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Vol. 3: No. 187 – September 18, 2014

How does Canada’s Top Chef handle a major picnic hamburger crisis?

There we were, all nine of us in Georgian Bay, 30 miles or so from even the meanest grocery store and we realized that we had left our frozen hamburgers from Olliffe in Toronto. Chef Loseto, Canada’s 2014 National Culinary Champion took charge.

First he found 12 tiny Olliffe raw hamburger sliders in our freezer. He used these as a base. He then proceed to chop up part of the remainder of the cooked rare prime rib PEI roast from Olliffe we had had the night before. Only the gristle did not go into the raw meat.
Next, he told us that, in his view, hamburgers should be softened somewhat to get the taste and texture right. So he added to the now regular sized hamburgers, a mixture of 75ml of milk and 4.8 oz of bread from one of the hamburger buns (panko would also do) for every 4 hamburgers to be made. Two eggs were mixed in to bind the mixture and salt and pepper as well. Then he grilled the result, turning it over a few times to be sure the raw meat cooked through evenly.

These were the finest hamburgers we had ever tasted but improved further by the application of a wild chanterelle pickled relish salvaged from our refrigerator, which he had brought with him for other purposes.

We were astonished that the mixture of cooked and raw meat went so well together. Chef Loseto tells us that some of the premium hamburgers served by some fine dining restaurants in Toronto always add cooked meat to improve the taste.

A potentially disastrous picnic turned into a culinary lesson!

Baking Bread at the Cottage

In June, we set out our basic 2014 cottage bread recipe. This year we incorporated whole grain red fife heritage flour purchased from Fiesta Farms into the previous recipes. Last month we mentioned that our baker, Shawn Gabrysch, suggested that when you use whole grain flour, you leave the initial bread mixture longer to rise than the 5 to 8 hours originally given, and instead let it rise overnight. Shawn warned that the second rising should be then strictly limited to one more hour. We did this on the weekend and had our best result of the summer.

Now we will start experimenting with substituting our own home-milled flour and we hope to improve the taste even more. Our new baking method this year which uses a pizza stone in the oven covered by a mixing bowl, is giving better results compared to the previous covered iron pot because the bread can be cooked longer on the stone without burning the bottom. According to Michael Pollan in his book Cooked, we must use our own sour dough yeast to optimize the taste of our newly milled flour. This project will be reported on at the beginning of cottage summer 2015. Let’s hope it is a warmer one!

GM foods – the scientific view

Nearly every day, the media bombards us with scary stuff about the prospects for food. Here are some examples:

- By the end of this century, population may have more than doubled. But demand for food will increase faster than population growth because more and more people are eating animals which also need food.

- Currently, food production consumes nearly 3/4s of the world’s fresh water production, some of which is drawn from underground aquifers which will soon be extinguished. How then is it possible to double food production without its essential component, water?

- Chemical fertilizers consume large amounts of fossil fuels or are produced from them. Will the increased fertilizer needed to spike food production be sustainable?

- Are the environmental hazards of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or chemical fertilizer runoff manageable, eg. the Lake Erie drinking water crisis this summer?

- Are monoculture crop strategies sustainable or will they lead to plant extinction – think of the current threat to the banana or the orange which may disappear because they lack diversity of species.

Compared to the above questions we have always thought it was difficult to get too worked up about genetically modified (GM) foods. However, when someone like David Suzuki says they are bad, who are we to disagree?! That being said, the argument against GM food always seemed difficult to understand.

In the August 25 edition of The New Yorker, Michael Spector, in an article entitled “Seeds of Doubt,” raises significant doubt about the validity of the anti GM case. He states in the article:

“For thousands of years, people have crossed sexually compatible plants and then chosen their offspring for what seemed like desirable characteristics (sturdy roots, for example or resistance for disease)…… in the middle of the nineteenth century…Gregor Mendeln demonstrated that many of the characteristics of a pea were passed from one generation to the next according to predictable rules. That created a new science, genetics, which helped make breeding more precise. Nearly all the plants we cultivate – corn, wheat rice, roses Christmas trees – have been genetically modified through breeding to last longer, taste sweeter, or grow more vigorously in arid soil.

Genetic engineering takes the process one step further. By inserting genes from one species into another, plant breeders today can select traits with even greater specificity…..
Molecular biology transformed medicine, agriculture and nearly every other scientific discipline {is similar}…But… {they have}… always prompted a rancorous debate over the consequences.”

And, writes Spector, the debate about GM foods is no different. The article goes on to address the main arguments against GM foods and does a good job of disproving them. Amazingly, he even manages to humanize the current Chairman of Monsanto who turns out to be a canny Scot Hugh Grant, who sounds downright sensible.

Along the way he disposes of the argument that playing with genes interferes with God’s will, or worse, replaces God’s function. He quotes Prince Charles writing in the 1990s “This kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God and God alone,” a sort of weird variation on the “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” theme – one which he may wish he never made.

This article is clearly written and seems conclusive that current science does not favour the anti-GM brigade. Let’s not mention an old UWO fellow alumna, Vandana Shiva, who appears prominently in the article.

Lettuces more beautiful than flowers – go to Sobey’s!

We stopped by Sobey’s in Parry Sound and found a pallet of the most beautiful lettuce we have ever seen; fresh, multi green coloured, artfully arranged and growing live. It was supplied by Roelands Plant Farms who have a new 4-acre greenhouse operation near Lake Huron. Here is how they describe their products:

“Our lettuce plants are growing in rock wool: a safe, sustainable, and natural product. Besides being the most ecofriendly product to grow our plants in, rock wool provides the perfect environment for the roots to thrive. By delivering the plants to you with the block still attached the roots never leave this ideal growing environment. This provides you with greatly extended shelf life for your lettuce.”

