Arils. My new food word

November 23, 2009


One of the things I love best about being in a food-focused profession is that there’s always something new to learn. But new food terms – unless they’re from other cultures – aren’t that plentiful at this point in my career.

And, even if I don’t know a particular term, chances that Amy or Sabrina will know it are very high. So, last week when I encountered the word arils for the first time, I was super surprised when it was new to my two smarty pants colleagues as well.

So, what the heck is an aril? Aril (arilles, en francais) is the name for the juicy, garnet-coloured, flesh-covered seeds inside a pomegranate.

Now, be honest, did you know the word ‘arils’ before reading this post?


November 18, 2009

Peanut ButterI’ve always thought of myself as an open minded person but obviously, the rest of the world doesn’t see me that way.  Somehow, I’ve become known as as judgemental. In the last month I’ve been asked to judge everything from cookies and cooking to beer pouring.

First I participated as a judge along with Elizabeth Baird and Stephanie Pick at the Gay Lea Shortbread Contest. The winning recipe was not only delicious but technically interesting as well. (The recipe is below if you’d like to try it.)

Then, I was off to New York to be a judge at the international Stella Artois Draught Master challenge where the world’s best draftmaster was crowned. And, lastly I joined the chefs from the Delta Grandview Hotel as a judge in an Iron Chef style competition between 8 teams of Kraft employees.

I’m both full and exhausted! Seriously, it’s much harder work to judge other people than I anticipated. It’s been a true test of my attention span.

Fortunately, the next contest that I’m involved with requires me to be a host and not a judge. On January 22nd, I’ll preside over the first ever Canadian Pillsbury Baking Challenge ! There’s still time to vote on your favourite recipes so make sure you visit the contest website to find out more details!

Have you ever entered a food or beverage competition? If so, was it fun or frightening?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread Bars

1 cup unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 250 mL
1 cup granulated sugar 250 mL
1 egg yolk 1
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional) 2 mL
2 cups all purpose flour 500 mL
1 tsp baking powder 5 mL
1/4 tsp salt 1 mL

3/4 cup blueberry jam 175 mL
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter 125 mL
1/2 cup icing sugar 125 mL
2 tbsp unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 30 mL


In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar and egg yolk, using an electric mixer, for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl blend together flour, baking powder and salt until well combined.

Divide the dough into two equal portions and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for 1 to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a 9 x 13-inch (3 L) baking dish with parchment paper; reserve. Remove dough from fridge. Shred dough using a coarse grater or food processor, fitted with a metal shredding blade; replace one portion of shredded dough to the fridge.

Arrange remaining dough in an even layer in the prepared baking dish; lightly pat the dough down. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges; cool for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the jam with the icing sugar and butter until smooth and well combined. Spread the peanut butter over the shortbread base in an even layer. Drop spoonfuls of the jam mixture over the peanut butter and gently spread in an even layer.

Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and scatter over the jam layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is set and lightly golden brown. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool completely; cut into bars.

Makes 24 bars.

Tip: Try grape jelly or strawberry jam in place of the blueberry jam for a fun twist.

Topline Trends Tuesday: Is tea cooling down?

November 17, 2009


Curious about what’s happening with the tea trend? So am I. So, I asked tea aficionado and graphic design expert Adrian Doran to attend a tea event in Toronto and report back to us.

His findings are interesting. While reports show that consumers are as curious as ever about the health benefits of tea, it seems that food service professionals still haven’t realized how to incorporate tea successfully into their commercial concepts:

Tea Report 2009


By Adrian Doran

Ever consulted a wine sommelier at your favourite restaurant? What about their tea sommelier? Do they even have one? More importantly, ever wondered why a meal of exceptional quality and service ends with a tea bag?

At the recent launch of Jeff Fuchs book The Ancient Tea Horse Road, Bill Kamula, instructor at George Brown College Chef School and Louise Roberge, President of the Tea Association of Canada, spoke about the traditions of tea and it’s future – the first batch of graduates from the College’s Tea Sommelier course.

“Tea is where wine was 20 years ago” said Roberge. “Then it was, red or white? Now, we’re aware of region, vintage, so on.” She believes the course will produce the generation of food service professionals that will lead the education of the public.

The tea industry seems to be waiting for a breakthrough. Tea consumption has grown hugely but it’s coming from far behind. A tea-equivalent of Starbucks isn’t even on the horizon and attempts to promote new tea drinks and introduce new customers to classic varieties can feel gimmicky – milk-infused oolong, anyone? There’s even some resistance from the foodservice industry – wine sommeliers seem curious enough about tea to expand their knowledge but not enough to fully commit to a 44 week course.

Kamula admits that the first dozen graduates included few foodservice professionals. “Some are from the distribution side, some are buyers. We had one lady who plans to open a bed-and-breakfast, with afternoon tea, even some Starbucks middle-management but few who plan to go into the restaurant industry.” So, if the market isn’t knowledgeable enough to drive the decisions about tea, it’s going to take a while.

