Friday, July 31, 2009


I just got back from a couple of days in Niagara -- meeting farmers, eating very, very well, drinking even better, and eating a lot of peaches.
Ontario peach season began July 20th, and my handy new Ontario Peaches Variety/Availability Guide tells me that we're already well into group 1 of the varietals: Harrow Diamond and Springcrest, with Harrow Dawn, Early Redhaven, Garnet Beauty and Risingstar just coming on. There will be more and more right through the end of September.
But I'd suggest you get them now and keep eating. I picked some straight from the tree, where they basically exploded in my mouth and down my chin. (Juicy as all get out.)

Now, as if I haven't already been helpful enough, here are some farmer-approved peach ripening tips: Select peaches on the basis of background colour, not the reddish blush -- you want an all yellow backing, nothing with a greenish tinge. Remove peaches from container. Sort according to ripeness (read: firmness). Store ripe peaches uncovered in the fridge for up to five days. To ripen peaches quickly, store in a paper bag at room temperature. Bring peaches up to room temperature for ideal peach eating conditions. And have tons of napkins standing by.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eat here: Union

It looks like a Parisian bistro in small town Ontario: Beautiful, earthy, endearing.

We share a few dishes from chef/owner Teo Paul’s very tight menu at Union and all I can think is, finally, Toronto has a new chef-run restaurant that doesn't look like shit -- and tastes a whole lot better.

Great bevies to start, including foreign beer with topsy turvy glasses and a cocktail boasting honest ginger beer.

The elk sliders that everyone and his dog have been raving about are made from superlative meat and a hefty grind. But serving it on challah amounts to dishing out grandma Rosa’s giant meatballs on wee toast points.

Mains all come sided by dishes of super frites, potato salad and a fresh-from-the-farm seasonal veg – ours is Swiss chard and I could eat a bucket of it.

The meal (and probably menu) highlight is the shared dish of cote de boeuf – a massive rib steak: Juicy, fatty, well-seasoned meat cooked near perfect on the bone, then sliced for service.

Hot-from-the-oven personal pots of dessert elicit squeals from neighbouring tables. I too, am excited about this place.

The service is so enthusiastic it borders on mime, the room is warm and proud, and it's the exact sort of food I like to eat.

Plus, on a daytime walkabout down Ossington this week, I learned they're open at 9am for croissants and coffee, and have a nice lineup of cheap-o and delish-sounding lunches each day (like Thai beef salad), moving into charcuterie plates after 3pm, then on to dinner.

I think they should do very well indeed.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Easy Peasy

I couldn’t resist buying a bag of the fresh, shelled local peas at the grocery store, so pert and pleasing and in season – and a bargain at less than three bucks. Once home I knew I had to use them quickly, because like corn, they’ve got a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on: A sweet treat one day and then dull and maddeningly starchy the next.

Hot days call for cold soups. And like a breezy summer night, this one couldn’t be easier.

Bring 4 cups of well-flavoured chicken or vegetable stock to a boil (could even be bouillon; we don’t judge here), then add a finely chopped peeled Yukon gold potato and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add your 1 lb bag of fresh, shelled peas and continue simmering for about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of sugar and a mixed handful of chopped mint, basil and chives at the end. Taste, and add salt and pepper if need be. Blitz in the blender or use a hand blender right in the pot. Chill for a few hours until cool and serve with crusty bread.

See? It is easy being green.

Friday, July 24, 2009

This just in: Drink your troubles away

Forest fires
Garbage strike
VIA strike
Swine flu...

So far the summer of '09 is resembling the 10 plagues of Egypt more than a sun-kissed sojourn. But Eight Wine Bar and Restaurant in Toronto's Cosmopolitan hotel is here to help -- help you drink your troubles away.

As of today (July 24) many of the sought after wines from the Zoltan Szabo-curated wine card can be had for just $1 per ounce on Fridays, while chef Derek Kennedy's tasty plates will run you around $8, between 5-9pm (can you say "happy hour?")

We're talking everything from fine Bordeaux to Cabernet from the Galilee, Mission Hill's Occulus and Daniel Lenko's Viognier. (I'm not sure if all of these are available by the glass, but they are all on the globally inclusive menu.)

So drink up! And if it's any consolation, August is just around the corner.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Sitting on the dock over Lake Simcoe with a big bowl of these juicy jewels being warmed by the sun. I grab ‘em by the handful then snag the fruit from the stems with my front teeth. I spit the pits into my hand or at the nearest child, and then wipe my hand on my beach towel when nobody’s looking. Isn’t there just something about cherries that make you feel like a kid again?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summertime pasta for one

I'm going to make this entry as short and sweet as the recipe that follows. Since last week's tale of fridge woes was quickly followed by a conference in Chicago, there hasn't been much me, or cooking around here. But there's always time for pasta on the fly.

(serves 1)

whole wheat linguini (2-3 ounces)

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 fat ripe tomato, cored and chopped

mixed fresh herbs from the garden (I used chives, oregano, parsley), chopped

pinch of chili flakes

6-7 cooked shrimp

1 tsp lemon zest

1 Tbsp lemon juice

pinch of sugar

a scattering of capers

salt and pepper to taste


Put a pot of salted water on to boil. When boiling, add pasta and cook as per the package instructions. Meanwhile, cook garlic in olive oil until it becomes fragrant, then add chili flakes, chopped tomato and a pinch of sugar, along with capers, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir in herbs, shrimp and zest at the end, when you swirl in the cooked, drained pasta.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Je me souviens le poutine

A couple of weekends ago I spent an afternoon trotting around beatific Quebec City, the port area, the Old City, the Museum of Civilization and the riverside food market. I walked and I kept walking, past the funicular, the street musicians, the ice-cream lickers and the tourist shops. Smiles all around. And then I got hungry, but hungry for something hearty. A baguette sandwich or paltry pastry just wouldn’t do. I had my eyes on the prize.

