September 2, 2014#

Stasis Preserves: a focus on local and artisanal in the Toronto neighbourhood of Roncesvalles

For: Food Network Canada

Stasis Preserves Roncesvalles

Summer is coming to an end and so is easy access to fresh-picked local produce. But as the farmer’s markets close for the season some passionate Torontonians are preserving fresh market berries and fruits to enjoy in the cold winter months.

Just south of Dundas, in the west-end Toronto neighborhood of Roncesvalles, Julian Katz and his wife Emily Pennington have opened a gourmet food shop / production kitchen that focuses on artisanal goods, procured locally. Stasis means “held in time” Julian explains, “ these beautiful strawberries are at the height of their ripeness and nutrition and deliciousness” and by preserving you can experience the product at that peak, no matter what time of year. The focus here is on the wonderful made-in-house, Stasis-labelled fruit spreads, preserves and sauces. A small shop front boasts shelves of thoughtfully curated goods from local makers – many of whom Julian met while participating in the Toronto farmers market circuit.

Katz used to work in restaurants (his last job being at Chef Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watchco) where he began to develop a real interest in “how we used to live, and eat.” Understanding when and how to use ingredients at their full potential is a delicate art form that has intrigued the young cook. Katz began to investigate “the old way of doing things, and preserving things,” leading to experiments with pickling and preserving during his time off, filling his small apartment with more preserves than he could give away. A friend convinced him to try selling his wares at the Brickworks farmer’s market. Soon Julian was peddling his preserves at six markets around the city. Still employed as a cook, the hours were gruelling. After a year or so spending shifts on the line followed by long drives to farms for produce, to Mississauga for supplies and finally to whatever kitchen he would rent or borrow, Katz decided it was time to look for a space to call his own.

Originally 476 Roncesvalles Ave was intended to function as a production kitchen, but over time the small retail space evolved into a shop front deli and pantry. “We had the space” Emily points out, “and we were finding these great products.” Besides market connections, the two sought out cheese makers and makers of homegrown food products – anyone who was producing “great things.” The retail grew very naturally from the house-made preserves, direct-trade goods are for sale as well as made-to-order sandwiches and fresh brewed coffee.

The Stasis-labelled preserves have taken off, now being sold across Ontario. All of the fruit and vegetables for production are bought fresh and direct from farms, and Katz’s spreads use half of the sugar of a conventional jam. The Stasis strawberry rhubarb jam for example, contains simply Ontario strawberries, rhubarb, cranberries, and organic raw evaporated cane juice. All of the fruit-based spreads are created with the intention to let the fruit shine.

Focusing on local comes with its shares of challenges. Summertime can be difficult, for example. Katz and his team source, purchase, and process most of their preserves in the summer months, so labour and inventory management can both become complicated. With a lot of of the fresh local fruit heading to the market, finding seconds and jam fruit can be difficult with not much available.

Fitting into Roncesvalles has been easy. A food and health conscious neighbourhood, Roncesvalles is full of young families and it has a great neighbourhood vibe. The street is lined with excellent restaurants, independent coffee shops, Polish food stores and bakeries. Emily explains, “People are understanding and appreciating what we are doing…The more time we spent in the hood, the more we realized how aligned it would be.” Fitting in with the community was part of what has led to their success, the other part would be catering to the needs of their customers. “We bring in things that people ask for,” says Julian. (There are) ”local artisans making exciting food – and we are giving the people of the neighborhood what they want to eat.”

Stasis Preserves
476 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto
647-766-5267 (JAMS)
shop online stasispreserves.com

September 2, 2014#

Nose-to-Tail Cooking at Richmond Station

for Food Network Canada

Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan from Toronto's Richmond Station

Torontonians are starting to pay a lot more attention to where their food comes from. Restauranteurs benefit from close proximity to farms across Ontario, supplying goods that go from farm to table (and fast). Chefs like Carl Heinrich of Top Chef Canada and his partner Ryan Donovan from Toronto’s popular Richmond Station emphasize a tight relationship between growers, farmers, producers and chefs. I caught up with the chef/butcher duo at this summer’s Saveur Stratford Festival. Ryan took apart a wild boar, Carl made presskopf (also known as head cheese —a type of cold cut), and the two educated me on the benefits of subscribing to a nose-to-tail philosophy.

