Archive for the Thoughts Category

BLOOD! STEEL!

Posted in Rants, Thoughts on May 24, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

I generally consider myself to be quite aware of kitchen safety-I always hold knives carefully, and never leave them in the sink, I always take care that pot handles aren’t hot before grabbing them, and so opn in this vein (i dunno, pick another handful of SOPs in the kitchen, and we’ll all just assume I follow those). So, a couple weeks back, I suffered my first ‘serious’ kitchen injury since the few times I burned myself on the oven as a kid/teen (generally, making those fries you heat in the oven, and catching the top of my hand on the roof of the oven as I reached in or somesuch-made me very leery of the oven for quite some time). Needless to say, I was shocked, since it was a simple, easily preventable mistake.

A month or so back (again, timeframes, not my strong point), I purchased a brand-new chef’s knife (wow, can you see where this is going? I’d love to pretend this is an unrelated tangent, but…) from the wonderfully weird Tap Phong. It’s this bizarre restaurant supply/knickknack store in downtown TO, where you can find restaurant grade stand mixers and deep fryers, and five dollar Buddhas and sparkly cats statues. I’ve been down there a few times, as I was eyeing a 10” Shun chef’s knife. They had it for a much better price than anywhere else in the city, and I really wanted one.

Now, Jess does have a Henckels 9.5” chef’s knife (confusingly, they list 9″ and 10″ blades, but I’ve measured both it and the Shun, and the Shun is 10″, and the Henckels is 9.5. Tres bizarre), but it’s kinda clunky, and not as sharp as I’d like.


[ In a nutshell, knives made with a single piece of German steel are really heavy, durable beasts that maintain an edge quite well. Due to the profile of the blade, that edge isn’t incredibly sharp. Japanese knives are much lighter, thinner, and possess a keen, wickedly sharp edge. Some/Most are crafted in jacketing layers of steel, with the blade being the first/inner layer, out to the back.]

It’s also not my knife, and I like being able to get all fussy and protective when someone throws my knife in a sink, or uses it without cleaning it after, and it’s a lot easier to ride that high horse when you own a saddle, so to speak. Plus, I have a weakness for potentially lethal objects that are aesthetically pleaseing

(honestly, as much as I love shiny pointies, there are many better founts of knowledge on the ‘net about knife construction and differing countries of production, so I shan’t go into excessive detail about it. I’m also not well versed with the various levels of carbon steel, and don’t feel like leading anyone astray)]

So basically, my new knife is shiny (which will go away in time, but is an important factor when buying one >_>…), and surgically sharp. It’s got a D-shaped handle, so it contours for righties (though a С]-shaped model is available for all those people I know who have a dyslexic dominant hand. It’s cool, I understand your plight), and is light and deadly. I’ve put it through its paces, and it is incredibly adept at any kitchen chore requiring a chef’s knife (though I’ve yet to stave off a ninja home invasion with it yet, so we’ll see…), though adequate cutting board room is required-the blade is longer, and the shape of the grip puts your hand slightly farther back than a traditional design. This is generally irksome if the prep counter isn’t clear, which in my kitchen, is a frequent concern.

CHOP!CHOP!CHOP!

Now, after a few weeks with my new tool/toy/weapon/whatnot, I had felt our bond was pretty close-I’d respect the tool, and it’d respect not killing me. Well, one night, I was going to make stew again (as it’s now feeling like a staple dish I can pull off pretty easily, with decent results), and had beef cubes defrosting on the counter, in a little baggie. I was taking the cubes out of the bag with my left hand, positioning and steadying it on the cutting board, and then cutting them down to a smaller size.

Knife in hand, I reached in the bag for another cube, only to find the beef sticking together somewhat, having not thawed entirely. Still, just using my left hand, I started pulling on the cube…and as it suddenly gave way, my right hand slipped. As it had been holding the knife, it made for a very unpleasant meeting with the middle finger of my left hand. Almost as soon as I realized what had happened, my finger was already doing its level best to generously donate my entire blood supply (maybe it had seen those “It’s in you to give” ads, rather than more correctly assuming “It’s in you to live”) to the floor of the kitchen. It wasn’t particularly painful; the blade was exceptionally sharp, so it left a remarkably clean cut. Still, hurling every epithet I could think of at myself (actually, I wear out my NSFW language ingenuity after a while, and pretty much just string SHITFUCKINGSHITFUCKINGFUCKFUCKSHIT etc until I’ve fully vented, as it requires less brain power, and I can actually focus on solving whatever catastrophe is currently enveloping me), cursing my carelessness, I went to staunch the blood flow, until Jess came home, and got me bandaids. Even then, my bathroom looked like a set from CSI. It was kind of freaky, to put it mildly, and took quite some time before I could actually get the bandaid on.