At the end of an exceptional restaurant meal, do you even want to decide between early and late harvest oolongs or are you happy with a bag of Tetley’s?

I got a beef

November 4, 2009

Peter Bochna Chef Butcher

Let’s make today “hug a butcher day” – and I don’t mean that high school dropout kid who works at the local grocery store wrapping up the meat that arrives pre-cut and ready to hit the shelf. I mean a real butcher. Someone who knows how to cut meat and age meat and make a well-raised animal taste as good as it deserves to taste after sacrificing its life to be your dinner.

I recently met chef-turned-butcher Peter Bochna of Absolutely Fine Foods in Toronto’s west end. Not only does he dry age beef and lamb on premises in his store, he cuts it expertly as well.

“No one is teaching the younger generation how to be true butchers,” notes Bochna. “In chef school, butchery class is about cutting meat up; aging techniques are generally ignored. And, most meat processing plants are organized like factories where each person repeats one aspect of the overall process over and over all day long.

“I’m trying to teach my staff how to coax the best flavour and texture from meat at every stage after it comes from the abattoirs and to teach them how to understand how the breed and feed each animal ate while it was alive affects the decisions you make later at our stage of preparing it for people to eat.”

Sigh. People like Peter deserve our business and admiration. I just wish his shop was closer to my house so I could buy all my meat from him.

Do you have access to a ‘real’ butcher?

Where Dana shops

October 28, 2009

Jane R - Cake Slicing 2

When the new book All the Best Recipes by Jane Rodmell came out earlier this fall, I was thrilled! Long before I met Jane Rodmell or Sue Bowman (the dynamic perfectionistas who run All the Best Fine Foods) and became their friends, I was a devoted customer.

In fact, this shop was (and remains) my ‘go to it’ destination for prepared foods that are as good as I’d make myself. From the roasted vegetable lasagna that I’ve had them make in casserole dishes so that I could serve it up like it was homemade, to the buttery, super crisp gingerbread cookies (recipe below) I buy in the store as a special treat for my son, this is a book filled with fantastic recipes.

What I’m really trying to say is: if you buy one cookbook this fall, make it this one! Happy Anniversary All the Best!

The Best Gingerbread


•Cookie cutters (gingerbread boys and girls),
about 21⁄2 inches (6 cm)
•Baking sheets

61⁄2 cups all-purpose flour 1.625 L
4 tsp ground cinnamon 20 mL
4 tsp ground ginger 20 mL
1 tsp ground cloves 5 mL
1 tsp baking soda 5 mL
1⁄4 tsp salt 1 mL
2 cups butter, softened 500 mL
2 cups packed dark brown sugar500 mL
1 cup light (fancy) molasses 250 mL
Decorative (Royal) Icing

1. In a bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed or a wooden spoon, cream butter and brown sugar until blended. Add molasses and beat until smooth. On low speed or with a wooden spoon, gradually add flour mixture, mixing until blended. Divide gingerbread dough into 2 disks. Wrap securely in parchment or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or for up to 8 hours.

3. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to 1⁄8- to 1⁄4-inch (3 mm to 0.5 cm) thickness. Stamp out shapes with floured cookie cutters as desired. Place on baking sheets, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Bake in preheated oven until firm and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on size of cutouts. Be vigilant, as cookies brown quickly in the last few minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Gingerbread becomes crisp when cool. Decorate with icing when completely cooled.

Do you have a store that you can depend on for top quality food that actually tastes as good as it looks? If so, give them a plug in the comments section. In my experience, these places deserve all the support we can give them.

Aquaculture: Fishing for answers

October 19, 2009


Photo credit: Angela Y. Martin

A few weeks ago I was a guest at the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance‘s Farmed Seafood Extravaganza held at Starfish Restaurant in Toronto. The food was fantastic and spokespeople representing every aspect of the industry were present to tell their story and answer questions. While I learned a lot, I left the event feeling unsure about how to evaluate the many aspects of aquaculture. After all, it’s not really just one topic but dozens since different methods and species face different challenges.

I turned to Theodora (Teddie) Geach, Ocean Wise’s Eastern Coordinator, to help sort out my thoughts. Not only was she eager and able to answer my questions, she did such a great job that I’m excerpting her email here so that you can learn more about the pros and cons of Aquaculture, too!

“Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production system in the world and definitely has benefits if done correctly. It has the potential to relieve the pressure from over-exploited aquatic resources; however, it also has the potential to negatively impact the surrounding environment and wild fish stocks.

Five main criteria need to be taken into consideration:

1. Use of marine resources: This would be for example, the amount of wild fish used in fishmeal. If you’re feeding your farmed fish with more wild fish than you’re producing, you’re still putting pressure on the wild fish stocks. Ideally more fish protein is produced using aquaculture, than is used to facilitate it.

2. Risk of disease and parasite transfer to wild stocks: Since farmed fish are confined, they generally live closer together than they would in the wild. This increases the risk of disease and parasites. Therefore, the stock density needs to be considered. As I’m sure you know, with farmed salmon there is the issue of sea lice which can be transferred to juvenile wild salmon, increasing their mortality. In order to reduce this risk, antibiotics are sometimes added to the water which can result in stronger more resistant strains. However, today in BC, you need to get approval from a veterinarian before using any antibiotics. (I’m not sure if this is the case on the east coast as well.)