Owners of a very meat-centric restaurant, being conscientious about the animals they source is the first step. Heinrich and Donovan make every effort to know where the food they buy comes from, this being the core philosophy behind their cuisine. At Richmond Station, all of the animals are delivered in whole. The restaurant boasts a meat locker with a rail and table, where Ryan can spend up to seven hours at a time taking apart a 900-pound cow. It is not just beef and pork however; Ryan receives deer, rabbits, chickens, ducks, halibut and lobsters whole as well.

Buying an entire animal as a restaurateur just makes sense. In the case of this particular wild boar (from farmers Fred & Ingrid, so I was told) the waste will only be about 2% (the eyeball being one thing tossed). Financially speaking, using the less desirable bits like the head can provide an excellent return on investment. One way to do so is to prepare a presskopf or head cheese, which is easier than it sounds. After boiling half of a head (note that the foam is a result of blood and impurities), Carl removes the skin, ears, tongue, cheeks and any muscle, and puts it aside. The bones are then discarded. Anything that feels really soft to the touch will be delicious and anything that remains hard at this point won’t soften, so he doesn’t keep it. All the meat is chopped up and put in the pot with shallots (diced small), mustard, capers, cornichons, herbs and some of the cooking liquid to bind things together. The skin and bones contain a lot of collagen, allowing this to turn to gelatin after refrigerating overnight. Carl takes the presskopf, portions and breads, and using a deep fryer makes croquettes.

Although this process may seem innovative, using the entire animal is not a new concept. Historically across the globe, people were confronted with the same problem. Without refrigeration, the best way to enjoy an animal in five months time would be to preserve it somehow. Different cultures adopted different methods, and what we enjoy today as charcuterie is a selection of some of those preparations. The team at Richmond Station take any cuts of meat that they have limited quantities of and cure it to serve on their charcuterie. This is not without significant effort; some cures take a whole afternoon and some take about half of a year to make.

Essentially by curing you are removing water. Curing also changes the PH (potential hydrogen) prolonging the capacity for the meat to stay out at room temperature longer. The salt (nitrate) draws out moisture and sugar (dextrose) prevents it from becoming too salty. The process uses microorganism bacteria that essentially eat the fat, protein and sugar in the meat and make it acidic enough to be safe. This happens with wine, beer and bread as well.

The trimmed scraps from the process of butchering go into salami, Ryan explains. The outside round from the leg becomes capicollo, the belly is used for bacon and the loin and rack are brined. The fatcap on a Berkshire can be up to half an inch thick, so there is plenty of fat to use for whipped lardo, duck confit or tocook potatoes. Skin is all collagen and using it to make stock creates a gelatinous liquid to make things like coq au vin. Chicharon (or pork rinds) are great served with vinegar and chilis for dipping.

But the best reason to subscribe to the nose-to-tail philosophy for these two is the chance to be more creative. At Richmond Station the menu changes upwards of twice a day. The cooks are inspired by the ever-changing ingredient, and they are influenced from all over the world when creating the dinner menu. Any night you might see Mediterranean, Moroccan or Italian selections. Using the whole animal provides a challenge that allows the staff and chefs to grow, and Heinrich and Donovan are proud to provide an environment where creativity is an essential part of success.

July 28, 2014#

Celebrity Chefs at Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival

For: Food Network Canada 

Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival

Last weekend hungry crowds descended on Stratford for the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival. In recent years, Stratford has become a popular destination for food lovers, possibly due to the world-renowned Stratford Chefs School (currently celebrating their 30th year in operation.) The historic city of Stratford is no stranger to tourism. Summers see an influx of visitors for theatre and art events. Stratford boasts a range of eateries from gastropubs to haute cuisine, and Local restaurateurs are taking advantage of the proximity to family farms in surrounding Perth County. Seasonal farm-to-table offerings grace nearly every menu. Agricultural traditions in Stratford stretch back more than 170 years. Perth county is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the province.

Savour Stratford visitors could participate in a range of activities including visiting with local farmers, sampling goods from artisans across Ontario and attending “tutored talks & tastings” on topics like fermentation, wild edibles, mead, preserving fish and the taste profile “bitter.” Children’s workshops included making vegetable “noodles”, worm composting, watercolour painting with edibles like beets & blueberries and a petting zoo.

