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A gin and tonic is a very personal drink. There is no "best" recipe or "perfect G&T." I like a one-to-two ratio of gin to tonic, but others will find that too potent. I also prefer a G&T with lime, but in the U.K. they often use lemon. I’ve broken it down into its two basic components and given a couple of recipes to get you started. But if you enjoy this libation as much as I do, I would encourage you to delve deep into the subject and create a gin and tonic that makes you go "Hmmm."


Compared to the great wall of vodka, the gin shelf at most liquor stores is anemic. That’s slowly changing as an increasing number of premium bottlesmuscle in on the classic bar brands.

Gin is essentially vodka (i.e. a neutral spirit) flavoured with an array of botanicals, the defining one being juniper berries. There are no good or bad gins; only ones you like. My go-to brand is Hendrick's, a Scottish gin distinguished by an infusion of Bulgarian roses and cucumber. It's higher in alcohol than the average gin, so I use a little more tonic to compensate. I'm also a big fan of Bombay Sapphire: its juniper is front and centre, and there is a complimentary note of liquorice. Finally, Dillon's, a new micro-distillery in Niagara, Ontario, makes a unique gin that's unfiltered, floral and complex.


Most gin and tonics in this country are made with either Canada Dry or Schweppes, a pair of tonic stalwarts available at grocery and corner stores from coast to coast. If you want to up your G&T game, there are two lesser-known brands worth seeking out. The first is Fentimans, a century-old British soft drink maker, whose tonic comes in an old-timey, brown bottle straight out of a Victorian apothecary. It's on the sweet side with a floral, citrusy flavour profile that it gets from lemongrass and lime leaf. It's delicious on its own, and goes extremely well with Dillon's gin. Also from the U.K., Fever Tree has become my house tonic. It's smooth, balanced and herbaceous with a lovely liquorice kick, complimenting both Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick's. Fentimans and Fever Tree are expensive, but, in my opinion, worth it.


Eric's Gin & Tonic Recipe

Ice cubes  
2 oz. Bombay Sapphire
4 oz. Fever Tree tonic water, chilled  
1 lime wedge

Step 1: Chill a 10-oz. Collins glass.

Step 2: Fill glass with ice. Pour in gin. Top with tonic water. Give drink a light stir. Garnish with lime wedge. Serves 1.

Hendrick's & Tonic Recipe

Ice cubes  
2 oz. Hendrick’s gin
6 oz. tonic water, chilled
3 thin slices cucumber

Step 1: Chill a 12-oz. highball glass.

Step 2: Fill glass with ice. Pour in gin. Top with tonic water. Give drink a light stir. Garnish with cucumber. Serves 1.

Get more drink recipes.

Photo sources:
Eric Vellend


Eric Vellend

To complement "Catch of the Day", our East Coast food feature in the July 2014 issue (available on Eastern newsstands June 2nd and Western June 9th), I want to delve more into the wine and cheese being produced by the Atlantic provinces. This, by no means, is a definitive round up. For the sake of brevity and user friendliness, I'm sticking with the stuff that has some national availability. For more info on East Coast wines, visit Wines of Canada, and for cheeses, check out the Canadian Cheese Directory.

The inclement weather and short growing seasoning make farming grapes a real challenge in Atlantic Canada. There are, however, a few terrific wineries along the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Benjamin Bridge in the Gaspereau Valley (see photo above) is one of them, a sparkling specialist with a devout following. Their entry-level Nova 7, a fizzy, pink Moscato-style wine, has brilliant sweet-sour tension that is terrific with piquant cheeses or with spicy food. Their new 2009 Brut, which was aged three years on the lees, is a tight, tangy sparkler that would go well with oysters or gooey, washed-rind cheeses like brie. Finally, their Brut Reserve — I have tasted both the 2005 and 2007 — is aged for five years on the lees, and is a magnificent bottle of bub that can go toe-to-toe with French champagne in the same price range. It should be cellared and saved for an august occasion.

I've also had the pleasure of trying a few wines from Gaspereau Vineyards in the Gaspereau Valley. Their L'Acadie Blanc, made from an all-Canadian grape of the same name, is a crispy, dry, citrusy white that has the lean charm of Petit Chablis. It's a knockout with shellfish.

Now you may be surprised to learn that Newfoundland produces wine, as the Rock is not exactly known for sunshine. While the province does not grow grapes for vinification, there is a bounty of wild fruit on the island, and Rodrigues Winery transforms it into award-winning elixirs. Their blueberry wine is more off dry than sweet with a good zing of acidity. Served well chilled, it would be terrific as an aperitif with goat cheese, or for dessert with any of Atlantic Canada's myriad of berry desserts. It also happens to be kosher.

Atlantic Canada is definitely more suited to cheese making than vinous agriculture, and a rapidly grown range of artisan wheels and wedges are making headway in market dominated by Ontario and Quebec.

