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
On Tuesday night I got my Skinnygirl on with yummy cocktails and eats at the brand's summer party at the Rosewater Supper Club. Hosted by the original Skinnygirl, chef, author and reality TV star Bethenny Frankel, and eTalk's Traci Melchor, the evening benefited Dress For Success.
Skinnygirl Margarita was launched by Frankel in March 2011. The low-carb, low-cal drink became an instant success and the brand has now expanded to include seven ready-to-serve cocktails, a vodka collection and a wine collection.
Party-goers were greeted at the door with White Cranberry Cosmos, followed by the arrival of Bethenny and Traci, who treated guests to a fun Q&A about summer entertaining.
Ready-to-serve cocktails like the Skinnygirl Sangria, Peach Margarita and Mojito make summer entertaining easy. Frankel recommends sticking to classics with a twist for party food, like turkey burgers with wasabi mayo served alongside Mojito cocktails — her go-to for parties this season. The new White Cherry Vodka is a must-try, says Frankel, just add soda or serve over ice.
I'm partial to the Skinnygirl Mojito — my favourite summer drink! At only 90 calories a glass, it's a refreshing and guilt-free patio cocktail. I would still add some fresh mint to it for flavour and aroma, though.
Guests were given a tour of four cocktail tasting rooms featuring different summer entertaining tips. The White Peach Margarita room was all about home decor! Event stylist Marla Brown talked about outdoor decorating.
If you're throwing a patio party, Brown recommends setting the mood with torches, lanterns, votives, or hanging cafe lights, making sure to illuminate the walking path. Add bright colours like this turquoise and tangerine combo to your neutral furniture with vases and throw pillows, says Brown.
I could definitely spend some time lounging here with a glass of sangria! Brown also recommends bringing the indoors out. Don't be afraid to bring your indoor chairs and tables outside for your party, she says.
Chef Lauren Mozer, founder of Toronto's Elle Cuisine, passed on tips for summer entertaining with recipes that are big on flavour and small on prep time. Keep it simple and light, always use fresh ingredients and pay attention to presentation, which accounts for 75% of any food experience, says Mozer.
These chicken satays were marinated in Skinnygirl White Wine and served with a red pepper chimichurri — yum!
I'll be lounging on a patio in Vancouver this weekend, Skinnygirl Mojito in hand, if anyone asks. Cheers!
1-8. Chloe Berge
Every day my inbox lights up with invites to product launches, wine tastings, restaurant openings and gourmet food events. (I know: #foodeditorproblems.) I have to turn down the majority of them otherwise I'd never get any work done and I'd weigh 300 pounds. But when I was recently asked to attend a lunch hosted by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, I only got halfway through the subject line of "Canadian Cheese Grand Prix..." before replying "SOLD!"
The event in question was a special media tasting of all the winners of the recent 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, which selected the very best Canadian cheeses from a whopping 225 entries.
Sampling the crème de la crème at a table of fellow food scribes, it was a very civilized way to spend the lunch hour. From the 17 category winners, here are my three favourites.
1. Grizzly Gouda, Sylvan Star Cheese Ltd.
Winner of both the Gouda and Farmhouse Cheese categories, this 1-year-old wheel from Red Deer, Alberta reminds me of Parmigiano-Reggiano. (See #2 in the above photo.) It's very firm with a deep nutty, caramel flavour and loaded with so much umami it sends your tongue into overdrive.
2. 5-Year Age Cheddar, The Black River Cheese Company Ltd.
This orange cheddar from Prince Edward County, Ontario took the Aged Cheddar (more than 3 years) category. It's sharp and crumbly, yet super creamy on the palate. This bad boy would make a seriously delicious grilled cheese sandwich or melt into a magnificent mac and cheese.
3. Ricotta, Quality Cheese Inc.
This creamy ricotta made headlines when it took the Grand Champion category, an honour never bestowed upon a fresh cheese. Made in Vaughan, Ontario, it shows off the purity and freshness of the milk. While you can eat it straight from the tub by the spoonful, it's terrific smeared onto sourdough toasts and topped with truffle oil, honey and cracked pepper.
Watch a video of Lynda Reeves and I making our own versions of mac and cheese.
1. Eric Vellend
One of the perks of working at House & Home is its close proximity to Toronto's Soma Chocolatemaker, which is, without exaggeration, one of the best chocolate shops on the planet. David Castellan, who co-owns Soma with his wife, Cynthia Leung, is a brilliant pastry chef and one of the only chocolatiers in the country who does bean-to-bar chocolate. (It's hauntingly good stuff.)
Always tinkering away on new ideas, the soft-spoken Castellan recently released a heavenly nut butter called Majoun.
"It's based on a spread from an old chocolate store in Torino called Pfatisch," he wrote in a recent email. "It's basically Nutella made with almonds and without cocoa powder so it's a blonde colour. I recreated the formula, and to reference Nutella, I added roasted organic Madagascar cocoa nibs instead of the usual Dutched cocoa powder."
Because Castellan stays away from hydrogenated fats, the spread is a little stiff. But once it hits warm toast it turns soft, shiny and silky. It's deeply flavoured with perfectly roasted hazelnuts and almonds, and the cocoa nibs give it a bitter, chocolatey crunch. It's $14 for a jar, but well worth it. Breakfast will never be the same again.
See our Decadent Chocolate Recipes for more sweet ideas.
1. Eric Vellend
I was recently struck down with a nasty case of food poisoning. (That's what I get for eating cheap sushi.) My stomach was left in a fragile state. For any kind of dyspeptic ailment, I dust off my congee recipe.