The culinary-curious could get more than their fill at the Grand Tasting, an event to celebrate the partnerships between the local producers in the agricultural community and local culinary talent. Contenders presented a dish (or beverage) for a chance to win an award for best meat dish, vegetarian dish, dessert, beverage, beverage with alcohol as well as most creative and people’s choice. (see some of winners in the gallery below)

One of the highlights of the festival was the Toronto Star Culinary Stage which brought chefs from from Newfoundland to the N.W.T. to B.C. for interactive demonstrations. The presenters would walk the audience through the creation of a dish (classic souffle, walleye lake fish with lentils, or presskof croquettes for example) and answer any questions. I sat down with five of the chefs and asked them what is unique about the region that they represent.

Celebrity Chefs at Savour Stratford

QuebecDerek Dammann of Montreal’s Maison Publique.

Quebec, compared to anywhere in Europe – like France, Spain, Italy – it is just as regional in terms of cuisine. People don’t realize that. It is one of the only places in Canada where that can be said about the cuisine. (At Maison Publique) We do Canadian food. Not just because we use Canadian ingredients, Canada as a whole gets a bad stereotype. (People say) “Ooh Canada Eh, Poutine, back bacon, donuts.” but it is more than that.

(Montreal is) Extremely multicultural, everybody came this way. What is fortunate about where we are now is that we can draw from Portuguese, from Indian, from every kind of asian you can possibly imagine.. It is a melting pot of cultures and everything is up for grabs. What I think is the most unique is the way people dine. They are open for anything, excited to go out and eat… it is the style of life. People go out and they enjoy, they have fun – it is a lifestyle to go have a beautiful bottle of wine, have a conversation and enjoy themselves. It is part of the culture.

SaskatchewanDale MacKay, owner of Ayden Kitchen and Bar, Saskatoon and Canada’s first Top Chef.

I have Been gone for 20 years until a year and a half ago. I have always been know for fine dining, and doing more formal food. The last two years I have done a lot more casual food and going back to my roots. I moved back to Saskatoon, and opened a new restaurant named after my son about nine months ago and it is going really well. We set up shop in a beautiful heritage building and it is a large restaurant, about 110 seats.

I found that the saskatchewan people are amazing themselves, as to what they actually have in the province. I have been serving Lentils whenever I can, different things – very saskatchewan grown things. We have been talking a lot about Chanterelles. The best in the world come from Saskatchewan.

Talking directly with farmers, it is going to take a little more time since Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is not behind on the farming aspect – its the farming capital of Canada – but small farming is only starting to get big there. We do have people growing specifically for us, artichokes and asparagus, and the best hard-core farming families are there.

Newfoundland’s Todd Perrin of Mallard Cottage, Quidi Vidi Village, St. John’s

(At Mallard Cottage) We have a small historic building and we do newfoundland product in non-traditional ways. We take Newfoundland ingredients and put a twist on them that no one has seen before, that is basically what we are trying to do.

(In Newfoundland) We have a lot of wild game and things that we are able to access, and of course we are on the ocean, so tremendous amount of seafoods and whatnot. We are that wild corner of the country that people don’t really know about. We have that advantage of a certain amount of mystery to people. Newfoundland food is a pristine environment, it is a very rural part of the country, we don’t have huge population, or a lot of factories, the air is clean. So all of our resources, the natural abundance is all pristine. and the quality of it is all very good.

OntarioCarl Heinrich, winner of Top Chef Season Two, and his chef and in-house butcher, Ryan Donovan, of Toronto’s critically acclaimed Richmond Station.

Carl – Knowing the people that you buy food from is so important. If you have two tomatoes in your hand and one is from 5000 km away and it was picked while it was green and you don’t know who touched it and in your other hand you have one from your neighbor, or you grew it yourself and picked it when it was ripe, which one is going to taste better, it is a no brainer right? But it is the same thing for corn, it is the same for mushrooms and it is certainly the same with fish, but for us it is the same with all of the food we buy, we want to make an effort to know where our food is from and that is the core philosophy behind our cuisine.

We talk about this more and more now days. The way we cook food and the way our restaurant runs is a really big political statement. If our business buys lets say 700 000 worth of food a year, and you put 500 000 back into southern ontario, that is a massive statement. Alot of the food that we buy comes from Perth county and the Stratford area. Alot of the food we buy comes from north, creemore area and Grey Bruce.

Ryan – You need to get that ingredient in and make sure it is the best but it is not enough to stop there and say ‘now the hard work is done’. You still have to apply the right technique to it. It might be looking at something that you would normally sous vide and say, ‘no this should be braised’, or ‘it needs to be brined first’ or ‘maybe it should be salted and then rinsed an hour later, just a little bit of salt.’ ‘It needs to cure but not for long’. Then you must always be revisiting the things you are making and eating and saying ‘that could be better.’

