My colleague Jason Rees competes on the summer barbecue circuit with the Pork Ninjas. Keeping me abreast of all things 'cue, he recently popped his head into my office and asked, "Have you ever cooked on a Traeger?" I sheepishly admitted that I had no clue what he was talking about.
A Traeger is a unique cooking apparatus that's a smoker, grill and wood-burning oven all wrapped into one.
The good folks at Traeger Canada lent me the Lil' Texas Elite model for a month, and I had a blast using it.
Traegers run on natural wood pellets that come in eight "flavours" including alder, apple and hickory. The pellets are fed through a hopper into a firepot and ignited with a hot rod. An electric fan then diffuses the heat evenly. While the heat is indirect, you can still grill traditional barbecue fare like burgers and franks when you crank it to the highest setting (and keep the lid closed), which gets it up to around 450°F.
I had the best results starting off food on the smoker setting then raising the temperature to finish the cooking process. This two-step method worked especially well with fish.
First, I brushed a whole fish fillet (above is rainbow trout) with maple syrup, seasoned it with salt and pepper then let it come to room temperature.
I put the fish on to smoke for 30 minutes then turned up the grill to 350°F to cook it through. Lightly smoked and unbelievably moist, it put most grilled fish to shame.
See more fish and seafood grilling recipes in our Grilling Guide.
Taking advantage of an Air Canada seat sale, my wife and I headed to Halifax for the May long weekend. It was my first trip to Canada's East Coast, and we lucked out with perfect (and decidedly un-Haligonian) weather. Here are some of the culinary highlights.
1. Our days began at Two If By Sea, widely regarded as the best coffee shop in town. The original location is in Dartmouth, but owners Zane Kelsall and Tara MacDonald recently opened a second spot in Halifax in the Historic Properties by the Ferry Terminal.
Using superlative beans from Ritual and 49th Parallel, Kelsall's rigorously trained baristas pull a mean espresso, while MacDonald, who runs the pastry side of the business, bakes outrageously flakey croissant that left my beard a mess of buttery crumbs.
2. On a steep side street near our hotel, The Press Gang is a salty dog of a restaurant in an old building that oozes history. I was instinctively drawn to the place, as it felt like the kind of joint where a wordsmith seeks sustenance before picking up his quill.
We met friends for pre-dinner drinks at the bar and shared stunning plate of Nova Scotia oysters from (starting at the smallest and going clockwise) Sober Island, Pristine Bay and Black Point. The beatific bivalves were washed down with an icy bottle of Gaspereau Vineyards L'Acadie Blanc 2010, a crisp, lean local white that reminded me of Chablis.
3. The meal of the trip was at The Bicycle Thief, a new restaurant right on the waterfront boardwalk. Deafeningly loud and riotously fun, it has obviously struck a chord with the city's young and restless.
The highlight was a pair of massive ravioloni bursting with chunks of sweet, briny lobster and napped in a silky Parmigiano fonduta. These crustaceous pasta pockets are reason enough to visit Halifax.
In Mexico, tortillas are the staff of life. The round, unleavened flatbreads are served with every meal and star in a wide range of dishes. (They're also the star of our mouthwatering Mexican barbecue menu in the July 2012 issue, featuring grilled tuna, pulled-chicken and mushroom tacos. Pick up your copy on Eastern newsstands June 4th and Western June 11th.)
Tortillas are divided into two camps: corn and flour. Corn tortillas are made from masa harina, which is maize cooked in an alkaline solution. This process is called nixtamalization and it boosts the aroma and flavour of the grain. (It's why tortilla chips have a more pronounced corn-y flavour than cornbread.) Because they are delicate, corn tortillas are usually only four to six inches in diameter.
Used to make enchiladas, tostadas, chips and the beloved taco, corn tortillas can be purchased at Latin American food shops and select natural food stores and supermarkets.
If you live in the Toronto Area, La Tortilleria is the only place in the city that makes fresh corn tortillas. They are a cut above and only $3.50 per kilogram.
When corn tortillas are fried into a U-shape, they become the base for hard-shell tacos, which many North Americans grew up eating on mom's monthly taco night.
Because of the gluten in wheat, flour tortillas are much stronger than corn tortillas and come in a wide range of sizes. They are used in dishes that require a sturdy base such as quesadillas, burritos and sandwich wraps.
If you don't have access to corn tortillas when making soft tacos, use six-inch flour tortillas, which can be found in the Mexican section of most supermarkets.