3. Risk of escapes to wild stocks: Most salmon farms are open-net pens or floating net pens in the ocean, therefore there is the risk of escape. These escaped fish can then compete with wild stocks for resources and may reproduce with wild stocks, thus reducing their genetic viability.

4. Risk of Pollution and habitat effects: These open-net pens can have a significant impact on the surrounding environment since anything added to the water is able to leach out. There can be a build-up of excessive fish feed and feces, which pollute the water and creates a very anoxic environment where nothing can grow except for sulfur loving bacteria. These open-net pens are usually in sheltered coves to protect the nets from extreme weather, but this also means that there is no current flowing through to flush out all the build-up of chemicals and feces, etc.

5. Effectiveness of the management regime: As with any fishery, there needs to be an effective management system in place to ensure that aquaculture practices favour conservation of the environment. For example the use of licensing to control the location, number, size and stocking density of farms; the existence of better management practices; and regulations for release of chemicals into the environment.

So for Atlantic salmon and cod farms, if they are able to address all these issues and support their claims with the data and sound science they would be considered sustainable. However, it is difficult for any open-net pen farm to address all these issues sufficiently.

6. The best option for farmed fish is a land-based, closed containment system. This way there is no risk of transfer of disease to wild stocks, no risk of escapes and you are able to treat and control the effluent water. An excellent example of one of these farms is in Agassiz, B.C. where Bruce Swift as created a land based Coho salmon farm. He is able to treat the effluent water and collect the solid waste, which is then used as fertilizer for garlic and bean crops. The wastewater is used to grow wasabi, watercress and algae. The algae are then used to feed his freshwater crayfish.

In addition to the land based farmed salmon that Bruce Swift is doing, there are some species of fin-fish which are better candidates for farming than others. Other examples of sustainable-farmed fish would include raceway-raised rainbow trout, land based arctic char and land based catfish

Tilapia offers and excellent case study: tilapia provides more protein than it takes to raise it and are relatively resistant to disease. Tilapia are also vegetarian and can be raised on soy protein and rice, which obviously does not put any pressure on the wild fish stocks. However, you still have to be careful where you get farmed tilapia. The best choice is tilapia farmed in the US, which generally uses land-based, closed containment systems. Farmed tilapia from Central America can also be found in our markets. In CA, regulations can vary and the farms may not always be land based; likewise, farmed tilapia from Asia would generally always be considered unsustainable since they are mostly produced in open-net pens.

7. In general farmed shellfish is considered sustainable. This is because they are filter feeders, eating the plankton out of the water column, so they don’t need supplemental feed and don’t put pressure on wild fish stocks. They can even improve the water quality as they clear excess plankton. Shellfish such as oysters and mussels are often grown on suspended cages or in bags off the seafloor so there is little damage when they’re harvested. (This is called off-bottom culture.) Clams can be farmed on-bottom and there can be an issue if they are harvested by dredge. However, the impact of farmed dredging is far less than dredging wild clams.”

Thanks Teddie! I think my readers will agree that you’ve done a great job explaining the benefits and pitfalls of current aquaculture practices!

Do any of you have questions about seafood? If so, jot them below and I’ll invite folks from the CAIA and Ocean Wise to pop in and answer your concerns.

Irony at the table

October 16, 2009


Last summer I got a new bike for my birthday. Besides being a gift that I really wanted,  going to the store to be fitted for my bike was a bit of a present, too. Martin chose a Dutch bike for me that’s only sold at a handful of places including a store on Toronto’s Bloor Street near the University of Toronto campus.

The staff, besides being knowledgeable about bikes, is also young and painfully fashionable in a nerdy way. In fact, the sales person I dealt with directly was a walking iteration of Ned Flanders’ younger brother: over-sized, brown framed specs,  70’s moustache – his style was so ironically hip, it hurt!

Just like those crazy moustaches hipsters are wearing these days, ironic foods have a place in our current food landscape, too. From doughnuts on fine dining dessert menus, mac and cheese with truffle oil, fancy meatloaf concoctions and the fried chicken I mentioned earlier this week on these pages, elevating retro, originally homey or down market favs has never been more popular.

What about at home?  When you entertain do you find yourself glamming up retro favs or do you try to pull off four star restaurant panache?  I’ve definitely  been enjoying making ‘ultimate’ versions of old favs such as pizza and tacos at my parties. In fact, just recently, I had a very fun dinner party where I made three kinds of gourmet burgers (chicken, beef and lamb) and home made hamburger buns to match. Dessert was brownies and butter tarts. I think we all enjoyed it as much as any more formal, three course meal I could have made.

PS: I borrowed this montage of 70’s moustaches as sported by actors both old and new from the blog Alice Q. Foodie where you can find lots of posts about food and a few about moustaches.

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