After taking a fairly literal blood oath that this wouldn’t happen again, I cut myself again, on the same finger.Damn it. This time,  I only nicked the end of my finger when the cutting board slipped. Still bled a fair amount, but it’s nearly healed after a week.

After a couple weeks of healing. Now, the cut has fully healed, but it looks like puffy scar tissue.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Well, at least monthly, I should probably allow my blade to seep in a bowl of pigs blood, or something, as it clearly has a bloodlust that can’t be easily slaked. Or, on the off chance that my knife wasn’t somehow forged by Muramasa, sent forward through time, and branded as a Shun, I should probably just be more careful.

The whole family! (The pink one is produced by the same company as the Shun)

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Mmmmm…fattening

Posted in Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

Thanks to my wonderful mother, I recently had some homemade french fries done in the traditional (read:”right” style, going by the Larousse) wherein the fries are cooked briefly in oil, removed and rested temporarily, and then immersed again until light golden. The results were delectable, to say the least. Where one can normally assume that most fries have a crisp exterior, soft interior, and decent mouth-feel and flavour, these excelled on all counts. They had a light, almost fluffy quality to them, with a surprisingly distinct surface texture-crisp, but not dry to the point of detriment.

They made a strong impression on me, to say the least. I’ll be honest, on my money, it’s generally going to be a nice pub or sushi joint when it’s time to eat out, rather than anything overly fancy (the visits to those sorts will be accompanied by distinctly more photos than has been the average, this far, and probably fairly emphatic musing as to how I wished I could eat there exclusively. My first visit to Canoe, a couple years back, haunted my taste buds for months. For a while, I could recall every flavour and moment of the meal in exacting detail). Due to this, I’m fairly hyper-critical of the perceived value of lower-end food, and love discovering cheap restos that do staple grease really well. Some, like the Auld Spot, on the Danforth strip in Toronto, excel at the fry du jour, the sweet potato fry. Others are clearly just deep frying the frozen oven fries, which produces middling results. Most fail to deliver something to the table that is both warm, fried properly, and flavourful.

The wind up of all this? While I still aim to try out some of the higher-end restos that offer fries (former JK Wine Bar, Les Halles in New York), I am utterly convinced that with enough tweaking and testing of all variables involved, I can create the perfect French fries at home. I aim to test various potatoes, prep methods, oil temps, until I’m completely pleased with the results.

I’ll keep you posted

Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert? Damn my lack of satellite radio access!

Posted in Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on February 17, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

Does anyone know if there’re archives for Sirius XM shows? I don’t have a subscription, and now desperately want one for a 5 week duration. Now, if this was a physical dialogue between me and you, this would be the time to ask “Oh, why do you want a subscription to satellite radio?”, and I’d have to respond, “well, silly-you clearly aren’t paying too much attention to the news” Or the title of this post.

At this point, my conversational sparring partner would probably roll their eyes and ignore me, so, I’ll spare you- It’s been announced that Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert are going to be hosting a 5 part show on Martha Stewart’s (no need to hyperlink for her, right? I’ll assume everyone is on the same page as to who she is) Sirius Channel. At her behest!(apparently they appeared on her show last year, and were such a hit that it gave genesis to this) Weird, huh? It’s called Turn & Burn, and will discuss things such as the near-pornographic advertising and embellishing used in the food industry, and have a call-in portion.

I knew Bourdain had gone from having disdain for Ripert, to open admiration (if I recall, in Kitchen Confidential, he more or less admits to being jealous of his prodigious skill), but it’s amusing to learn that they’re actually good friends now. If anything, it’s one of the things I respect Tony for-unlike most of the celebrity chefs who still rail about how much they hate celebrity chefs, he’s come to grips with it, and is able to delineate between someone who has just been commercialized and branded, to chefs who have come under the spotlight based on their own merits. I’ll probably touch more on this in the future, as it’s something that deserves a focused look, and not something I’ll just casually toss together to fill out the end of this post.

Ah well, it’s not like I’m up to date on No Reservations, so I’ll console myself with episodes of that.

Sandwich Box-my lunchtime saviour

Posted in Reviews, Thoughts with tags , , , , on February 14, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

My 30(ish) minute lunch break is always a mad dash for food. I’m normally hurried enough in the mornings (and forgetful enough in the evenings) that I only bring a lunch a couple times a week; most of the time, it’s either whatever leftover goodies from a meal Jess made (the meals I make never seem to take the next day into account), or random canned goods that can be heated at the lunch site.

