Monday, December 23, 2013

Food Safety in an Emergency - Food - Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Food Safety in an Emergency - Food - Canadian Food Inspection Agency

My power has been off since sat night and it's now Monday.   I was planning on having a party this week but the food is probably all gone now.

News you should know.  Check this important info on this link.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Food Gifts

 Holiday Gifts Ideas  

There are a few people that I know that can't for the life of them figure out what to get as gifts for people and some people like me try their best to try and come up with ideas that are either specific to the person or a general thing that would make most people happy.

Here are some of my ideas for Gifts that you can give to people that appreciate good food or for those people you have no idea what to get that will make them happy.

1.  A Great Serving Platter something like this Hand Painted Plate.

2.  A unique box of Chocolates or Artisanal Chocoates like these Ginger chocolates

3.  A Cookbook for the Novice or Professional Chef, a Celebrity Chef book, Healthy Cooking or even an ethnic or beginner cookbook.  Always helpful.

4.  There's always a traditional mug but why not be not so traditional and get an Original mug or Artist original painted mug that shows the person you know what their interests are like this camera mug.

5.  How about a Morter and Pestel and some whole spices to kick up their dishes to the next level.  It's something most people don't think about but once they have one they use it when they want really intense flavour in their dishes.

6.  Your friends and family can't cook or too busy or just hate to cook.  Why not get them a gift certificate for a great local and special restaurant like Chef Lynn Crawford's RUBY WATCHCO.  The menu is a prix fixe menu that changes every night.   And you might see Chef Lynn cooking away in the kitchen too.

7.  Ever thought outside of the box for a Foodie gift that can double as a tree ornament?  How about getting your favourite baker a Specialty Cookie Cutter and tie a string on it and present it as a tree ornament that they can use to bake you some delicious cookies the following year.

8.  If you are a decent baker then bake up a batch of your best cookies and present them in a Holiday Tin or Wrap them in Individual bags and tie with a pretty ribbon.  People are always impressed that you went to the trouble of baking specially for them.  From easy chocolate chip to fancy gingerbread.  Just present it well and they will love it.

9.  Present treats or any little gift in a cute little lunch bag like this that can be reused long after the treats are gone.

10.  If you don't know what to get someone then why not get them a gift pack of Specialty teas and maybe present a whole Tea package.  Even if they are coffee drinkers they will appreciate the gift when they have guest visiting them and they can serve them the specialty teas.  No cooking skills or machines required just some tea, boiling water and a mug.

 11.  Is someone you know scare you when they are holding a knife?  Well you can fix that by giving them a gift of a knife skills class to teach them how to wield those sharp objects without people running in the other direction.

12.  And then there's always a safe bet of a movie.  Or pop some popcorn and give them this Dancing Snoopy and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special or maybe a food movie on DVD or tickets to go see a great food documentary like the one I saw recently " Spinning Plates" 

Don't forget the Mistletoe and Gingerbread like Snoopy is armed with.

I hope you find some of these ideas helpful if you are stumped with ideas for the perfect gift.

Foodies are really easy ...they love food and all things about food so there are endless ideas of things that would make them happy if you just look around and think outside the box.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Supporting Jamie Oliver

This beautiful photo of Chef Jamie Oliver, his wife Jools and daughter Petal started a firestorm of Instagram comments on Jamie Oliver's feed after he posted this photo this morning.   When I looked at this photo I remembered it from one of Jamie's Christmas Special's where he is making Gravy using chicken wings and other things.  His wife Jool's holding their daughter Petal who is looking on intently.  There is nothing negative about this photo or what was going on when it was taken but there is always 1 internet TROLL (Hater) who can turn it into bashing Jamie Oliver for being aligned with a Commercial Brand.   This photo has nothing to do with that and I found myself getting angry that 1 person could post a negative comment on this feed of what was supposed to be a family inspiring photo of family during the Holidays.  This Troll who will be nameless as to not giving him further attention although I am sure you can figure it out,  was then jumped on by the rest of Jamie's supporters including me.

