Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Coffee Crawl: Part 2

In our continuing series on small, independently owned coffee shops that are walking distance from my house, today we pay a visit to Ezra's Pound
Brand new to my 'hood, while the other location has become a favourite place to meet my uptown friends on Dupont, Ezra's Pound is a coffee joint with a conscience. Namesake owner Ezra Braves has designed the inviting space, all sunny Dundas-facing picture windows and Bellwoods corner patio, using lots of salvaged pieces. Take-away items are served in paper or non-toxic, biodegradable cups and packaging. Their cleaning products are all-natural. Eat in, and your water is Toronto's finest, served in reclaimed glass bottles. It's all spelled out on the chalkboard behind the counter: Ezra's, 99.5% All natural, recyclable, compostable, organic. "My big thing is, if you make garbage, you should be responsible for it," says Braves.
The lattes, complete with pretty foam art, are the opposite of garbage: The beans are Ezra's own roast, and for my money, are the city's best. He uses a pesticide-free bird-friendly source that is just one step removed from the farmer. "We're not hiding behind a label that's been produced by a third party," he says. "We know the guys." And his Faema E61, "is the machine from which all other machines were cut." 
As for snacks, the food is mostly organic and includes continental breakfasts, salads and baked goodies like dense chocolate tarts and wild blueberry scones. All-butter croissants pop out of the oven every morning, still warm when regulars start streaming in.
Small lattes $3.71, croissants $2.62
Pros: Addictive coffee and croissants. Easy on the earth and the eyes.
Con: A little pricer than most. But I don't mind paying a bit extra for piece of mind. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

This just in: Five easy steps to getting that BBQ grilling

Oh, the joys of spring: Robin redbreasts, budding flowers, the unmistakable scent of dog shit in the air... It's also time to clean. A big spring cleaning. And that includes prepping the BBQ for the outdoor cooking season. 
Here are five tips from the good people at Napolean Grills to help you safely light your fire.
1. Have your cleaning supplies ready: A brass wire brush, small pail to hold hot water, dish soap, venturi brush, a 1/16" drill bit, replacement grease cups, spatula, stainless steel cleaner and some fine sandpaper. (It almost sounds like a Debbie Travis project!)
2. Start cleaning: Remove the burners for a thorough cleaning. Pass a venturi brush through the burners to clear blockages then brush the tops with the brass wire brush. Once clean, check to make sure all burners are open. If some of the ports are still closed, use that drill bit to open them up. Wash grill with hot, soapy water, then brush with a little oil to re-season it. Hot, soapy water also works wonders on removing grease and grime from the exterior of the BBQ. Finally, use a spatula to scrape grease from the inside of the base all the way down to the drip pan. Remove the drip pan and give it a good washing. Remember to replace the grease catcher.
3. Inspect all hoses and feed tubes: This is a visual inspection. Look for crimps and punctures. If you see any, replace them.
4. Do a leak test of the grill: For complete leak test information, check out the leak test video at their site. 
5. Check all ignition parts: For battery ignitions it's a good idea to replace the old batteries with new ones. Check electrode leads and ensure the tips are clean and have no grease or rust buildup on them. If they do, get out that sandpaper and clean them.
Enjoy your wieners!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Coffee Crawl: Part 1

On most days, if you want to find me between 1:30 and 2pm, I'm usually at Marquee Video. Weird, right? Especially since I almost never rent videos. 
I do, however have a daily latte. 
And that's where Joe comes in. 
Co-owner Giuseppe Anile (I call him Joe because that's how he was introduced to me several years ago) has created a room that's quite pretty and neatly laid out: There's a rough-hewn bar-height table at the window front, to perch while sipping an espresso and watching endless close calls at the crosswalk on College street. 
There are several tables behind it, and then DVDs as far as the eye can see: An extensive collection specializing in rare and hard to finds, documentaries, the latest hits, foreign films, and much of the Criterion Collection. 
Head to the back of the store. That's where you'll find Joe, behind the red countertop. Behind that vintage Elecktra machine. Beside it is the coffee grinder, filled with a "special blend of classic coffee," he says. 
This being a video store, there are movie snacks to be had: Kettle chips in all the right flavours, German chocolate bars and Italian sodas and juices. To go with the coffee, there are almond and chocolate chunk or lemon poppyseed biscotti, made by an area baker. Popcorn is always free. The ice cream is from Maypole and comes in a half dozen flavours. 
But we're talking about coffee here, and Joe's no amateur. He comes from a proud lineage of Italian coffee drinkers (he's verrry Italian). I'm addicted to his lattes; warm and soothing, smooth without too much bite, and a lovely foam topper. 
One day, when I ask the gaggle of regulars why they come here -- to a video store -- for their daily espressos, cappuccinos, lattes and Americanos, the consensus is that while the coffee is great, so too is the commoraderie. 
"Let's face it," says Joe to the crowd. "I'm the real draw here."