For delicious recipes with tortillas, see our Easy Mexican Recipes.
And check back June 7th and every other Thursday for my regular In Good Taste blog posts.
I attended the semi-annual Chapters and Indigo Books + Music sneak peek last week, and this is what I rounded up from the event to get you excited for spring:
Heather Reisman, the founder and CEO of the company, says Indigo is quickly becoming a lifestyle department store, selling everything from tableware to kids toys, suntan lotion, electronics, fruity Napa olive oil, candy, and of course, books!
The retailer's spring and summer line-up included this decidedly man-centric setup. The barbecue spice rub in the jar up front was created just for Indigo. Reisman says they're going to be creating more and more signature products for the shops.
I don't know what these amazing Covered Bridge creamy dill chips were doing in the man-scape section. Kettle cooked potato chip eating is clearly women's work. Especially when said chips come wrapped in chic burlap bags.
Trish Magwood — who was also featured in our October 2011 issue — is a buyer for Indigo, spotting both the latest food trends and must-have culinary classics. She told me to check out Botanical Bakery's lavender shortbreads, and Roger's Chocolates from Victoria (above). She didn't have to tell me twice. I love Roger's cream-filled chocolates (and not just because I'm a pig and they're massive.)
The best part of the event was catching with the great chef Lynn Crawford (above), whose new cookbook Pitchin' In (2012 Penguin), is sure to win every Can-lit cookery book award in the coming year. It's gorgeous and delicious-looking and the recipes look doable, which is exactly what you want out of a cookbook. (See some of Chef Crawford's recipes from her food emporium Ruby Eats.)
1-5. Amy Rosen
Winter is a great time to get away to NYC for a weekender vacation. Last week my best friend crossed the country (from Vancouver) for a few days to take in everything NYC had to offer. I've condensed some highlights for those looking for a perfect 48 hours in the city.
Stay at the Ace Hotel. It's got everything going for it that you want in a home base: Great lobby scene, helpful staff, central location, Stumptown Coffee Roasters (above) for your morning jolt, and a few great restaurants, including chef April Bloomfield's casual yet Michelin-starred The Breslin, where I had an intense breakfast of deep fried banana and peanut butter brioche French toast.
Once you've fueled up, you're basically going to spend the rest of the day walking. We walked over to Rockefeller Center, taking in the holiday lights and the skaters — it's as if Christmas never left New York! There's now a Bouchon Bakery where my go-to Dean & Deluca used to be, kitty corner from the Rock. Thankfully the J.Crew is still there. (Note: impromptu light shopping is always part of a successful NYC itinerary.)
Next stop is Daniel Boulud's Boulud Sud, the famed chef's (who's launching restaurants in Toronto and Montreal this summer) latest Manhattan outpost, full of masterful small plates of Mediterranean flavours. Boulud has carved out a de facto epicurean corner on the Upper West Side, with Boulud Sud (above), Bar Boulud and Epicerie Boulud all hung together like a string of saucissons.
Then hit up the MoMA. There's a terrific Diego Rivera mural exhibit on until May, as well as a huge Kandinsky retrospective. We happily spent a couple of hours here and could have stayed all day. But there was still much to do: Shopping around SoHo, snacking at Mario Batali's gourmet Italian emporium, Eataly (above) (the pizza was incredible), and then picking up another friend at Grand Central Station before hitting Dos Caminos on Park for dinner. (My friend Ivy is the chef there — you'll never scarf down better tortilla chips and guac, and upscale-spun Mexican street food.)
Darn, this blog post is already too long and I have so much more to say! I'll keep it short and leave you to make your way to Brooklyn for day two; just 20 minutes via subway. Go to Miriam for brunch (fresh Israeli fare). Walk through the parks. Go for coffee. Say hi to the nice people in wooly hats with artful facial hair. Hit the flea market. Go to Superfine for dinner. Grab a chocolate treat at Jacques Torres' chocolate shop (try the wicked hot chocolate or a mudslide cookie). Then catch a play at St. Anne's Warehouse. We saw an incredible one man show — Daniel Kitson in "It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later" (bad name, great play).
Finally, walk under the Brooklyn Bridge and along the promenade and the tree-lined streets, and catch the subway back to the Ace Hotel. Share a bottle of bubbly in the lobby and then raise a glass to the finest weekend you've had in recent memory.
For more, read all about Kimberley Brown's favourite NYC shopping spot.