Why this issue got me angry...   I became a Food Revolution Day Ambassador a couple of years ago after having watched a number of Jamie's shows including the ONE that motivated me to join Jamie in his mission.  That show was Jamie's School Lunches and then subsequently Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution in the US.   You need to know what Jamie has done over the past few years to understand what motivates him to do what he does.   Let's start at the beginning.   Jamie has 4 children now but started his career as the Naked Chef cooking dinner for friends and family.  Once he got married and had his children he was exposed to the schools that his children were going to.  I am not a parent but I know that once you become a parent you will fight for the rest of your life to take care of your children.   As a chef Jamie saw what was being passed off as food in the School Lunch system of the schools in the UK.  and as a Chef who prides himself on making real food he was disgusted and tried to find a way to change the school lunches to healthier foods.  I am sure when Jamie stepped into this bucket of worms he didn't know how this would direct his future.  I can bet he just wanted to see kids eating proper food in the UK and in turn have his kids and their friends get a better start in life.   This project turned into something a lot bigger than Jamie could have imagined.   He had to fight the government system of subsidies and the stubborness of the school employees to make changes.  If you watched the series you would have seen Jamie break down in frustration.  You would think he would just give up but not Jamie, he moved onto the US where he teamed up with Ryan Seacrest for Food Revolution, a series of how he could affect change in families struggling with diseases like diabetes and suffering other health effects from the food they were eating.  So many of the stories made me cry and I felt like I wanted to do something to join his cause because I come from a family who didn't have a lot of money but my parents worked their butts off to provide a roof over our head and proper food on the table every night.  I come from a home where we didn't have annual vacations or fancy things but we had a fully packed refrigerator and meals that were generally mostly made from scratch every day.

Now families rely on drive throughs to get their daily meals and have lost the ability to cook for themselves and pass down recipes and memories from spending family meals together.   I have helped my mother in the kitchen as long as I can remember, starting with stirring the pot or getting things from the fridge to adding spices to taking over cooking a lot of new things.  

Jamie is trying to bring this back to families who are struggling with their children getting diabetes as a child from the dependency on cheap fast food that has no nutrients to them having learning and behavioural difficulties in school.  Cooking real food at home has a direct impact on things like poverty, health, education and crime.   Crime... yes this takes me back to Jamie's Fifteen a project Jamie created to get troubled youth off the streets and away from drugs and crime and into commercial kitchens instead.   Jamie's first incarnation was the restaurant Fifteen named after the 15 youths that started in a program he created to teach them how to work in a restaurant kitchen.  While it was a struggle and not all of the participants were 100% willing to change some were and some are still working with Jamie and his team to this day.  What if he didn't create such a program?  What would those that have succeeded with Jamie have done?  Who knows but I bet it wouldn't be feeding people and paying it forward.  

Jamie has now moved on to thinking bigger which means trying to get more money to do bigger things.  He has aligned himself as a spokesman for Woolworth's in the UK and Sobey's in Canada and other things to try and spread his message and reach.   While Jamie may be making a profit from his restaurants and books and products he isn't greedily stashing the cash into a mansion in the UK and fancy cars and clothes and lavish wasteful things.   He is trying to expand his brand for YOU and everyone else in the World.  

His new book is called SAVE WITH JAMIE and it's mission is to help YOU waste less food and make food that costs less and tastes better.   I have the book and have made this Gangnam style chicken wings
which turned out fabulous.  A little kick to the humble chicken wings.

Over the past couple of years I have tried to host events for Food Revolution Day in Toronto and have found it very difficult to get any attention and interest about the event because I was trying to direct my focus on the adults instead of the kids because there are already other local Ambassadors focusing on the kids programmes.   There is a lot of apathy and general why bother with this type of attitude.  I understand from a financial point of view sometimes it costs me more money to make food at home for certain things.  For example Chinese Food.  I am not going to make deep fried Chicken Balls or Tempura for myself or make a stir fry with a dozen ingredients because it will make up a stir fry that can feed a sports team and it isn't something that I would be able to store or freeze in a small one bedroom apartment kitchen.   But at the same time there are things I can make at home and freeze that I can cook once and store in the freezer for times I don't want to cook or don't have the time or am just plain sick of take out food.   I like to make Pulled Pork in a crock pot.  It basically cooks itself and I can store it in ziplock bags for all sorts of meals at any time.  I love to make Chili in the winter as well,  it's easy to cook and freezing doesn't hurt the flavour at all.
My fastest go to comfort and satisfying and easy meal is always pasta and tomato sauce.  I love Gnocchi and like to keep some in the freezer for a quick boil and douse with a bottle of Tomato Passata with added herbs and spices and sometimes vegetables. Easy "peesy" as Jamie says sometimes.