P.E.I.'s Cow's Creamery may be more known for its chain of ice cream parlours, but among turophiles, it is the maestro of cheddar. Their Scottish-style Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar won a first prize at the 2013 Canadian Cheese Gran Prix, the Oscars of the dairy world.

From New Brunswick, look out for La Bergerie aux 4 Vents at your local cheesemonger. Their Gaie Bleu is a buttery raw cow's milk blue, and Le Sieur de Deplessis is an earthy, nutty tomme-style wheel made from raw sheep's milk.

Finally, from Nova Scotia, I am quite enamoured with the cheeses from That Dutchman's Farm. Their goudas are excellent (see photo above), and their unique Dragon's Breath Blue lives up to its name.

The next time you're putting together a wine and cheese party, don't forget about Canada's East Coast.

(For more East Coast inspiration, tour a pretty P.E.I. waterfront cottage.)

Photo sources:
1. Applehead Studio
2. Gaspereau Vineyards
3. Rodrigues Winery
4. Nova Scotia Tourism Agency


Eric Vellend

I'm here to make a case for mushy broccoli. Yes, mushy. While most of us have been taught to cook broccoli quickly so it's bright green and al dente, there is an Italian method for braising it low and slow to the point where it falls apart at the mere suggestion of a fork. It's called stufati, and it is the most delicious preparation of broccoli imaginable.

Stufati translates to "stewed" or "smothered", and while broccoli cooked in this manner is not as pretty as a verdant stir-fry, it develops such a deep, earthy flavour over the long cooking time that you'll never crave another crunchy floret again. It's excellent served hot off the stove or at room temperature, and if you're lucky enough to have any leftovers, they are terrific on garlic-rubbed toasts (aka crostini) the next day.

This recipe is adapted from my tattered copy of More Classic Italian Cooking, published in 1978, by the late, great Marcella Hazan. Mrs. Hazan, who passed away last year, has mentored me through her cookbooks since the early '90s, and I continue to be inspired by her delicious recipes and unwavering integrity. She is known as the Julia Child of Italian cuisine for good reason.

Broccoli Stufati with Red Wine & Pecorino

1 large bunch broccoli
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 anchovy filets, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano to taste

Step 1: Cut the broccoli into large florets. Peel the stems. Slice the stems ¼” thick. Set aside.

Step 2: Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned and softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and anchovies. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Make an even bed of broccoli stems and florets on top of onions. Pour in wine. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover. When mixture is simmering, reduce heat to low. Cook, without stirring, 45 minutes.

Step 3: Remove lid. Raise heat to medium-low. Cook, without stirring, until most of the moisture has evaporated, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with cheese. Serves 4.

Photo sources:
Eric Vellend


Eric Vellend

From tortillas to saltines, there is a whole wheat option for just about everything made with flour. Pizza is no exception: the slice joint near the office has up to four pies made with whole wheat crusts, and my local supermarket has blobs of raw whole wheat pizza dough alongside white. If you're looking a healthier twist on the dough in our pizza feature (in the March 2014 issue, available on Eastern newsstands February 10th and Western stands February 17th), here are some tips on making whole wheat pies.

The general rule is to replace 25 per cent to 50 per cent of the white flour with whole wheat. (Personally, I go with the sweet spot in the middle.) There is a good reason why you don't want to go beyond 50 per cent: whole wheat flour forms less gluten strands than white and will not rise as high. Too much of it will also dominate the pizza with its earthy flavour, and the texture will be decidedly gritty. I was once subjected to a pizza with a crust made with 100 per cent whole wheat flour, and it was about as delicious as the box it came in.

Once you've committed to a whole wheat crust, toppings need to be considered seriously. Personally, I don't like the combination of whole wheat and tomato sauce. The earthy flavours work better with white- (aka bianco) or no-sauce pizzas especially with members of the brassica family on top. I did some experimenting, and here are two winning combinations.

This lovely pie is topped with blanched brussels sprouts cut into wedges and lardons of pancetta that were cooked in dry pan until the fat rendered off and the meat crisped up. The gooey base is Appenzeller, a nutty cow's-milk cheese from Switzerland that melts beautifully. You could also use Gruyère or Fontina. If I were to make this again, I would use double smoked bacon instead of pancetta for a hit of campfire flavour.

This pizza was superb. It started with a thin base of lightly whipped cream, a clever trick from LA chef Nancy Silverton. (It's basically instant white sauce and is lighter, not to mention much easier to make, than roux-thickened béchamel.) I put a little diced mozzarella – about one ounce – then topped it with roasted cauliflower, capers and sliced green onions. When it comes out of the oven, it gets an herbaceous hit of flat-leaf parsley. The piquant, verdant flavours of the toppings worked so well with whole wheat that I bet it would be a lesser pie made with a white crust.