1-6. Amy Rosen
Icewine is a special thing, a largely Canadian thing, whereby wine is produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine (which is why very few areas in the world can produce it). This often leads to some pretty fantastic stuff; a super sweet, almost syrupy wine, often saved for the dessert course.
After a tasting of 18 different icewines (tough job!) made from grape varieties including Riesling, Vidal, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, we came to the realization that icewine can in fact be paired with not just sweet, but also savoury and spicy dishes to great effect.
Our starter trio included icewine chicken liver pâté, endive salad with Quebec blue Elizabeth cheese, and a frisée salad with candied salmon. The second trio featured spicy elements like duck confit with mostarda, pork cheeks with chili apple braised radish, and a plump seared scallop with a chili butter honey glaze, chestnuts and carrot purée. Our national treasure proved to be full of fruity, luscious flavours and rich aromas; a perfect foil for the savoury spicing. The dessert trio included German apple cake with salted icewine caramel, French toast style panettone with roasted pineapple and crème fraîche, and icewine poached pear with mascarpone — not a sour note in the bunch.
With icewines coming from Stratus to Strewn, Sue-Anne Staff Estate Winery, Inniskillin, Peller Estates, Cave Spring, Tawse, Hillebrand, and Pilliitteri to name a few, it was a sweet and savoury lunch that was as intriguing as it was tasty. Bottom line? Icewine: Not just for dessert.
Read more about foodie events here.
1-4. Amy Rosen
Picture it: The roaring nineties. McGill University. A young Amy Rosen and her friends make routine 1 a.m. pit stops at the Monsieur Félix & Mr. Norton cookie shop on rue Ste. Catherine in Montreal. Relationships are forged and friendships ended over the gooey goodness of Milk Chocolate Chunk and Menage-A-Trois cookies, warm from the oven.
The 1990s eventually ended and oversized sweatshirts and sweatpants fell from fashion, thus late night/early morning cookie runs ceased to exist. Still, to this day we all have fond recollections of those magical, melting cookies.
Good news alert! This month the Montreal-based Monsieur Félix & Mr. Norton made their original recipe cookie dough available in Ontario at Sobeys for $7. Each 500 gram container has about 20 frozen ready-to-bake cookie dough balls prepared at a kosher Canadian plant. All it takes is eight minutes from freezer to oven to mouth (after a few minutes of cooling time, if you're smart).
Let me tell you, we tried these at work and everyone went absolutely crazy for them. They taste exactly like they did way back when.
A delicious taste memory made anew! Pick up a few containers for holiday baking this week!
For more sweet ideas, see our Holiday Cookies & Squares guide.
1-3. Monsieur Félix & Mr. Norton
In my other life I’m a travel writer, which is why if you regularly tune into this blog you’ll notice that I go away on an inordinate amount of quickie weekend trips, such as here, here, here, here, and who could forget here and even here?
Chicago happens to be in my top three all-time favourite American cities: The architecture! The food! The museums! The shopping! The spas! So when the nice people at Trump International invited a few of us to town on a recent weekend to test the Trump lifestyle ahead of the January 31st grand opening of Trump Toronto, I packed my fancy pants and boarded the Porter flight to the Chi-town.
Turns out it was the busiest weekend of the year, with festivities surrounding the 20th annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival on the Saturday night. The festival starts the holiday season in earnest with a grand parade led by Grand Marshals Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and their friends. The Trumps even invited a couple of real reindeer to the festivities. Thousands of people took in the glittery parade and fireworks — a mass of humanity woven across bridges and through the streets, while we took in the view from our plush chairs in the Trump Chicago hotel's buzzy Rebar cocktail lounge. So great.
I also ate really well. A fantastic big and boisterous restaurant called Quartino is just a few blocks from the hotel, and chef John Coletta and crew basically sent out the entire menu for us. They make everything in-house, from the mozzarella to the sauces and sausages, salumi and pastas and desserts.
As a side note, I also loved Quartino’s bathrooms — they’re totally old school, and instead of soap dispensers they have authentic soap powder dispensers! The food at the Trump hotel was also top-tier, and taking in the skyline during breakfast on the 16th floor restaurant (called Sixteen) is a truly special way to start the day.
When I wasn’t eating or shopping (Nordstrom is just over a block from the hotel — yikes) we did things like take in an architecture boat tour on the river, the last one of the season (it was freeeezing). I also had not one, but two amazing spa treatments (do request John for your massage at the Trump), and an incredible facial at the elegant Peninsula Hotel.