Pro: Five minutes from my house.
Con: Not enough baked goods, and sometimes Joe's mean to me.
Latte: $2.75, Biscotti: $1.50.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Convenience is not a four-letter word

Did I ever say I was against convenience foods? Because I'm not. Far from it.
In fact, just the other day I was holding up a canister while thinking, "Now thaaaat's convenience." Toaster strudel? Convenient! Curry sauce in a jar? Convenient! Having someone else grind the coffee beans, pull the espresso and steam milk for my afternoon latte? Convenient! 
What's not so convenient is waiting in line at Starbucks for 10 minutes and then being rewarded with an often mediocre product. Which is why, a couple of years ago, I made the switch to small, unique independently owned coffee shops for my afternoon constitutional -- a half hour or so when I take a break from my home office and venture out into the greater world to watch birds and squirrels and sip a hot beverage. 
As a happy offshoot, I've made some friends along the way, but more importantly, the lattes and snacks are way better than Starbucks. (Can you feel an announcement coming on?) And so, it is with great pleasure that I announce my first annual Coffee Crawl, whereby I visit a different downtown purveyor of coffee and snacks once a week for the next month or so, and then tell you all about it. Check back on Wednesday for my first stop.
But for now, enjoy the convenience of this fast and tasty dinner.
(Serves 4)
1 package President's Choice Veneto Pumpkin Triangoli (or other stuffed pasta you like or have on hand)
about a cup of green beans
some leftover roasted butternut squash (or almost any other vegetable you like and have on hand)
3 Tbsp butter
freshly grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
Put water on to boil for the pasta.
Tip beans, rinse with water, and then put them in a bowl, cover, and microwave for a minute. Cut beans in half. (I used beans here because I wanted some healthy, green crunch and had them on hand. Asparagus would also be lovely right now. Toasted nuts are another bright idea.)
Add salt to boiling pot of water, and add pasta, cooking as per package directions, usually about 4 minutes for fresh stuffed pasta. 
Warm up cubes of roasted squash in microwave.
Drain cooked pasta in a colander and while it's draining, add butter to pot. Heat on low until butter foams, then toss in pasta, coat with butter, then add beans and squash and gently mix together. Season with salt and pepper and a mitt-full of Parmesan. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

The best thing since cheese in a can

Gilinsky had sent me the link as a joke, but as it turns out, the joke was on her. Because the next time she flew to Toronto for a visit without her husband -- Andrew absolutely insists they only pack carry-on -- I made her promise to bring me a big old can of all-natural, organic, Batter Blaster. That's right: Pancake and/or waffle batter in the convenience of an aerosol can. 
Perhaps the greatest invention since cheeze in a can, Gilinsky delivered the goods with aplomb, and before too long I was greasing a hot pan. 
A few spritzes, a bit of flipping, and you're rewarded with sweet, if a little airy and thin, pancakes. And as advertised, no fuss, no muss. 
Still, obviously the best thing about it is that it's aerosol batter in a can called Batter Blaster. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Breakfast time

Do not adjust your your screens. This is not a black and white photo. It's the true living colour of perfect blackberries against pure white 1% probiotic yoghurt. There's also a drizzle of honey over top, making for a breakfast that's all tart, sweet and smooth. 
On a sour note, the plastic clamshell of blackberries bust open in my cloth shopping bag on the way home. It was really quite a disaster. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Top 5 ways to eat matzo