July 21, 2014#

Cookbook Review: at Home with Lynn Crawford: 200 of My Favourite Easy Recipes

For: Food Network Canada

 At Home with Lynn Crawford CookbookTitle: At Home with Lynn Crawford: 200 of My Favourite Easy Recipes
Price: $32.00
Pages: 320
Availability: Major book retailers

The Goods

Lynn Crawford is a Celebrity Chef, a Food Network Star (Pitchin In, Restaurant Makeover, Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters), and a celebrated restaurateur. Known for her penchant for fresh ingredients and adventure, Chef Lynn is as comfortable in the kitchen at her popular Toronto eatery Ruby Watchco, as she is fishing for chinook salmon off the coast of Vancouver or preparing mussels with locals in PEI.

Chef Lynn is a veteran in the industry, with over 25 years experience cooking professionally. At Ruby Watchco, all meals are served Table d’hôte – a fixed price gives you the offerings of the evening, served family style. Each week, the menu is posted outside the restaurant (and on the website) allowing diners to choose an evening that best suits their taste. The emphasis is on fresh ingredients from local purveyors, non-fussy preparations and a casual, relaxed atmosphere.

At Home with Lynn Crawford: 200 of My Favourite Easy Recipes emulates the feeling of the restaurant and the laid-back personality of Chef Lynn. Perfect for at-home entertaining, the recipes are fun, no pressure, and easy to follow. The book’s jacket speaks to Chef Lynn’s inspiration behind the book. She takes influence from people that she has known, places she has visited and the food she enjoys with those she loves – her friends and family, at home. Inside the recipes range from smoothies to cocktails, brunch favourites, salads, leisurely lunch dishes, party nibbles and one-pot comfort foods. This book is all about crowd-pleasing home cooking.

Selected Recipes / Chapters Include

  • Bananas Foster Pancakes with Caramel Sauce.
  • Creamy Mushroom & Spinach Lasagna
  • Rib Roast with Horseradish Salt Crust
  • Heirloom Carrots with Honey Thyme Butter
  • Sparkling Pineapple Orange Sangria
  • Blueberry Buckle
  • Hazelnut Pear Tart

What I learned about myself.

It seems as if planning a dinner party is becoming more and more difficult. Finding an evening that suits everyone is just about impossible. Lately, we have really been embracing brunch. No fuss, no dressing up, nothing complicated in terms of cocktails, and no babysitters required. My guests are delighted at the prospects of having their evenings open. For this reason, this book is perfect. My friends can come over and I can entertain casually, over coffee we can cook and eat together and share a really wonderful meal.

The last recipe in the book is “Ninja Dog Treats” which is exactly as it sounds. What is worse, I have seriously considered making them. My spoiled pup.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this book is a really good buy. I have a LARGE collection of cookbooks, many which I wouldn’t even consider using for casual entertaining. This book has a good range of recipes, all which are fairly simple and that use ingredients that you can find easily at your local market. There is nothing worse than scrambling to find and exotic ingredient the day of your dinner party.

What I liked best about this book, were the recipes for brunch. Fresh juices and smoothies, homemade granolas, jams, jellies, spreads, infused honeys and butters are all simple additions to breakfast standards and they add a special touch. There are a number of straightforward enough baked goods to entice even the most novice of baker (like myself) and some fun and inventive ways to prepare eggs.

At Home with Lynn Crawford: 200 of My Favourite Easy Recipes has basic recipes to appease just about any dinner guests tastes, with just enough ethnic influence to provide a little interest (the book features a couple curried dishes and tandoori chicken legs for example). A chapter on one pot comfort foods takes the stress out of preparation, and for the party uninitiated – classics like devilled eggs and dips. The desserts are uncomplicated as well (I am making the Cheesecake in a Jar tonight!)

Bonus: Besides the infused honeys and preserves, Chef Lynn shares some of her recipes for rubs and flavoured salts, all of which make fun hostess gifts or party favours.

This Book is For

  • People that love to entertain at home, and prefer un-fussy family style fare.
  • Anyone who wants a really well rounded cookbook that they will actually use.
  • Fan’s of Chef Lynn or Ruby Watchco (this book will not disappoint)
July 2, 2014#

Dining Out Toronto: Susur Lee’s Luckee

For Food Network Canada

Dining Out Restaurant Spotlight Susar Lee's Luckee Toronto

Luckee is the newest venture by internationally renowned chef Susar Lee. Food Network fans are likely to recognize Susar from behind the judges table on Chopped Canada and Top Chef Canada, or in the spotlight, battling it out on Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters.

