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.
1-3. 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.
1. Eric Velland
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.
1. Eric Vellend
While most people open a bottle of bub to toast an august occasion, I've long made the case for sparkling as an everyday wine. With frothy effervescence and mouthwatering acidity, it's remarkably food-friendly, pairing perfectly with everything from raw oysters to fried chicken. Some of the more robust rosés from Champagne can even match red meat. To help fill your flute for our New Year's Eve menu in the December 2013 issue (pick up your copy on Eastern newsstands November 11 and Western November 18), here's a primer on sparkling wine.
Read up on the long, complicated process of making champagne, and you will appreciate its hefty price tag. It usually starts with a blend of still wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) from various vintages, a secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce the fizz, careful rotation of the bottles to gather dead yeast cells, disgorging those cells, then topping up the bottle with a dosage of white wine, brandy of sugar to adjust the sweetness. Is it worth the big bucks? In most cases, the answer is an emphatic yes. Champagne is by far the most complex sparkling wine with layers of flavour, bracing acidity and a rich, tangy finish. To quote John Maynard Keynes, "My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne."
My favourite entry-level bottles from the big houses include Louis Roederer, Perrier-Jouet and Piper-Heidsieck. For great value from smaller producers, look for Gonet-Médeville and Gardet. When it comes to the iconic Veuve Clicquot, you are better off spending a few extra bucks for their single vintage champagnes, which are considerably more interesting than their basic bottle.
Fondly known as "pour man's champagne", Cava is Spain's sparkling wine, most of which is made in the Penedès area of Catalonia, just north of Barcelona. The most common grapes used in Cava production are Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, and it's bottle fermented like champagne, which, by law, must be referred to as method traditional, so there is no reference to the fiercely copyrighted "champagne."
Since it's younger, cheaper juice and a quicker, more automated process, most Cava is under $20. I rarely come across a cava I don't like. It's generally dry and toasty with a solid backbone of acidity. It's a weekday sparkler, to wash away a bad day, or pair with take-out sushi, one of my favourite food and wine matches. My go-to bottle is Segura Viudas Brut Reserva (see above), and keep your eye out for Codorniu Pinot Noir Brut Rosé Cava.
Prosecco, Italy's famous sparkler, is the darling of restaurateurs, who pour it by the glass and mark it up into the stratosphere. Usually made from Glera grapes, prosecco is produced by the charmat method, where the secondary fermentation takes place in big, stainless steel tanks. Other than price — usually under $20 — the big reason for prosecco's popularity is that it's slightly off-dry. Throw in peachy flavours and softer acidity, and you've got one easy-drinking sparkler. (Warning: Even when the label says 'extra-dry', that's just by prosecco standards, so there is usually still a hint of sweetness.)
While I would take cava over prosecco any day, I've recently enjoyed the basic bottles from Zonin (see above) and Villa Sandi, both of which are under $15.
Other Sparkling Wine
While sparkling wine is made all over the world, the good stuff comes from cooler climates: grapes that get too ripe won't have enough acidity, which is what give the best bubbles its snap, crackle and pop.
Sparklers made in France but outside of the Champange region are usually referred to as crémant. The bulk of these wines come from Alsace and Burgundy and cost around $20. Like cava, I haven't met too many crémants I haven't liked, and I'm especially fond of the ones that come from the Loire and Jura.
On home soil, Canada is producing some world-class sparkling wines. The Niagara's Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut (see above) is consistently delicious with red berry aromas, frothy mousse and vibrant acidity. In Prince Edward County, Hinterland is making killer bubbles using both method traditional and charmat. Look for it on smarter wine lists in Ontario.
Saving the best for last, the Canada's finest sparkling wine is made in — surprise, surprise — Nova Scotia. From the Gaspereau Valley, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2005 is an exquisitely balanced sparkler that sells for around $100, but can go toe-to-toe with grand cru champagnes that cost three times as much. It also makes a great conversation piece on New Year's Eve.
As a young line cook in the '90s, I mashed my fair share of potatoes. Whether it was amped up with roasted garlic or left unadulterated, back then mash was served with just about everything. When I was an apprentice at a small French bistro, I made them every night, right before service, and heated each portion to order so it was hot, fluffy and perfect.