I know what you're thinking: 'Matzo again? I liked it much better when she wouldn't stop talking about chocolate. But matzo? Feh!'
Forgive me this one little indulgence, and I promise it's the last time you'll have to hear about matzo from me for another year.
It's what I'm eating this week, so it's what you have to eat too if you want to suffer along, I mean, enjoy the Passover holiday along with me.
Matzo brei is my second favourite way to eat matzo, my first being the chocolate covered variety I featured last week. But since this matzo is fried (that's what brei or brie means), it comes in at a very close second.
Here are my Top 5 Ways to Eat Matzo:
1. Chocolate almond caramel matzo
2. Matzo brei
3. Matzo balls
4. Matzo lasagna
5. Matzo with lox and cream cheese (old habits die hard)
What are your favourite matzo recipes? Share with us in the comments section.
I like this easy fried matzo recipe, as it's fast and comforting, at once filling and fulfilling. 
Still, as with so many things in Judaism, there is much debate as to whether it should be served sweet or savoury. As in salt and pepper, cheese or even a sprinkling of za'atar, versus topped with sugar, kosher for Passover 778 jam, maple syrup or honey.
Personally, I'm on the sweet side of things, simply because that's how we ate it growing up. So here's my take on matzo brei, with a tasty apple topper.
(serves 4)
some butter for the pan
3 apples, cored and sliced
a few good shakes of cinnamon
a big handful of chopped pecans
a good glug of honey
more butter for the pan
4 pieces egg matzo
boiling water
4 eggs
pinch of salt
Heat butter in a large pan and add apples and cinnamon, cooking until apples start to soften. Add pecans and honey and continue cooking until apples start to caramelize. Remove from pan and set aside in a bowl. Should be a little syrupy. Wipe out pan.
Put kettle on to boil while breaking the matzo into small chunks. Put broken matzo in a colander, then pour the boiling water over the top. Let drain as you beat the eggs well in a large bowl, and then add the drained matzo to the bowl with a pinch of salt. Heat the large pan again, add some butter and add eggy matzo mixture to pan, cooking on low heat until golden brown on one side. Flip, then brown on the other side. It's okay if it gets broken up a bit. 
Serve topped with apple mixture, and another dash of cinnamon. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

My new kettle

I got a new kettle at a fantastic kitchen shop called Grace in the Kitchen when I was visiting Ottawa this week. Didn't plan on it but I saw it, loved it, and lately I had become increasingly convinced than my old stovetop kettle was slowly poisoning me. 
What you can't tell from the photo is that my shiny enamel on steel Le Creuset has a lovely paint job of darker red at the bottom, graduating to lighter up top. Or, that its whistle is like a gentle melody, akin to a Snow White sing-a-long with her forest friends.  
Bottom line: My morning tea just got a whole lot classier.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

This just in: How to spot fake Champagne

Thanks to a loophole in the system, some American producers can get away with labelling their sparkling wine as Champagne, even though the grapes are not grown in Champagne. Zut alors!
Well, the Champagne Bureau will have none of it, so they've pulled together some helpful tips on how to be sure the wine you're sipping is the real Monsieur McCoy. 
So if you weren't a total wine snob before, here's more ammo to raise your game to the next level.
1. Just because the label says Champagne doesn't mean it's from France. Real Champagne will have the country of origin on the label, and that country of origin should never be California, Niagara or any other place other than France.
2. A bottle of real Champagne will always have the name and address of the producer on the label, including the name of its town or village. There are about 400 villages where Champagne can be produced.
3. Many regions around the world also produce quality sparkling wines such as Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, and high caliber sparkling wines from Canada and the United States. But only sparkling wines from Champagne, France, can be considered true Champagne.
4. Each Champagne bottle will carry a Professional Registration Code. Most bottles of real Champagne either carry the letters NM or RM in the lower corner of the label. NM stands for "negotiant manipulant" meaning the producer purchases grapes, juice or wine. RM stands for "recoltant manipulant" and means the producer harvests and bottles wine from its own grapes. Occasionally, you may find other symbols on the label such as RC, SR, ND, or MA. These are classifications for other types of producers in Champagne, but we don't need to get into that right now. 
So now you know! To learn more, go to the Champagne Bureau's web site

Monday, April 6, 2009

Chocolate almond caramel matzo (you'll plotz for it!)