Located in the base of Toronto’s Soho Metropolitan hotel, Luckee is a return to Chef Lee’s Hong Kong roots. Lee grew up with dim sum, his first memories of Chinese food involve tasting black bean sauce with his father, and the aim of Luckee is to “create an unforgettable experience for people who love Chinese food.”

The space has been designed by Brenda Bent (of Restaurant Makeover fame, and Chef Lee’s wife) and her partner Karen Gable. The space is sleek and modern, with dramatic imperial Chinese motifs, painted screens, pops of bright red and nods to the kitsch of 1950’s American Chinese restaurants. Hungry diners can perch at the high top bar that surrounds the glassed-in kitchen and watch the dumpling masters at work.

Haute dim sum is the focus, and steamed, fried and vegetarian selections are served all day, and by cart on weekends. Some dishes are very traditional Cantonese, and some feature the twist on the standard that chef Lee is famous for. Dim sum like char siu bao (pork soup dumplings) and scallop, peashoot & king mushroom dumplings are served with a trio of house-made condiments – soya sauce with chili, chili sauce with Chinese mustard, and green onion and ginger pesto.

In addition to Dim Sum, the menu boasts a range of “Nouvelle Chinoise” cuisine, and was inspired by Lee’s travels through Asia (notably Guangdong, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore.) Lee’s idea behind Luckee was to modernize recognizable Chinese fare, and transform Chinese comfort foods into sophisticated cuisine.

Toronto Chef Susar Lee

Some dishes are very “new asian” like the Baked marinated fillet of Cod which Lee developed in Singapore. Peas and corn are a nod to the season and the reduced black vinegar glaze gives nice acidity. Overall the dish is summery and light. Chef Lee’s black pepper filet of beef tenderloin, leans heavily on the strong tastes associated with the Malay Chinese (bean paste and chilies, curry leaves). Both Savory and fresh, this dish is elevated by a fresh salad. Both the Crispy Five Spice Chicken and the Spicy wok fried Bang Bang Chicken are spicy and flavourful,
benefitting from an interplay of textures.

Luckee’s Wuxi braised pork rib may be the most recognizably-Susar item on the menu. A take on a traditional Shanghainese dish, the rib and belly are slow braised with shaoxing wine until tender. The pork is then served with butternut squash pureed with yuzu and sauteed apples. This dish is influenced by the wine, apples and pork of the Alsace region in France. The most popular dish is the signature Luckee Duck, A Cantonese style BBQ duck with an optional fois grois add on. Diners wrap the lean and crispy slices of duck with relish and preserved sauce, with fresh apples and more traditional julienned cucumber.

A selection of desserts are also available, custard tarts with ginger made lighter with egg whites, sesame balls stuffed with lotus bean past and a tangy passionfruit and pineapple coconut mango pudding brings a southeast asian twist on a traditional Chinese dessert.

Luckee also features an extensive list of spirits, wine and beer selections, as well as draught sake on tap, made exclusively for Luckee by Ontario sake company Izumi. Inventive themed cocktails like the Aura (sobieski vodka, lime, mint, cucumber, cordial and lime zest) Make a visit to the bar worth the trip. There is a limited bar menu as well, for after-hour bites.

All Photos: Jason Kan

Luckee: 328 Wellington St. W.,Toronto Ontario (Entertainment District) 416-935-0400

June 17, 2014#

Book Review: Charcutería: The Soul of Spain

For: Food Network Canada

book_review_charcuteriaCharcutería: The Soul of Spain by Jeffrey Weiss (foreword by James Beard award-winning chef José Andrés.)

Price: $49.95
Pages: 464
Availability: Major retailers

The Goods:

Charcutería: The Soul of Spain explores the time-honoured Spanish culinary traditions of curing meat and fish. Providing a comprehensive introduction to authentic Spanish butchering techniques with more than 100 recipes, this book aims to be the guide to Spanish cured meat traditions for both professional and hobbyist charcuterie enthusiasts. Jeffrey Weiss is an American chef hailing from California, and the recipes are presented in a manner that is accessible to those without knowledge of Spanish ingredients. Weiss celebrates the diverse foods and rich culture of Spain, and stays true to the traditions of cured meat.