And what a sight they are. Each plant is so beautiful it could replace the flowers on your table. We were bowled over. We do not know who they supply near you but you can write them through their website.

Chef Loseto reports from the Terminal that Ontario produce is having one of the best seasons ever

Most summer and fall produce was on sale this week at the Ontario Food Terminal. The Chef tells us that the cool and wet summer weather made for a superb and abundant Ontario crop this year. Virtually all the berries were on sale but now they are being joined by fall fruits like apples and pears. Quince was missing as the sole quince farmer became one of the many missing farmers at the Terminal. Ontario peaches seem better than ever this year.

We noticed that the yellow corn at Browns Farm was the best in our memory. You reach Browns driving up the 400 turning off at Forbes Road just after Barrie and then left on 93. Browns is 3 or 4 driveways on the right and then after you buy your corn, continue on 93 which conveniently rejoins the 400 taking you north.

At the Terminal, the Chef bought wonderful cauliflower, artichokes, field tomatoes, zucchinis and peppers. He thought the cherry tomatoes were outstanding.

He noted that many fall vegetables were available but held off buying them, wanting to finish the summer season. He liked the squashes, brussel sprouts, turnips, parsley root and all the other fall and winter produce available. Peas in their shells are in very short supply (don’t buy the bagged ones which can be woody). They are expected to return soon as a second crop which has been planted matures.

The Chef thought all this produce was amazing and told us that, ironically, the cool and wet conditions which most of us complained about provide lots of water with great results. The many farmers who do not irrigate grew outstanding crops.
On the import side of the Terminal, the Chef bought lemons and oranges from California. He passed on the BC cherries which are now selling for more than 3 times what they started at this year. Only one seller had them and this may have accounted for the premium. Grapes from the US look really good and the Chef recommends the green Thompson mini grapes. He also liked the pomegranates.

There are many wild chanterelles from Saskatchewan and elsewhere available at the moment as well as the lobster mushrooms form BC and Oregon which are still available.

On the meat front, the Chef continues to offer lighter summer meats. It is too early to begin braising but the Chef is working on new flavour combinations to get ready for the fall.

As an aside, we found this year in BBQ season that marinated meat, which we occasionally used, never seemed to work out well. So we asked the Chef what he did at home. First, he never buys pre-marinated meats at stores because he thinks the marinade tends to break down the meat, destroying its fundamental texture. He tends to use salt and pepper only when grilling except occasionally he mixes a Korean marinade or simply applies herbs and garlic in both cases for not more than 30 minutes.

The season for wild salmon and halibut from BC is about to end and the Chef is looking at replacements. So far he is experimenting with cobia form South Carolina and wahoo, which is a white to grey species of mackerel, but much more mild. Most comes from Hawaii and is known there as ono. Ours comes from the US mid Atlantic.

The Chef has been buying large 80 pound tunas. Some of his dishes are using to advantage the red Toro from the fish’s belly.

The Chef is changing over his desserts to replace berries with stone fruits. He is finalizing the design for apples, pears and soon bananas to replace the stone fruit.

Wine School turns to Chianti in September

Eric Asimov, wine critic of The New York Times, reviews the results of Chablis drinking in a recent article. Nothing too surprising here. He claims that while nothing may be better than a good Chablis, there are a lot of bad ones which disappoint. He reviews the reasons.

This month, he suggests we learn about Chianti. Asimov reviews the history of this wine which is as checkered as the checkered table cloths we associate with it. Here are the questions he asks us to consider when drinking:

On Flavor and Aroma
As with many Italian red wines, Chianti Classico offers a blend of sweet and bitter flavors. I experience this as a sort of push-pull tension that can make a wine thrilling. How do you perceive it?

On Texture
Good Chianti Classico can display noticeable tannins and acidity. If the wine is in balance, the acidity and tannins create a sense of structure, felt as a lively freshness and shape. Out of balance, the wine can seem sharp and astringent. How do you experience it, and how does it change with exposure to air and food?

Good sangiovese wines offer a sense of purity that can be hard to define. For me, it’s the notion that nothing mediates between the aromas and the flavors of the fruit itself and their direct impact on my senses and emotions. That is, no evidence of oak barrels or of the winemaking itself. Do any of these wines offer you that experience?”

Our own wine expert, Ian Thresher makes the following suggestions:

“Being Italy’s biggest DOCG, it goes without saying there is an ocean of bad Chianti wine but, Classico is usually the better expression and quality in the world of Tuscany’s most popular wine.

To be named “Classico” is not enough to be produced within the Chianti region. It has to be from 7 historic subzones and also has to respect specific rules. Its blend is 80% for Sangiovese, 20% for other grapes that can be either native grapes such as Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as other international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The best Sangiovese grapes are used to produce Chianti Classico Riserva. Riservas also require a minimum maturation of 24 months including three months of bottle fining, as well as minimum alcohol of 12.5%. (They can be as high as 15% sometimes).

I’ve chosen one regular Classico and two Riservas from different vintages and good producers. Note the price difference on the Riservas. It’s really interesting to see what 9 dollars can give, quality wise. 2007 was a very popular vintage but they seem to be aging fast. Make sure to have some antipasto ready, these wines will all be much better with food!”

Casa al Vento Aria Chianti Classico 2011 $19.95. /378026/

Piccini Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 $20.95 /134791/

Marchesi di Castello Leonello Monastero Chianti Classico Riserva
2009 $29.95 /362541/

— Le Patron

A monthly online newsletter, Ecclesiastes 3 contains Le Patron’s ruminations on local seasonal food markets as well as speculation on broader global food issues.