Passover means something different to everyone. For Shlomo Mendelson, it means eating matzo in his public school cafeteria for a week in April. For his non-Jewish friends, it means wondering why Shlomo has suddenly taken to eating nothing but hard-boiled eggs, oversized crackers and celery sticks at lunchtime.
And yet, if they were to simply ask the young Mendelson boy, the others would learn that Passover, which we head into this week, commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from ancient Egypt. So you've got Moses, the parting of the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments and a triumphant return to Canaan (I'm sure you've seen the movie.) 
Passover also means lots and lots of unleavened recipes, some of which are little miracles in and of themselves, including this sweet treat. From Bonnie Stern to Joan Nathan, everyone's got her recipe for this winning chocolate caramel snack, and who's to say who invented it? (Although Bonnie Stern credits Marcy Goldman, a Montreal baker.) 
A bissle this, a shmeck of that, and before too long it's time to "Eat! Eat! You're all skin and bones!"
6 pieces matzo
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 cup chocolate chips (semi sweet seems to get the job done, or, use your favourite high quality chocolate, chopped)
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a large cookie sheet with tinfoil. Arrange matzo in a single layer on foil -- don't worry if they overlap.
2. If using almonds, toast in the saucepan you're about to use for the butter and sugar mixture (one less pot to clean!) Once toasted, remove from pot and set almonds aside.
3. Place butter and brown sugar in the medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Go against your instincts and try not to stir it. Just cook for a few minutes until mixture comes together and looks saucy, then pour evenly over the six pieces of matzo. Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until caramel is bubbling. 
4. As soon as matzo comes out of the oven, sprinkle with the chocolate chips. Wait 5 minutes then spread chocolate as evenly as possible, making sure to get under the overlapped pieces. (The heat of the sugar and butter will have melted the chocolate.) Sprinkle toasted almonds over top, then pop in the fridge until the chocolate and caramel are set, about 15 minutes. Break into chunks. 
So good it's almost worth wandering the desert for 40 years. 

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Toaster waffles

As you can tell from this story I wrote, I've got no problem with toaster waffles. I even eat No Name blueberry flavoured waffles, for goodness sake. 
Hot, fluffy and crisp, no fuss, and they stave off hunger pangs till it's brunch time on weekends. That said, I draw the line at fake maple syrup. 
I may choose my battles, but I choose them well. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

A sustainable podcast

Melanie Coates is the coolest chick you'll ever meet. She's the top PR gal at the Fairmont Royal York, where I bumped into her yesterday at an event heralding the launch of the Ocean Wise seafood program -- a big, smart sustainable hit out west -- in Ontario. I'll write more about it in a future Dish column. 
I like the Canadian-owned Fairmont chain. They do good work (bees on the rooftop, excellent greening programs at most of their hotels), much of it behind the scenes. 
They've also got their own radio station, called Radio Royal York. Isn't that cheeky? Even better, Melanie is its host. And, judging by her radio voice, if she ever gave up her day job, Mel could make a killing as a sex phone operator. This week's podcast is on Ocean Wise. Listen in.

In other news, while we're on the topic of the historic Royal York hotel, I'd like to point out that while the National Nosh's next Recipe Monday will likely feature a delicious Passover dish, I'm well aware that there's another big holiday on the horizon. 
And to show that I'm an inclusive Jewess, here is some info all of you Toronto-based Easter celebrating friends can use in the week or so ahead...
The Fairmont Royal York is bringing back their Easter to Go dinner. Straight from their kitchens, the culinary brigade is set to prepare traditional Easter dinners with all the trimmings. Dinners include:
Cream of spring asparagus soup with sun-dried tomatoes and chives
Roast leg of spring lamb, rosemary pinot noir sauce, mint jelly, roast potatoes and caramelized root vegetable medley
Boneless honey-glazed ham, roast potatoes, tomato apricot chutney and caramelized root vegetable medley. 
Chocolate easter eggs filled with while chocolate Grand Marnier mousse 

Meals can be prepared for 4-18 people, starting at $115 for the ham supper for 4. Call 416-860-5050 for more info or to place your orders. 
And enjoy your lamb while I'm choking down matzo.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

That really gets my goat

The New York Times is telling us that goat is the new lamb. 
Been there, done that, bought the shirt, next!
But seriously Times, it's a bit insulting to come up with this far-out idea of eating an animal that has sustained cultures in countries the world over for centuries -- even on the mean streets of Toronto, Albert's Real Jamaican has been deliciously dishing it up for decades. 
But I guess now that the Manhattan yuppies have "discovered" it, goat is officially the new (but oddly, hard to find for writer Henry Alford) "it" meat. 
Ha, look at me running off at the mouth. For was it not I, who just last week proclaimed horse to be the new beef?
Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, meet black.