North America is embracing the return of small-scale artisan traditions, and this is helping charcuterie gain its popularity. Until recently, the art of charcuteria was “underrepresented, misunderstood and largely unheard of,” in this part of the world.

Charcutería: The Soul of Spain is a thorough representation of the history of charcuteria and the evolution of ritual pig slaughters to industrialized charcuterie. A notable and informative section is chapter three: ‘Salt, Meat, Love and Time’. It explains Spanish-style butchery, which uses various methods and cuts.

Chapters Include

  • Chapter 1: Who’s Your Papi; Chulo?
  • Chapter 2: The Secreto Of The Secreto
  • Chapter 3: Salt, Meat, Love, And Time
  • Chapter 4: Salamueras y Salazones
  • Chapter 5: Adobos
  • Chapter 6: Escabeche
  • Chapter 7: Conservas y Confits
  • Chapter 8: Embuitdos
  • Chapter 9: Pâtés y Terrinas
  • Chapter 10: Guarniciónes y Salsas
  • Chapter 11: Postres y Licores
  • Purveyors and Other Cool People
  • Kitchen Lingo: A Glossary Of La Cocina Española
  • Knowledge Is Power: Where to Learn More About Charcuterie

What we Made: 


I chose to make Garbanzos Con Butifarra Negra (page 285), specifically because I had been to bar Pinoxta in the La Boquiera Market, Barcelona and had the pleasure of eating this dish at five in the morning—it was absolutely delicious!

For my own variation, I bought the blood sausage from a local butcher to save some time. The recipe itself was not that complicated and most of the ingredients were easy to find. The one ingredient I had to substitute was sherry, as the recommended brand is not available at the LCBO.


Final Thoughts:

This book taught me a great deal about myself. First of all, I love cute illustrations with a lot of personality. Secondly, even though I am a die-hard, unapologetic, die-hard charcuterie fanatic, I really don’t enjoy making it (at least I thought I did, until now). Fans of this book can still lean on me for a good pickle to adorn their boards, but I likely will not be curing meats in the near future—curing meat takes up a lot of space, and my tiny condo kitchen doesn’t have much.

I found the recipes themselves to be somewhat difficult to follow. Within the list of ingredients there was often a reference to another recipe, from another page. This made it difficult to understand what was involved, without doing some flipping around. Having very little experience with Spanish cooking, I had to continuously look up ingredients as they were listed in Spanish only (a bracket with the English term ‘blood sausage’ would have been helpful). I also found it difficult to source some of the recommended ingredients in Toronto. In the end, the dish was tasty, but far too oily and in hindsight, I should have used half of the recommended oil.

Regardless, it was a nice read and was very educational. The breakdown of Spanish butchery alone is worth the purchase for any novice butcher.


You May Like:

People with basic to intermediate knowledge of sausage making, people who are not squeamish, those who want a glimpse into Spanish butchery and meat-curing culture, and anyone with enough kitchen space (only the bravest of condo-dwellers will be able to recreate most dishes).

Photos by Jason Kan

May 27, 2014#

Grass-Fed, Pasture-Raised v.s Conventional or Industrial Farming. What exactly IS the Difference?

For: Food Network Canada

Grass Fed and Pasture Raised Farm

BBQ season is finally upon us, and the warm weather has Canadians dusting off the grill and bringing the party outside. A good BBQ starts with good quality cuts of meat–and Canadians love their meat (eating 44.2lbs per person yearly according to Statistics Canada). A trip to the grocery store can leave you faced with a dizzying array of choices. AAA, organic, pasture-raised, grain-fed, corn-fed, grass-fed, grass-finished, free run… it’s enough to drive any wannabe grill master crazy.

Being in Toronto, I have the benefit of having a friendly and knowledgeable butcher in my neighbourhood to navigate me through the options, but not everyone has someone like this on hand. Armed with a vague understanding for the benefits of pasture-raised, grass-fed meats, I hit the road searching for a family-run farm that would allow me to get up-close and personal to the pasture, and figure out what is really going on.

Black Angus and Wagyu Cattle on the pasture

Luckily, Grandview Farms was willing to take on the challenge. Located in Thornbury, Ontario, they are a certified, organic property that is committed to raising animals properly (the way they would have been a century ago). The meat that is produced is considered to be 100% grass-fed, pasture-raised and without artificial growth stimulants (hormones), antibiotics or steroids. This means small herds, old-fashioned farming techniques, and a commitment to using methods that are respectful of the environment and the animals’ well being.