Despite being a four-ingredient recipe, there are many variables involved: often the simplest dishes are the hardest to get right. To help you make the Horseradish Whipped Potatoes in our holiday menu in the November 2013 issue. Here is a breakdown of the art and science of mashed potatoes.
Pick The Right Potato
For mash, you need a starchy potato that will absorb plenty of milk and butter. The two best options are russet (aka baking) potatoes or Yukon Golds. Russets are starchier, so they will take on more liquid and yield richer results. I prefer Yukon Golds for their sweet flavour and golden hue.
The Boiling Point
Mashed potato purists will roast potatoes in their skins so they will be as dry as possible, but when you're preparing a big holiday feast, it's much preferable to do them on the stovetop as the oven is usually booked up for the day with desserts, roasts, etc. Peel the potatoes, cut into large, even chunks and simmer in aggressively salted water until just done — they will be just starting to disintegrate at the edges and a pairing knife inserted into the centre will meet with little resistance. Keep a close eye on them, as over-boiled potatoes will absorb too much water, leaving less room for milk and butter.
Once the potatoes have drained in a colander, return them to the pot they were cooked in, off the burner, and allow the residual heat of the pot to remove some of the excess moisture. Again, the less water in the potatoes, the more milk and butter they can take in.
I prefer smooth mashed potatoes, and to achieve this you need one of two tools. A food mill purees and strains the potatoes by forcing them through small holes. A ricer, which looks like giant garlic press, essentially does the same thing. I prefer a food mill, as you can set it over a pot or bowl. If you don't mind a few lumps, a potato masher does the trick.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the milk (homogenized) and butter (unsalted) in a saucepan. My basic ratio is 2 lb. of unpeeled potatoes to ¾ cup milk and ¼ cup butter. It is essential that the potatoes and liquid are both hot when they meet, so they emulsify properly and yield fluffy mash. If either one is cold the end result will be unappetizingly gluey. (The first and only time I did this, the chef dumped them into garbage without comment.) Add the hot milk and butter in stages, and mix it in with a heatproof silicone spatula. This will produce fluffy mash without splattering up the counter.
I only season mashed potatoes with salt, either fine sea or kosher. Never pepper, especially, God forbid, white pepper. Some old school European chefs use white pepper in mash, but I find it's bizarre flavour so dominant that even a pinch will yield white pepper flavoured mashed potatoes. Not on my watch.
The beauty of mashed potatoes is that they can be made a few hours before dinner, left to cool at room temperature, then slowly reheated over a low flame until hot and fluffy.
1. Eric Vellend
My taste in beer leans heavily towards the generously hopped and bracingly bitter India Pale Ales that dominate better beer lists across the country. But as the barometer rises, I forgo these strong brews in the name of refreshment. Here are three thirst quenchers to seek out this long weekend:
When it hit the retail market this spring, Stiegl's Grapefruit Radler ($2.60/500-mL can) quickly became the most talked about libation of 2013. A 50/50 split of Stiegl Goldbrau Lager and natural grapefruit soda, this dandy shandy from Austria is like Wink for adults. It's light, crisp and refreshing with tart citrus flavours and just a whisper of malt on the finish. And at only 2.5% alcohol, you can knock back a few drinks after work and enjoy a stumble-free journey home.
Next up is a seasonal brew, the Robson Street Hefeweizen ($2.90/473-mL can) from Granville Island Brewing in British Columbia. These suds are modeled after German wheat beer, which favours wheat over barley as the main grain in brewing. I'm usually not a fan of this lighter style of ale, but the Hefeweizen has an irresistible cream soda-like texture and it really perks up with a wedge of lemon. It pairs well with summery salads.
Saving the best for last... while enjoying a few alfresco pints with beer expert David Ort, my friend and fellow food writer, he steered me towards ordering a glass of Rodenbach Classic, a Flemish sour red ale that's new to the Ontario market. Available only on tap at a handful of pubs including Biermarkt in Toronto, this style of beer gets its sour edge from the introduction of lactic acid-producing bacteria during the fermentation process.
In a nutshell, Rodenbach Classic is the Pinot Noir of beer. It's loaded with sour cherry flavours, balanced with lively acidity and pairs well with a wide range of foods including grilled salmon. And like Pinot, it's pricey (around $9/250-mL glass) and very habit-forming.
For more tips, check out my Perfect Pairings column in the food section of every H&H issue.
1-3. Eric Vellend