Now, as previously stated, it’s not like there’s a dearth of  restaurants in the Queen West area, but unless I feel like stretching that 30 minute lunch by another 15-20, there are definite limitations imposed o my gastronomical agenda. Enter 238 Queen St West-Across from the CityTV/MuchMusic headquarters, this little plaza held a multitude of little food counters, from burgers to bubble tea (bah!) to icecream to a million chinese places to sandwiches.

The obvious Food du Jour there was Sandwich Box-for around $10, you get a great sandwich, a side salad (baby spinach leaves, a bit of radiccio, and barely a hint of a balsamic vinegar-some employees are known to be less stingy with it, but they’re generally new to the company), and a pop(jones Orange&Cream soda is my poison of choice).  There was also Big Stan’s Burger, and a smoothie joint. These were all great options at various times, though Sandwich Box was notorious for having a fairly lengthy lineup.

Then, they closed.

More specifically, they posted a notice that they weren’t allowed to renew their lease for complaining about the plaza conditions to the management, or somesuch. I was crushed.

Then Big Stan, the Ben & Jerry’s, and most of the other higher-end places closed within a year of each other. I haven’t been in there in many, many months, but at last glance, all that’s left are a few low-end chinese places, not worth mentioning.

All of this was devastating, as Subway, McDonalds and Taco Bell/KFC aren’t exactly meals to look forward to.

Fast forward some un-specified amount of time (seriously, if you care, you probably should stop reading this now-I’m not likely to ever be too specific on time frames, unless they’re the crux of a story), and I’m walking down Richmond, just off of Peter, and I pass by SANDWICH BOX!(388 Richmond St. West). This was some time last year, but I still remember the intense excitement I felt, which is surprising-it’s a frigging sandwich place, not a fountain of gold. Still, since then, lunches have improved a couple times a week.

The food:

Sandwich Box breaks construction of its sandwiches down a few simple categories with several options each

-Bread-

ryes, swiss triangles, some with onions, some with yukon gold potato flakes-they have room in their bread display for 12 types at any given time, but they rarely have more than  5 or 6 available at a time. I generally choose something different every time I go

-Spread-

avocado/chipotle mayo, basil pesto, black olive, curried apple chutney…

-Meat-

Smoked Salmon, Grilled Chicken, Smoked Turkey Breast, Prosciutto…

-Cheese-

Goat cheese, asiago, jalapeno havarti, …

-Veg-

Caramelized onions, roasted sweet peppers, avocado, bland tomatoes (sorry, but even when in season, they never seem particularly good here)

And then, they drizzle a little olive oil, lemon juice, some salt and pepper, annd then grill it on a panini press for a couple minutes.

It generally always tastes good, but I use  it as a opportunity to do simple flavour experiments to further my culinary knowlege (eg. how well certain strengths of cheese go with certain spreads, if I can improve on a classic sandwich by altering an ingredient or so…the possibilities aren’t endless, but they do provide an interesting diversion during my lunchbreak).

a recent foray of mine:

Whole grain panini/basil pesto/goat cheese/turkey breast/avocado

Restrained in flavour, but very mouth filling-the avocado and goat cheese pair in a very laid-back manner. Neither is especially overwhelming (once again, screw you AS jr), though the avocado seems to have an even further moderating effect. The basil pesto adds a nice tang and savoury aroma, with out getting in the way. The turkey, moist, but not incredibly flavourful.

It was kinda pedestrian, but as something to keep my engine running for the day, it was pretty awesome.

And the Jones soda with it was damn fine.

According to their uber-minmalist web presence, they now have 5 locations in downtown Toronto, so if you see one, stop by. That is a command, not a suggestion.

Mushrooms-Benign fungi, or would-be assassin-fruit?

Posted in Thoughts with tags , , , on February 7, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

Crap, I think my post title gave away the surprise ending-I still detest mushrooms. This shouldn’t shock people-they definitely seem like one of those foods that people have strong feelings about, one way or another. With this in mind, let me regale you with a lurid tale of desperation and violence, men at odds, and unnatural evolution.

I had decided, some time ago in my infinite wisdom, that an aspiring admirer of all things edible should probably expand his horizons a wee bit (Otherwise, Antonio would have reason to brand me a hypocrite! And we really can’t have that, now can we?) . I’ve already grown to enjoy things that previously roiled the contents of my stomach sac-mussels, various pastas, and other squishy, strange foods now are at least palatable.