Pulling up to the farm, it is immediately clear the cattle live a decent life. The small herd of Black Angus and Wagyu roam 500 acres of established pasture, each pasture equipped with an adjacent woodlot for shade, and a pond for cooling off. For the last 30 years, cattle have been feeding off of this land. The lush grass is an abundant mix of orchard, canary grass, legumes, sweet clover, Kentucky blue, wild plants and wild vetch. Each year, the farmhands supplement these grasses by planting annuals like peas, sorghum, corn and sudan for the cattle to feed on.

Berkshire Cross Fruit Finished Pigs

All animals at Grandview are fruit-finished, the Berkshire cross pigs eating thousands in their lifetimes. Local apple farms provide ground and juice apples, with many coming directly from the 150-tree orchard on site. Finishing is all about marbling. Traditional feed-lot diets are high in grain, soy, corn and other supplements. Combined with inactivity and confined spaces, internal fat (marble) is produced without effort. Animals that chomp on grass have an easier time digesting and as a result are leaner. At Grandview, the farmers use organic fruit and organic flax to ensure their animals are healthy, so the meat is well-marbled. As opposed to the starchy grain-finished animals in industrial farming, the marbling fat in these animals is a result of a healthy diet.

How healthy are these diets? Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto say that Organic Grass-fed Beef is potentially 300% healthier. Grass-fed beef is higher in CLAs, antioxidants, and the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 in these animals is 4.9 to 1. The Omega ratio in feedlot animals is around 15 to 1. Organic grass-fed beef is also lower in fat and cholesterol. Animals raised on small, organic, local family farms, like Grandview for example, are raised without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Humane conditions also limit the production (and release) of stress hormones.

Happy Pasture Raised Chickens

What about Cost? Maintaining lush pasture is expensive and time consuming, so generally grass-fed cuts of meat are more expensive than other selections at your local market. You can save by buying in bulk from local farms, many (including Grandview) will sell an entire side of beef, or boxes of cuts at a discount. Contact your local producer to see what they can offer. If you don’t have the benefit of a large freezer, split the cost with some friends, or try to up the veggies in your diet to cut down your meat portions naturally.

Wandering around the farm, I worked up quite the appetite. Lucky for me, the farmers had a delicious meal prepared with ingredients from local farms, and a sampling of meats produced on the farm. I can definitely say that you can taste the difference. The pork in particular, had a drastically different, sweeter flavour than what I am used to. I am not a fan of pork chops, but I found that the colour and even the fat was remarkably different–leaving me converted!

Grandview Farms Pork Chops

The livestock at this farm is sold direct to the consumer at donatenaturally.com, to some of Canada’s top restaurants and the remainder to Life Choices Natural Foods, a producer of organic, natural and pre-packaged foods, that use all-natural, organic, premium and sustainably-grown ingredients.

All photos: Jason Kan

May 8, 2014#

Festival Spotlight: Yum Cha Dim Sum Fest – #YumChaTO

For: Food Network Canada

YumChaTO #2, hungry Torontonians

Nothing is a better cure for a crazy Saturday night, than Sunday morning dim sum. A popular breakfast choice for the Cantonese, dim sum (or “Yum Cha”, which translates to “Drink Tea”), has also gained popularity in the west — and for good reason.

Momofuku daisho (Soy egg with kimchi, furikake, mayo)

Momofuku daisho (Soy egg with kimchi, furikake, mayo)

Traditionally, sitting down for morning dim sum takes you on an adventure in flavours and textures, all of which are well-known in Asian cuisine. Served bite sized, steamed and fried dumplings, noodles, roasted meats, congee (broth or porridge made from rice), crispy squid and egg custards, are all commonly found at a traditional dim sum feast. Toronto food lovers had a chance to experience both the traditional and more inventive dim sum fare at YumChaTO (Yum Cha Dim Sum Fest), the second sold-out installment of dumpling festivals, presented by Spotlight City. (See how much Torontonians like dumplings?)

feastTO’s pho dumpling (beef, pho spices, noodles, sprouts)

feastTO’s pho dumpling (beef, pho spices, noodles, sprouts)

Held in a warehouse (being converted into a brewery for Toronto craft brew in Toronto’s east end), hungry brunchers left their scrambelled eggs at home, to nosh on a selection of dim sum inspired dishes from Toronto’s top experts. The vendors were serving up a variety of dishes, from Momofuko’s famous steamed buns, to Parts & Labour’s Buffalo chicken feet. Most dishes were a “re-invented” take on a classic. Feast T.O.’s Tom Yum and Pho dumplings for example (although Chef Jonathon Poon’s Chantecler, Turnip Cake with Chinese sausage and X.O. sauce, leaned more towards traditional), and was arguably the stand-out dish of the event.