Back to the point of this post.  One guy on Instagram started bashing Jamie for his alignment with Woolworths for their support of Australian famers not making enough money.   Really.. what does this "loverly" as Jamie calls it, picture of his family got to do with Woolworth's and their policy.   Go talk to Woolworths if you have an issue about their policies.   While I agree that Farmer's should make a lot more money and should get subsidies from the government to grow and raise Organic Foods it's a case of a big picture of economics and who's running the food distribution system.   The farmer is a small cog in a big wheel and unfortunately they should be the big cog and the rest should be the small cogs but it just doesn't work that way right now.   Maybe you can join me and other Food Revolutioner's and help voice your opinion to make that change.  I always support farmer's because they are the people that provide food for us to live on.  I doubt everyone in the world is going to own a cow, chicken, etc and grow all their vegetables in their backyard and be self sufficient, it just can't happen anymore so we need to support the farmers and give them incentives to going back to the old farming techniques of cultivating the land and developing nutrient high quality foods with Organic standards.

This is why I support Jamie and his mission because I see the BIG PICTURE on how it contributes to the World and the future of people's health in the world.  

Please support one of these things to make a positive change:

  1.  Support Jamie and all of the projects he is trying to do.
  2. Join a Food Revolution Day event or become an Ambassador
  3. Support local farmers
  4. Shop at your local farmer's market
  5. Buy Organic foods when you can.
  6. Learn how to cook by watching Jamie's Youtube channel or from one of his cookbooks or TV shows.
  7. Experiment with food and try and make new things.
  8. Teach the kids around you about food and how to appreciate where it comes from.
  9. Know what's in your food and where it comes from and how you can find out.
  10. Write letters to your local politicians to voice your opinion.   They won't have a job if you don't vote for them so they work for you.
Follow Jamie on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc.  @JamieOliver 

Friday, December 6, 2013

KitchenAid Cook for the Cure Culinary Showdown

KitchenAid Cook for the Cure

Today is the last day to raise money for the Culinary Showdown for the Cook for the Cure.  I only managed to raise 10% of my goal and $80 of it by baking cookies and selling them at the Canadian Youth Business Foundation Office.  Thank you to all of those of you that supported the cause.   Unfortunately I didn't raise enough money to be able to join a celebrity chef team and participate in the Culinary Showdown but all of the funds that I did raise will go towards the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.   If I do this again I know I need to bake cookies well in advance to raise more money or I need to meet some new rich friends.

Good Luck to those lucky top 50 fundraisers that will be participating in the Culinary Showdown on Dec 7th.

I raised a total of $250 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and received a White Apron for raising $250 or more.

I didn't get to go to the Showdown but maybe I will try again next year.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Old fashioned Parlour with a New Fashioned Spin

The other night I was invited to go and check out a new Sharing Menu at the Parlour Kitchen-Bar-Lounge.  Parlour's date back to the Speak easy times of the 19th century with a room that was reminiscent of the Parlour or best rooms in one's house.  From the minute I stepped into the place it was a bit like time travelling to another time another place another kind of life.   Located on Adelaide St. West in Toronto in the Club district it's not the usual Club Style of place.  It's located in the lower level of the building but you only step down a couple of steps to get inside.  Once inside you forget what's happening outside.  The windows are draped in Velvet curtains that block out any indication of the urban environment outside.  I was welcomed by the owners and the publicist as if I was stepping into their home.   I was promptly seated and my coat taken to be hung up and out of the way.   It was a rainy/snowy evening but I totally forgot 5 minutes after being inside the space.   I asked a friend to join me who I thought would enjoy that kind of place.   His first impression was the same as mine and he fell in love with our lovely waitress Jenny who told us she usually tends bar and at the end of the evening she said we were her favourite table.   I don't know if it's true but I think she did enjoy all the compliments my friend was showering her with.  Jenny brought us an Old Fashioned Spiced Drink for my friend and a Pink Parlour drink for me.

