed me the wrong way.
But as I learned, it needn’t be so. Book a nice hotel – I highly recommend the new Cosmopolitan (it’s super cool, has great restaurants, clubs and swimming pools, and it's the only hotel on the Strip whose rooms have private terraces), go for a couple of nice meals, read by the pool, take a swim, do some light shopping, and you’ve got yourself a really enjoyable weekend. 
That said, you know where I think the restaurants are even better than in Vegas? Canada! And with the fireworks, swimming, hot weather and good grub, this long weekend has been almost Vegas-like, and mighty enjoyable too.
Happy 145th B-day, Canada.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A refreshing new beverage

I don't usually write about new products because I think it would encourage others to send weird crap to my house. But let it be known that alcohol, chocolate and flowers are always welcome!
That said, if we never tried anything new, how would I have discovered the majesty that is the Ritz Bits? Or the haunting allure of Lindt 70% extra dark? The seasonal satisfaction of a Cadbury egg, a great new take on a favourite cereal, or a new brand of popcorn?
On that note, say hello to this summer's new thirst quencher. It's crisp, it's icy, sort of sweet, more than a little apple-y, and you know something, Alexander Keith's Original Cider pairs well with hot-weather foods, from raw oysters, tacos and grilled fish, to burgers and chicken.
Best of all, the best way to enjoy it is to grab a pint glass, load it with ice, then fill it to the rim with the cider so that it's so ice cold that you can barely hold it.
Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spar for the Spurtle

I'm still relatively new to the wonders of the spurtle, as evidenced here, but what I'm not new to is oatmeal, and action-packed culinary competitions.  
Lucky for me -- and us -- Bob’s Red Mill has just kicked off its annual Spar for the Spurtle 2 Oatmeal Recipe Contest which invites home cooks and professional chefs alike to submit videos demonstrating a unique recipe that makes use of Bob’s Red Mill’s Steel Cut Oats. 

From the entries, three finalists will be flown to Portland, Ore. to compete in a live cook-off, and the winner of the cook-off will receive an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Scotland, including $2,500 in cash, to help represent team Bob’s Red Mill in the 19th Annual Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship.

The submission deadline is July 20, 2012. For more info, check the press release here. Or, check out the  contest website.  
I want to enter. Anyone have any winning oatmeal ideas for me? Seriously.  

P.S. I just read the rules. Only open to U.S. citizens over the age of 18. Damn it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Is the pantry the new freezer?

There's something I've been thinking about lately, what I see as a recent seismic shift in the kitchen: Is the Pantry the New Freezer?

Remember how back in the roaring 1980s everyone was investing in big side-by-side refrigerator-freezers? It was the heyday of the new generation of frozen convenience foods, from Haagen Dazs and Tofutti to Pizza Pockets and Lean Cuisine. Seen as a step up from post-war TV dinners, the new frozen foods were seemingly of a higher quality while also being more nutritious and still as convenient as pulling back a corner of plastic film on a plastic tray and microwaving it for four minutes. (Little did we know about trans-fats, leaching plastics, and high sodium back then.)

Fast-forward to the mid 2000s. From being located up top to moving to the side, suddenly new refrigerators were being engineered with the freezers down below. (I just bought a Jenn-Air like this, myself.) Full of annoying partitions and baskets, they barely hold a damn thing. But here's my theory on why this poor industrial design is actually good news for food….

Basically, we're no longer relying on the freezer to feed us. We're going to the greengrocer, farmer's market and supermarket more often. In other words, we're cooking fresh food, and just need a few basic pantry items to round out our dishes. So long freezer, hello fresh chicken, veggies and secret seasonings!

At the same time, pantry items have improved greatly over the years. Think about it: Red lentils + canned San Marzanos + quality spices + fresh onion and garlic = quick, delicious dahl. Plus basmati = my favourite workaday meal. Split peas + organic Tetra stock + Bay leaf + marrow bones or ham hock = a penny-pinching soup for the ages.

I’ve got a million of them -- and you probably do too. So take a look at that pantry again, for the very first time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Yukon 'ho!

I didn't post as usual on Sunday (yesterday) as I spent most of the day winging my way to Canada's glorious Yukon Territory. I'll be too busy this week to do a proper blog post, what with hot springs to visit, hikes to take, caribou sausage to eat and local beer to drink -- oh yeah, and a conference to attend -- so consider this post a potholder until next weekend.
Until then, enjoy your week, and think about this photo: Not the most gorgeous pic to be sure (I was walking through an industrial park at the tail end of town), but it's the first one I snapped last night, after emerging from a dimly lit (uber delish) sushi restaurant into the blazing Whitehorse sunshine -- at 10pm!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It's beginning to feel a lot like summer

This weekend marks the unofficial kick-off of summer, and here in Toronto we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Let me put it this way; I was in Vegas last weekend and it feels just as hot today.
The first cottage guests have already come and gone, the barbecue worked its magic on a dozen summertime skewers, and the Pinot Grigio was flowing freely. 
With people dropping by each weekend, I’m usually on kitchen duty, yet I don’t mind at all because:
1)    I enjoy the prep and cooking that goes into making meals for large groups. Plus, I got the moves like Jagger. (Maybe not. But I’m fast, and that’s what counts here.)
2)    I especially love the challenge of drop-in guests and middling fridge ingredients. (Top Chef Cottage: Quick Fire Challenge. Make a vegan feast for 10 in 15 minutes!)
3)    Most importantly, if I do the cooking, I don’t do the cleaning. (Cottage rules.)
What’s more, summertime cooking is easy cooking. Compared to Christmas’s competitive feasts, during the summer nobody wants intricate hors d’oeuvres, a big turkey and sides, layered cakes and cookies, mulled cider and gobs of chocolate. Instead, it’s all about sparking up the barbecue (or smoker), and throwing on some burgers and steaks, whipping up big bowls of fresh salads, or even a simple platter of juicy tomatoes with basil and olive oil.
During summer we let the fresh foods speak for themselves, asparagus, corn and beans becoming the snap, crackle and pop of the vegetable world. Meats sizzle, tofu does its own thing, and ice cream is ever-present. If you think about it, it’s actually the longest and busiest entertaining stretch of the year. 
In other words, it’s the perfect time to reciprocate a long put-off dinner invite. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Vegas is delicious

Boo me. No blog post this week because I just got back from an incredible couple of days in Vegas for Bon Appetit's sold out Vegas UnCork'd event. I'm writing a story about it so I don't want to spill the beans here, except to say that basically every top chef in the world was there, I spoke to most of them, one kissed my hand, and I ate very, very well. This red carpet shot I took is but a taste of the calibre on hand. For instance, in this first round of chefs (they came out in groups based on the hotel in which their restaurants are housed), you've got Gordon Ramsay (you can see the top of his head behind Michel Richard), Guy Savoy, Nobu Matsuhisa is coming around the bend, Bradley Ogden, Francois Payard, and so on. Also, it was 35 C every day, which was awesome.