After wandering around in circles (my go-to mode) for another hour, I decided to take a stool at the charming 30-year old greasy spoon in Lower Town just down the block from my wonderful hotel. Buffet de L’Antiquaire was its name, and a poutine and Coke was my game. Though they do serve big plates of hearty Quebecois faves like beans and cretons for breakfast, or pea soup, cheeseburgers and hot chicken plates for midday mains, I was there for poutine because even though Toronto has at long last caught on to a good thing – I’ve had a short rib version at Gilead CafĂ© and a breakfast version at Harbord Room – and now there are dedicated shops dishing out almost nothing but -- such as Smoke’s Poutinerie and now Poutini’s House of Poutine, I wanted an authentic Quebec version. Anyway, the fry cooks at Buffet de L'Antiquaire in the open kitchen with their paper hats looked like the real deal. (Always trust a fry cook in a paper hat.)

My hand-cut potatoes were tossed into amber-coloured deep fat and cooked to a golden finish. The chicken gravy was like mother’s milk, and the fresh, plentiful cheese curds were as squeaky as a mouse convention.

Best friggin’ poutine, ever.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Busted fridge salad

My fridge broke: Died on me overnight, poor thing. My first thought was that it would have been the perfect time for someone to crank call me with that “Is your fridge running?” joke. And my second thought was that I needed to buy a new one, fast.

I surfed the Net for a few minutes and noticed that Lowes was having a sale on the model I'd been eyeing (a snazzy but simple stainless steel GE). I drove over, was there in 10 minutes, was helped within seconds – the nice man said my desired fridge had gone on sale at midnight and that it was the Cadillac of refrigerators – he even cautioned me against buying a more expensive Frigidaire -- and I was at the checkout five minutes later with over $200 saved. Because that’s how I roll.

Back at home my neighbour let me put some things in his fridge and freezer but the majority was a lost cause, the saving grace being that since I mostly buy fresh food there wasn't a ton of stuff to begin with.

As for the bits and bobs of fresh produce, I had to think fast. And for some reason Spain came to mind. So did salad: Sliced orange peppers, some navel oranges that I segmented, a few sliced green olives and green onion, solid white tuna, lettuce, and a quick vinaigrette made of red wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, and salt and pepper. I also toasted some slivered almonds for kicks.

The one thing I was a bit upset about was throwing out all of the condiments, some of which had become like old friends, hanging around for half a decade. I ditched every last one of them but now that they’re gone, I can’t imagine what I had taking up three full shelves in the fridge, because my new list is only 10 items long.

Any ideas for must-have sauces, jams or jellies? Let me know soon. The fridge is being delivered today -- my window of opportunity is apparently between noon and 4pm…


They actually showed up at 4:50pm, but it didn't matter. The fridge didn't fit. I had measured the old one but not my door jam. Arrrgh! So back to Lowes I went, and purchased a stainless steel Whirlpool for a bit more money.

News you can use: Whirlpool makes the shallowest (meaning not as deep) 18 c.f. refrigerators in the biz. In fact, it was the only quality fridge in the entire store that would have fit through my door. A couple of days later, in fact moments ago, it was delivered to my house, whereupon the great delivery guys took apart the old fridge to fit it through my troublemaker office door, took the office door off of its hinges, took the doors off the new fridge, then put everything back together and ta-da! That melodic refrigerator hum is mine once again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

'Tis the season

Fresh wee local strawberries cooked down for a few minutes with just a splash of Riesling and a sprinkling of sugar. Spoon on top of plain yoghurt (or beneath it for homespun fruit bottom yoghurt), and you've got yourself a breakfast of champions.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Chocolate cherry breakfast bars

Gluten free, low in fat, can be made dairy free, are easy to prepare, both kiddies and adults alike eat them up, and they’re the perfect solution to all of those overripe bananas taking up prime ice cream real estate in the freezer. Is there nothing these soft and chewy breakfast bars can’t do? 

This recipe is adapted from the blog chocolate & zucchini, which adapted it from Nikki’s Healthy Cookies, adapted on Heidi’s 101 Cookbooks, so I’m not 100% sure what the recipe looked like to begin with, but I’ve done it up with variations including dark chocolate chunks with toasted almond, milk chocolate and pecan, and this version, with sour cherries and chocolate chips. Mix up a batch yourself as a litmus test then make adaptations of your own. Think of these as the Cold Stone Creamery of the breakfast bar world. The possibilities are endless. Let me know how it goes.



4 medium very ripe bananas (defrosted from freezer so that they get all mushy, is ideal)

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ cup smooth peanut butter

2 cups regular rolled oats (not steel cut or likewise long cooking)

1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

2/3 cup ground almonds

¼ tsp salt

½ cup chocolate chips

¼ cup dried sour cherries


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a medium sized baking dish with vegetable oil.

To a bowl add bananas and mash thoroughly. Add vanilla and peanut butter and stir to combine. Add rolled oats, ground almonds, salt, chocolate and cherries. Stir well, then pour into prepared baking dish and evenly smooth top. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes. Let cool then cut into handy bars.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Even better?

...And here it is studded with my first basket of Ontario strawberries. (More variations as they become available.) Exact same recipe, except I switched up the berries and ditched the lemon zest. And in case you didn't notice, this thematic red and white cake is perfect for Canada Day celebrations. 
They may have screwed us out of a long weekend, but we will always have cake.