Now back to the space.  There is a large bar a slight nod to the Cheers (where everyone knows your name) style and where we were sitting by the window were a few high tables.  On the other side of the bar/lounge was the Lounge area with some vintage looking settees and large comfortable chairs that you could sit and cosy up near the fireplace with a friend or loved one.  It really had a warm and cosy feel to the place.  Very intimate and with great background music that didn't overpower conversations like some Lounges do.  That's a big turnoff to me.  If you aren't dancing, you are likely to be chatting and trying to get to know someone or trying to catch up with someone and there's nothing worse than having to yell over the music and leaving without a voice at the end of the night.

And now to the rest of the Staff,  everyone was so welcoming, gracious and friendly and a pleasure to meet.  I think they really want to build up a regular clientele who take ownership of the vibe of the room.  

Then there is the food.   Yes the food was all Sharing types of food.   With Chef Ghanavati who is a well travelled and experienced chef in the kitchen turning out solid plates of food.  Some of my favourite dishes were the Margharita Pizza which is generally a favourite of mine but this was a light crispy crust with beautiful latte di fiore cheese perfectly melted on top.   Not a soggy mess like some places make them after they sit for a minute or 2.   The other favourite was the Beef Tartare served with a Truffle Aoli and nicely toasted baguette slices.   My friend really enjoyed the lamb and beef meatballs.  There was also a lighter dish of quinoa in a belgian endive (canoe) as they called it.  Very tasty and very light.   We ended our tasting with a Cheese board with one Quebec Cheese, Saint Paulin I think,  a Portuguese Manchego and an Italian Parmesan cheese served with the baguette toasts and a marmalade.

Really the only thing that was missing from the menu for me was either a fruit, or dessert plate but I think they have Cannoli available on their menu.  It just wasn't on the sharing menu that I had.

All in All I would totally recommend checking this place out and taking a Date, meeting up with friends during the holidays,  making it an after work destination place or girls night out when you just want to chill out and enjoy the company you are with.

For more info check their website:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sharpening up my Knife Skills

Not long ago I went to a launch event for the Culinary Showdown, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation's Cook for the Cure Event.  They were trying to recruit foodies and food bloggers to sign up to join the Culinary Showdown by raising funds that go towards the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.   The event was held at Cirillo's Culinary Academy, a beautiful cooking space that is used for events, classes and team building.  If you signed up that night for the Showdown you got a free Knife Skills Workshop at Cirillo's, so I signed up because I thought if nothing else at least I can say I actually took a Knife Skills Class.   Tonight was the night for the class.  There was about 25-30 people there, all comprised of people that signed up and have started fundraising.   Unfortunately I am nowhere near my goal of $2500 to be able to participate in the showdown but I am trying to raise as much money as I can.  If you want to help me out and DONATE a bit of money to the cause here is the link to my page: DONATE HERE

When we arrived we sample a bunch of tasty bites and beverages that they had ready for us to try and get warmed up and ready for the Class.

The owner of Cirillo's talked about the importance of sharp knives and how to sharpen them and did a couple of quick demo's of how to cut an onion and zucchini, herbs and mushrooms properly.  I think the Knife Skills class is more of a pre emptive safety class before some people compete in the Showdown because he told a couple of stories about how a couple of people got hurt at the showdown from lack of experience and I think a lack of common sense and skill.  I think it's in their best interest to have everyone have at least basic knife skills and then the rest is up to the Celebrity Chefs.

It was a really fun night.  After the quick demo we hit our own stations to cut up some vegetables.  The 2 girls at my station were really good and according to the chefs we were the pros.  I took my time because the last time I went to a Cutco event I actually cut myself because I wasn't used to the knives.  I made sure I didn't repeat that again.  One of my station mates is also a Gastroposter and I think we recruited the third person into becoming a future Gastroposter as well.

And Here are the results of our labour:

I would totally recommend going to an Event or Class at Cirillo's on Dundas St. West at Islington Ave. It's a beautiful place and you can learn a thing or two and have a great time.

Everyone should learn basic Knife Skills and in fact basic Cooking Skills never hurts anyone.