Photo sources:
1-3. Eric Vellend


Eric Vellend

You don’t need to be a culinary anthropologist to figure out my bias towards Italian cooking. From San Marzano tomatoes, to Sicilian olive oil, to Caranoli rice, my pantry is stocked with the best from The Boot. One of my favourite staples from the Italian larder is dried porcini. They hum a deep bass line of umami in my signature mushroom risotto (the recipe is in the February 2014 issue, available on Eastern newsstands January 6th and Western January 13th), and their woodsy, autumnal flavour helps lift the timid taste of most cultivated mushrooms.

Dried porcini are most commonly available in little 20-gram packets. These envelopes are generally on the low end of the quality scale, as the sliced fungi are small, dark and broken. But since the soaking liquid is of far more interest than the reconstituted mushrooms, they are perfectly fine, and I always use them when testing recipes for the magazine.

It is, however, worth sourcing and splurging on a higher quality porcini like the lovely specimens in the photo above, which were a generous gift from a friend who went on a shopping spree at the Eataly in Turin. If you ever find yourself in Italy, it is worth filling your suitcase with dried porcini, as the quality and bulk prices can’t be beat. Otherwise, Italian delis and better food shops often carry top shelf fungi.

While most recipes call for soaking dried porcini in boiling water, I always use hot, salted vegetable stock for extra flavour. After about 20 minutes, squeeze the mushrooms dry, rinse in a sieve then squeeze dry again. If it’s cheaper porcini, I’ll chop them up. If it’s the good stuff, I’ll leave them as is.

Porcini always carry fine grit than can only be caught if the soaking liquid is strained through a coffee filter. However, if you slowly decant the dark broth to another container, you can leave the sediment behind and skip this time consuming process. The resulting elixir is deeply flavoured and the closest thing vegans will get to a rich meat stock. Use it to deglaze the pan when sautéing blander mushrooms like buttons or king oysters, or thicken it with a roux for vegetarian gravy.

If you’ve never cooked with dried porcini, stop what you’re doing and rectify this situation immediately. It’s a unique flavour booster with no real substitute, and an indispensible ingredient in any pantry.

Try dried porcini in this Midwinter Minestrone Recipe.

Photo credit:
1. Eric Velland


Eric Vellend

At the end of cooking school, I did a month-long "externship" at Centro, a legendary fine dining restaurant (now closed) in midtown Toronto. From a jewel-like concassé of tomatoes to perfectly julienned peppers, vegetables were cut in a very precise manner, leaving a fair amount of scrap. Every ounce of these trimmings were saved, sorted and used up. The bulk of it went to flavour stocks and sauces, but sometimes they were transformed into a big steam kettle of delicious soup fondly known as potage de garbage (only the kitchen, never the dining room.) Even dark outer leaves of romaine lettuce, too bitter for salad, where used to cover salmon filets as they baked to keep them moist. This thrifty attitude showed both a respect for the ingredients and the restaurant's bottom line.

Today, as more people become conscious of where their food comes from, cooks are taking this mantra to the next level. Like nose-to-tail for vegetarians, the root-to-stalk cooking movement is coming up with creative ways to use edible trimmings that usually end up in the green bin. To further explore the root-to-stalk trend in the January 2014 issue (pick up your copy on Eastern newsstands December 9, and Western newsstand on December 16), here are some ways to get the most out of your veggies.


When I buy a head of celery, I divide it up into four groups. The tops, dark leaves and bottom cores go into stocks or braises. They can also be run through a juicer and used in cocktails or smoothies. The outer stalks, which are more bitter and fibrous, are best slow-cooked in soups or stews. The tender inner stalks are delicious shaved into salads or cut into sticks for crûdité. Finally, the delicate inner leaves are terrific in tuna salad or smoked fish sandwiches.


Some recipes require coring, peeling and seeding tomatoes. This byproduct adds a golden hue and hint of umami to vegetable stock. The seeds and their surrounding goop can be strained and the resulting liquid saved for gazpacho or Bloody Caesars. Or cook down everything to make a rough tomato paste that can be frozen and used in dark stocks or braises.


Often a recipe will call for removing the stems from portobellos. These brown cylinders are vegetarian gold. Deeply flavoured and packed with umami, they are delicious cut into julienne and used in stir-fries or omelettes. If you have bunch, pulse them in food processor and cook them down with butter, shallots and thyme for mushroom pâté. Shiitake stems are way too tough to eat, but they can flavour stocks and cream sauces.


Broccoli stems are good eatin', but all too often they end up in the garbage. Trim an inch off the bottom — it's usually too woody — and peel, saving the trimmings for vegetable stock. The tender stalk can be sliced paper thin and eaten raw in salads or winter slaw, or sliced into coins and cooked along with the florets.


The dark green leaves of leeks are so rarely called for in recipes that most people think if them as inedible. Au contraire. While they may be too dark and strong for elegant soups, leek greens are delicious sliced and braised in butter and chicken stock for a wintery side dish. Leeks are expensive, might as well get your money's worth.

Photo credit:
1. Eric Vellend


Eric Vellend

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