And then I ended the weekend, as a good food editor should, with a famous buttermilk doughnut from The Doughnut Vault.
Bottom line: You just can’t go wrong with a weekend in Chicago.
1-6. Amy Rosen
A few of us at H&H were chatting around the old water cooler about the new TV show Recipes to Riches (disturbingly addictive was the consensus), when we decided we should get the winning products (thus far) into the office and give them a spin. Here are a few of our thoughts — you may even consider them our anonymous unofficial votes.
President's Choice Luscious Lemon Pudding Cakes: Glo McNeill, $25,000 winner in the sweet pies category...
"I liked it! I think it would be good either warm or chilled, and I liked the custard-smooth consistency."
"I would prefer it cold and a bit more lemony, more refreshing. Being warm made it feel a bit too heavy, I would never be able to eat a whole serving."
"A good example of a rich, English style pudding. I would have liked it to have more zing, but I do like my lemon desserts to blow my head off. Most people around here had a negative reaction to eating lemon hot, which I found interesting."
President's Choice Rock n' Peach Bliss Cheesecake: Jacqui Keseluk, $25,000 winner in the cake category...
"I like the idea, although for myself I prefer a cheesecake that is more dense and wish the peaches were candied in brandy more."
"I have to say, not my favourite. I was expecting it to be softer and more like a typical cheesecake, instead it had a texture of bread. The pears and brandy were a nice touch."
President's Choice Chicken Grenades: John Grass, $25,000 winner in the appetizer category...
"Super spicy, packed with seasoning, really savoury and the skewers are cute and useful. Surprisingly low calorie count for a bacon wrapped flavour bomb. These should be popular while watching the big game with a few beers."
"I really like the skewer things!!! I would eat those at a party all the time."
"I would totally buy these. The portion of chicken was a nice chunk, and although I'm a spice-wimp, these have a nice slow burn that even I can handle! And when the heat gets to be too much I think I'd dip these in some raita."
President's Choice Savoury Bannock-Topped Pie: Melaney Gleeson-Lyall, $25,000 winner in the savoury pie category...
"Unbelievably delicious! I don't even miss the meat, and I love the hazelnuts. I also like the fact that you mix up the dough so it's sort of semi-homemade."
"With just the right amount of spice, this hearty vegetable pie will be a staple for cold winter nights."
"The ingredients came together nicely for a sweet dish, and they're very Canadian ingredients, which I feel is what I wanted from the show: A truly Canadian recipe with Canadian ingredients (bannock, root vegetables, hazelnuts.) The texture of the topping was a nice contrast with the filling. It's a good size, too.
So there you have it. Once all the category winners are chosen, Canadians can vote online at www.recipetoriches.ca for the best of the best, and the grand prize winner will take home $250,000 — and, of course, bragging rights.
1-4. Leslie Williams
Top image: Courtesy of Food Network Canada
It's official; the holiday season is upon us. All the signs point to it: Starbucks has rolled out their snowflake printed cups, the blogosphere is abuzz with holiday gift-guides and Christmas decor (don't miss Suzanne Dimma's tips on simple holiday decorating) and most alarming, my hometown of Winnipeg has been blanketed with snow — "always a severe blow," my parents wrote in a defeated email.
But the most obvious indicator that the holidays are here is always my waistline. I've already begun hibernating in my leisure suit most weeknights and we're all gearing up for another season of over-consumption at holiday fetes.
So, a few weeks ago when celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito's book Now Eat This! Diet (2011 Grand Central Life & Style) came in the mail for our food editor Amy Rosen — with the promise of losing up to 10 pounds in two weeks — she and I took a good hard look.
Of course, Rocco's up to the usual tricks, writing in the fine print that we'll need to begin rigorous exercise regimes and stop eating out at restaurants (not happening). While we are both deeply impressed with Rocco's tight abs and sculpted arms, neither Amy nor I will be following his weight-loss plan in full.
The book is, however, chalk full of recipes for low-calorie everyday meals that we are both excited to try.
First up, a mouthwatering cheeseburger (always my guilty pleasure at local restos), that weighs in at a mere 368 calories compared to the usual 850. (Dubious, I know...)
Amy is excited to test the Blueberry Silver Dollar Pancakes (292 calories), the Fettuccini Alfredo With Shrimp (374 calories), and our most highly anticipated recipe, 110-calorie fudge bars!
Stay tuned for Amy's recipe reviews in an upcoming blog post.
Grand Central Life & Style