Simple, economical and highly comforting, congee is a rice-based porridge from China. And while it sounds like something served in a Dickensian orphanage, it's surprisingly delicious and just the prescription for sensitive tummies.
4 cups chicken stock
5 cups water
1 cup jasmine rice
5 slices ginger
Salt to taste
Sliced green onion for garnish (optional)
Step 1: In a large pot, combine stock, water, rice and ginger. Bring to boil over high heat. When it starts to boil, cover partially and reduce heat to maintain simmer.
Step 2: Cook, stirring occasionally at the beginning and more frequently near the end, until it becomes a runny porridge, about 1 hour. Discard ginger. Season with salt.
Step 3: Serve hot sprinkled with green onion.
Makes 4 servings
See more Asian-Inspired Dishes.
I bought my first piece of cast-iron cookware in my early 20s, a green Le Creuset five-quart Dutch oven. I don't remember the impetus for the purchase other than it was on sale. Today, it remains an essential part of my kitchen arsenal: I use it to braise meats, caramelize onions, simmer sauces, and it moonlights as a deep fryer on weekends. And other than a few scratches, it belies two decades in heavy rotation.
Cast-iron cookware is storming back into fashion and I picked it as one of our top 10 food trends in our January 2013 issue (pick up your copy on Eastern newsstands December 10th and Western December 17th).
Restaurants are serving everything from mussels to mac and cheese in comely cast-iron vessels, and the cast-iron skillet has become so essential for the perfect sear, butcher shops are now carrying them.
What is it about cast iron that inspires such devotion?
The first reason is its peerless durability. With proper care, cast-iron cookware will last a lifetime: several, in fact. I inherited a bright red pot from my grandmother, and many people own skillets that have been passed down for generations. Even rusty old pans can be restored back to their former glory. For step-by-step instructions, check out this blog post from Black Iron Dude.
We also love cast iron for its rugged good looks. There is something more inviting about food cooked and served in cast iron. It's unpretentious, rustic and comforting. Cornbread, for example, looks way more delicious served in a cast-iron skillet than it does in a regular baking dish. (It also gets an addictively crisp crust unattainable in any other pan.)
Beyond its dependability and all-around handsomeness, cast iron is prized for its incredible heat retention. Chili served in miniature cast-iron cocottes will stay hotter longer. Meats braised in cast-iron pots can be cooked at a lower temperature. Used as a makeshift deep fryer, a cast-iron pot will maintain the oil temperature much better than stainless steel.
In general, cast-iron helps food brown better, yielding golden gratins, panades, cobblers and crisps.
If you don't own any cast-iron cookware, I recommend starting with a basic 10-inch skillet for tasks like searing scallops, pan-frying pork chops and, of course, baking cornbread. You can get a decent one for under $40 and they come pre-seasoned and ready to rock.
A five-quart enameled Dutch oven, like my Le Creuset, is also indispensible. They cost a fortune, but it's a small price to pay for a lifetime of service.
Watch Eric Vellend in action on Online TV.
1-4. Eric Vellend
From my first job as a baker to my final days as a catering chef, I made hundreds of thousands of cookies over my professional cooking career. Leading up to the holiday season, the pace was punishing. If I ever develop carpal tunnel syndrome, I will blame the million and one gingerbread men I've rolled, cut and decorated. With nearly two decades of yuletide baking under my belt, here are some tips on becoming a better baker.
Once you've mapped out your cookie blitz, sit down, make a shopping list and check it twice. Stock up on the basics like flour, sugar and butter at the supermarket then head to a bulk store for the rest. Not only are the ingredients generally fresher and cheaper in bulk, you can bring your measuring cups to buy exactly what you need. Why waste $7 on a jar of cardamom when you only need half a teaspoon? It also pays to splurge on the best ingredients you can afford. Using high quality European chocolate, real vanilla extract and freshly grated nutmeg make the difference between a good cookie and a great one.
In terms of equipment, a stand mixer is essential for any serious baker. (I haven't used a hand mixer since Trudeau was Prime Minister.) A good stand mixer costs around $300, but they always seem to be on sale somewhere, and they'll last for decades. I'm also a big fan of heavy-duty aluminum sheet pans, which are less prone to buckling than typically thin cookie trays. Aluminum also doesn't retain heat very well, so cookies are less likely to burn. These pans can be found at restaurant supply shops. Finally, I like to use a lot of citrus zest in my cookies (including the lemon squares pictured above) and a rasp grater (a.k.a. Microplane) is the only tool that removes all the good stuff and none of the bitter white pith. It's also handy for grating nutmeg.
When you're ready to start baking, always read the recipe through before you start. Then measure everything out into bowls and ramekins. Chefs call this mise en place, which is French for "everything in its place." It avoids unpleasant scenarios like discovering that you're out of eggs mid mix.
Before you start portioning cookies on trays, get to know your oven. First, check the temperature with a gauge to make sure it's in synch with the dial. (The oven I grew up on was 50°F off.) Some ovens have hot spots in corners, which necessitate rotating the trays halfway through for even baking. Avoid opening the door as much as possible, because once the heat rushes out, the bottom element goes on to compensate, increasing the likelihood of scorched cookie bottoms. So when you go in and out of the oven, move like Bruce Lee.
My final tip is to store cookies in airtight containers that are only used for this purpose. Put cookies into a plastic tub that recently held French onion soup, and within a day your cookies will taste like French onion soup.
Get Eric Vellend's Beef Wellington instructions.
1. Eric Vellend