Chantecler (Turnip cake with chinese sausage & X.O sauce)

Chantecler (Turnip cake with chinese sausage & X.O sauce)

So whether Har Gow, or Sui Mau fusion tacos are your cup of tea, at YumChaTO, you were guaranteed to sample an assortment of tasty bites, with several local-made spirits and craft-made brews (not just tea), to wash it all down. Another YumChaTO event has not been announced as of yet, but for upcoming events, go to: Spotlight Toronto or follow #yumchaTO.

May 1, 2014#

Just Launched: Marleyfire

Marleyfire is a small business in Barrie Ontario. They have been around for more than 20 years, but were lacking a web presence. They approached me to make a site that was simple, but accessible, and that was based off of their existing brochure. Using WordPress, I customized an existing theme to keep costs down. The end result is useful, responsive and was completed within a month.


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Check it out at www.marleyfire.com 

April 28, 2014#

Cookbook Review: Eat More Dessert

For Food Network Canada with Nicole Basacco

Eat More Dessert: More than 100 Simple-to-Make & Fun-to-Eat Baked Goods from the Baker to the Stars Hardcover by Jenny Keller
Eat More Dessert Cookbook Review

Price: $26.99
Pages: 224
Availability: Major retailers

Jenny Keller is a self-taught baker who has built an empire on sugar cookies and beautifully crafted desserts. Her passion for baking began in her grandmother’s kitchen as a tot, but wasn’t reignited until she had had children of her own. Seeking a creative outlet after choosing to stay home with her kids, Jenny realized that she was finding any excuse to throw a party and arrange elaborately themed dessert tables. Scouring flea markets and testing sugar cookie recipes had become a consistent pastime, and Jenny’s dessert tables were attracting some seriously sweet attention. Jenny quickly garnered a following from celebrities like Tori Spelling, and she began to gain a reputation as the authority for dessert tables at celeb-filled Hollywood soirees.

Keller’s Eat More Dessert is a beautiful and light-hearted book, focusing on the design of a perfect dessert table. It features stunning photos, and simple recipes and food arrangements that are actually easy to recreate. Recipes range from just-assemble-and-decorate, to over-the-top cakes that require a little more patience and finesse. But even the most complicated recipe is simple enough for a beginner with little knowledge of baking methods and techniques. Most recipes only require a handful of ingredients, and can be replicated somewhat inexpensively. If you don’t feel like making Jenny’s butter cream or doughnut holes from scratch, the recipe suggests using store-bought mixes, icings and coffee shop doughnut holes instead. Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers, Fluff and Cake Mix also make an appearance. Aside from the how-to baking basics, Jenny gives tips on styling the perfect dessert table.

Chapters are divided into the following themes:

  • Princess Tea Party
  • Ice Cream Shop
  • Shipwrecked
  • Spring Garden
  • Love is Sweet
  • Vintage baby
  • Campout
  • Fall Bounty
  • Down on the Farm
  • North Pole Bakery

eat more dessert book review

I chose to make Jenny’s Cake Pops (page 20) and Strawberry Sweetheart Cookies (page 63).

I am not a baker. There is something about careful measuring and floured surfaces that scares me. Creative decorating, however, I adore. So while I am usually pretty intimidated by baking, these recipes were a breeze. Both were surprisingly easy and my baking companion and I used store-bought mix and icing to keep it simple. Jenny emphasizes that any of her basic recipes can be modified to suit your event, so we decided to mix it up and create a chocolate version of the Strawberry Sweetheart Cookies as well. It took a couple of tries to find just the right sized scoop for the cookies to bake right, but in the end we were really pleased. These cookies were definitely an acceptable macaroon substitute. The cake pops were lovely, fun to make, and they created a lot of smiles around the office. In the end, we made dozens of goodies for under $30. This is a wonderful book, and I will be using it again.

This book is meant for: People who like to entertain, party planners, wedding shower hostesses, and parents looking for creative activities to do with their kids. It is great for anyone that wants to see an impressive result, without a ton of effort or cost.