Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sprout Award Voting Begins!

For the last four years the folks at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks in Vancouver have put together a list of their favourite cookbooks of the year and let their customers vote for their choice. At stake is the store's People's Choice silver Sprouts Award. (There is also a Judge's Choice award.)

This year has some great contenders, including a number of books from restaurants that focus on local, sustainably-sourced ingredients like Araxi and C Restaurant in British Columbia, Paley's Place in Oregon, and The Kitchen in Scotland. I'm really excited to see places like these put out their own cookbooks and share their philosophies on food and cooking. It's even more exciting to see them on short lists for awards!

Here is a complete list of the nominees Sprouts Cookbook Awards. You can find some quick reviews of the books themselves, as well as link to the voting page, on the shop's blog: Cooks with Books.
  1. How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis (Little, Brown & Company)
  2. Tender by Nigel Slater (HarperCollins)
  3. The Tastes of Sonora Resort by Matthew Stowe (Sonora Resort)
  4. Araxi by James Walt (D&M)
  5. Momofuku by David Chang (Clarkson Potter)
  6. The Paley's Place Cookbook by Vitaly Paley and Kimberly Paley with Robert Reynolds (Ten Speed Press)
  7. From Nature to Plate by Tom Kitchin (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  8. C Food by Robert Clark and Harry Kambolis (Whitecap)
  9. Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller (Artisan)
  10. French Taste by Laura Calder (HarperCollins)
As usual, if you are considering buying one of these books, please support your local independent bookseller like Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks in Vancouver or Appetite for Books in Montreal.

Have a great local foodie or independent bookseller in your region? Let us know!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sushi Time. Sustainably.

Last night I went out for Sushi with friends and family. I used to restrict myself to the vegetarian selections on the menu, but now I have other options. As soon as the menus came around, I pulled out my iPhone, accessed the Seafood Watch app, and selected their sustainable sushi guide. After explaining what I was doing to my dining companions, the conversation turned to the guide itself and what sushi on the menu was sustainable.

Much to our disappointment, few of the items on the menu merited the Seafood Watch "Best Choice" stamp of approval. In fact, the only best choice was the oyster tempura. We fared somewhat better on the "Good Alternatives" with surf clam sashimi (atlantic clams); and since king crab could be ruled out, we decided that the crab choices were also either a best choice or good alternative. The eel, salmon, shrimp and scallop choices all were rated "Avoid", which didn't stop some of the diners from ordering them. (Although, I'd like to think they ordered less of their unsustainable choices in favour of the sea-friendlier ones.) "Imagine if we all had one of those guides and followed it. Sushi shops would be really challenged," said one diner. We all nodded our heads somberly.

Personally, it's my hope that sushi-goers will get their hands on this guide and use it to ask their servers questions and guide their sushi choices. It's available as a wallet card, and iPhone and iPod touch app, and on the Web. If you order a wallet card, consider ordering a couple of dozen and giving them to your friends and favourite sushi restaurants.

Have you used a sustainable sushi guide at a restaurant? What was your experience? If you haven't used a sushi guide, would you?

Monday, January 18, 2010

2010: Trending to Simple and Sustainable?

The most recent issue of Marketing magazine forecast the top five trends in food for 2010. I think the list is really interesting because it shows a shift in mainstream culture in relationship with food. Here's a summary:

1) Butcher rules: Expect a renewed interest in local meat and local butchers and people increasingly want to know where their food is coming from.

2) Fair Trade: Interest in fair trade food continues to rise despite a downward trend in organic foods.

3) Relaxation foods: Calming after-dinner digestifs and products to help people unwind will start replacing energy drinks.

4) Sense of simplicity: The economic downtown is creating nostalgia for simpler times and food, which is driving an interest in natural foods.

5) Serving nostalgia: Chefs and restaurants are returning to simpler, pure ingredients.

So what do you think: Are these trends that we'll see in the coming year?

Source: Rebecca Harris. Pass the Locally Sourced Bacon. Marketing Magazine (Rogers Media). January 18, 2010.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Culinary Highlights of the Eastern Townships

The 11th edition of Montreal en Lumière starts February 18th and I'm looking forward to the "Wine and Dine" portion of this ten-day celebration of Montreal's winter urban arts and food scene.

One of my highlights of this year's edition is exploring the culinary offerings of the Eastern Townships, this year's featured region of Quebec, at the Jean Talon Market and at various restaurants around town. The activities at Jean Talon Market are easily the most accessible in this series. From 9am on Saturday and Sunday, February 20th and 21st, producers from the Eastern Townships will be featuring their products and available for questions. The activity is free, so check them out!

On the pricier end, four restaurants in Montreal will be welcoming chefs from the Eastern Townships into their kitchens to create menus featuring their local heritage. It certainly sounds like a one-of-a-kind experience for a night out. If you are interested, reserve early. I'm told these dinners can sell-out quickly.
  • Chef Jeffrey Stirrup at L’Inconnu is pairing up with Geneviève Fillion of Sherbrooke’s Le Bouchon to create a five-course tasting menu with her region’s local produce taking centre stage. ($55, or $85 with wine pairing; details here)
  • Chef Jean-Paul Giroux at Cuisine & Dépendance is teaming up with award-winning chef Alain Labrie of La Table du Chef in the Eastern Townships. French cuisine with local ingredients will be featured. ($70, or $115 with wine pairing; details here)
  • Chef Jean-Baptiste Marchand at Bistrot La Fabrique is welcoming Danny St-Pierre of the Auguste restaurant, where he will be recreating some of his "market-driven" Eastern Townships classics. ($45, or $75 with wine pairing; details here)
  • Chef Laurent Godbout at Chez L'Epicier is going back to his roots with chef François Tourigny of La Table Tourigny, with whom he first started his culinary career. French cuisine with a local twist takes centre stage. ($85, or $135 with wine pairing; details here)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Easy, Inexpensive Party Nibbles

Over the holidays I was looking for some easy and relatively inexpensive ideas for nibbles for an informal evening get-together. I only had half an afternoon to prepare for the party, so speed was important. I also wanted to use somewhat local or seasonal ingredients. Here are a few of the things I settled on.

Homemade French Pâté
Although I regularly make my own veggie pâtés, I hadn't thought of making my own liver pâté until Mark Bittman included his recipe on his blog just before Christmas. Local or organic pâtés can be hard to come by or expensive, and Bittman claimed the recipe would be easy and delicious, so I gave it a try. It was! It also made about three cups of pâté, which was enough for the party with some left over to freeze. (I'll let you know how that turns out in another post!) I served the pâté alongside some crackers, crusty bread and a selection of cheeses. The organic livers were purchased from Boucherie Les Fermes St-Vincent, an organic butcher at Atwater market. For the non-liver-pâté eaters, I made my vegetable walnut pate.

Stuffed mushroom caps
These are always a hit and are really easy to prepare. I don't really have a fixed recipe for these. Basically, I chop up the stems of the mushrooms with about a teaspoon of marjoram, a good scoop of cream cheese, about 1/4 cup of dry bread crumbs, about 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, and some ground pepper. I mix everything together, stuff the mixture back into the caps, and then bake at 425F for about 10-12 minutes. If you're pressed for time, you can prepare them in advance and just pop them in the oven.

Horseradish sour cream dip
This dip is great for doing double duty for both chips and veggies. Again, I don't have an exact recipe, but here is the formula: Basically combine a 250 mL container of sour cream with about 5 teaspoons of horseradish (adjust the amount based on the strength of the horseradish), 2 or 3 cloves of minced garlic, a handful of chopped chives, and about a teaspoon of freshly ground pepper. Mix everything together and chill for a few hours before serving.