As I mentioned previously, it’s obvious that people aren’t born hating foods, and subconsciously collect experiences during their formative years that determine a lot of their likes and dislikes (eg. why after all these years, the smell of McDonalds fries wafting in the air has me instantly hungry and salivating, regardless of how demonstrably vile the food inside really is. That, and I’m assuming they lace that stuff with some sort of aersolising MSG, so your tastebuds can’t help but be drawn to it.)

I don’t recall what set me on the path of avoiding mushrooms-Maybe it’s that they always look dirty, taste spongy, and have a fairly weak flavour that borders on tasting like dirt? I dunno. I do recall a family gathering of some sort at my grandfather’s place many moons ago-probably 13 years or so. There were these delightful little finger-pizzas that could be consumed in a few bites (or one large gulp, for the adventurous sort). I must’ve had a dozen of them, and as I was if nothing else, and inquisitive child, I had to discover what delightful animal provided the chunks of meat in them.

When I was informed that it was in fact that foul food nemesis, The Mushroom, I felt betrayed by my tastebuds. I felt sick. How could these glorious little discs go from tasting wonderful, to suddenly be the most revolting things I had accidentally endured? It’s not like the damn things changed one iota, but my mental handicap prevented me from ever enjoying them again (Don’t fret too much-“They” make them with pepperoni sans mushrooms, so my micro-pizza needs are being adequately met, for the moment).

With that firmly in mind, and my other recent forays turned victories, I felt I now had the mental toolkit to “learn” mushrooms, and go from suffering from them, to enjoying them, as much of fine cooking seems to revolve around their benighted existence.

First step-start small

Thanks to my lovely girlfriend, Jessica, I recently took some night courses at George Brown College (the college has a well respected cooking program-future entries will touch more on it). As is expected, mushrooms came up in many of the recipes-at first, I used them sparingly, with the excuse that Jess would enjoy them, and I’d be doing her a favour. I struggled through a few meals, and became giddy-headed with enlightment-I now had consumed mushrooms on a regular basis and had not only survived, but had enjoyed the food. Logically, mushrooms were awesome.

Sadly, I’m not widely reputed for my logic. Mores the pity.

I was now consuming mushrooms on a weekly basis, but they were still being hidden by the main elements of any given dish-my ultimate test was just around the corner, but once again, it wasn’t my choice.

The lunchbreak. For the average retail wage-slave, this is a 30 minute mad dash in which you have to eat food, and still find time to unwind, before getting your ass back out there to face the tired, unwashed masses. Sometimes, I bring a lunch, and sometimes I eat at one of the many vendors offering their wares. For the day in question, I chose to eat out at a local pan-asian place that offers decent food for a decent price (i’ll keep this brief, otherwise, this will become a restaraunt review). They aren’t exceptional, but they fill you up with food that isn’t deep fried and served to you by surly teens.

On the day in question, I wanted something quick to take back to our lunchroom at work, so I could return to whatever book I was tearing through. Soup? Yeah, that seemed like something manageable, that wouldn’t distract from my brain food. Unfortunately, the Hot n’ Sour soup I had previously was apparently of the Thai variety, and while pretty good, apparently wasn’t representative of all varieties. The one I brought back to work with me was at first mouthful, exactly what I had longed for, until my spoon chanced to plumb the depths of the container and return with a slice of a GIANT SHIITAKE. Now, being the kind of person who hates to waste food, I dutifully ate the damn thing, though my stomach began to tremble at the thought of having to put up with a bunch of slimy roommates who resemble pickled leeches.

After I dredged further, it became apparent that the make-up of the soup was roughly 50% broth, and 50% mushroom. Feeling queasy, I began the slow process of fishing for mushrooms, and depositing them in the paper take-out bag with a wet ‘plop’. Needless to say, it was revolting.

I was defeated.

So what happened?  Apparently, my previous successes weren’t as hard-won as I thought-I clearly had some well-crafted food (just to toot my own horn) that wasn’t utterly demolished by having mushrooms in them. When faced with a dish utterly, slavishly devoted to them, it became clear to me that I still can’t abide by them.

Who knows, I may give them a shot again in a few months, but for now, my energies are better used elsewhere.

IT BEGINS

Posted in Thoughts with tags on February 5, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

So, let’s get this thing started- I’m going to expound about food. You’re [hopefully] going to read what I write (don’t worry-I don’t necessarily require a captive audience for me to go on at length, it’s just a pleasant bonus). What, to get a little more in-depth, is going to constitute the meat of this relationship? I’m going to talk about food, in relation to my daily life-the food I eat, where I eat it, who inspires me to cook it.

There may be photos, and there will be long-winded rants and rages when I mess up something I poured hours of work into.