Go cut and cook... and don't forget to sponsor me for the Culinary Showdown....  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Martha Stewart doesn't know about Food Photography.


Recently Martha Stewart posted a series of really bad food photos on Twitter and people started bashing her photo tweets.  Why? Well because the food looked like some tired chef just tossed food in a rush on a plate and then Martha took a fast pic in bad lighting showing that same food.  Martha Stewart may be the Queen of Entertaining but she has a lot to learn about food photography and what looks good in a picture.  We can't all be perfect in everything.  While I myself have taken a lot of bad food photos I have also taken a few good ones just with my Ipad or a simple point and shoot camera.  The most important thing in taking a good food photo is LIGHT.  That's the most important thing in photography and the most important thing to make food look good.

Some of the Golden Rules of Food Photography:

  1.  Use natural daylight if possible
  2. Try and make sure the light isn't too bright to washout the contrast of the light on the food.
  3. Don't ever use the flash on your camera straight on your food unless you are sitting in a pitch black room but even then your food won't look good.
  4. Think about composition and framing and read up on the law of thirds if you don't understand that.
  5. Make sure there is contrast in color on the plate.  Example of what won't work ever is White plate, white food and bright light.  It will just look like a plate of snow.   Same thing goes for black plate black food etc.   You get the picture*  black food on a white plate will give you excellent contrast but you have to know about lighting to make it look really good.

Here are some photos of Bad, Good, Better and Best in some of the shots I took recently and the differences in lighting.

1.  BAD

This photo was shot using my IPAD in an artificial lighted restaurant.  It's out of focus and kind of boring.  There is a bit of color but I couldn't have made this look a whole lot better with better lighting and more time paid to the way the Calamari were plated and the composition of the food.  It was a quick shot and not even as bad as some of Martha Stewart's photos of puke like looking boring dark food.

2.  Here's where the different lighting sources really shows the difference in how your food would look with different light sources.

The first photo of Martha Stewart's Biscotti recipe that I made plated on a white plate with silver pattern was shot after I made them and it was at night in my dark apartment so I tried to turn on a desk light to add more light  You can see the that it's too bright on the right where the light is coming from and then there is a huge dark shadow on the left.

This second photo was shot in my kitchen with the biscotti just placed on a white cutting plastic cutting board on top of a red one.   It looks flat and the color is bad because the lighting was the fluorescent ceiling lights in my kitchen.  The worst lighting for everything.

 This is the same photo but I used an Instagram filter to bump it up a little bit and it cropped it.  Better but not great.

This last photo was shot the next morning when the natural sunlight comes through my northern facing apartment.  I have limited times where I get maximum light quality and I got lucky that I had these 2 beautiful rays of light that just hit a nice spot on the biscotti.

What I also did was place the biscotti on textured boards.   First on the wooden cutting board and then on a slate board.  I moved it around until I liked the placement, the composition and the light that was coming through the window.

Now compare the first photo to this one and you can really see how a simple biscotti photo can go from a cookie that looks eh.. to a biscotti cookie that you want to eat.


I think Chefs should take photography and food styling classes before opening their restaurants and maybe some other arts classes so that they can really maximize the way their food looks on the plate so that people can eat with their eyes first and really have the brain wake up to what they are about to eat.

I always love it when I go to a restaurant where there is beautiful lighting,  beautifully plated food and the taste of the food to match.   That's food perfection and a dream for any food blogger or foodie.

Chef's and Restaurant designers take note.    A restaurant trick many restaurants use is to serve on white plates so that the food colors stand out..  see back to beginning when I mentioned white food on white plates.   You can only do this if you toss on something extra with color, even if it's just parsley or paprika to break it up.

Oh by the way,  this last photo was just shot with my ipad and I used the Lo-Fi Instagram filter which is my favourite food filter.   No photoshopping or any other special lighting or correction.

I am constantly striving to make the food that I make look and taste better and try and find ways to experiment with taking the photos in the use of different backgrounds.  I use plates, platters, cutting boards, place mats and foam core or whatever else I can get my hands on that I can use to change up my photos.

So this post is for you Martha Stewart or all of the rest of you Martha Stewart wannabees or food loving photography challenged people.

I hope some of my quick tips help you eat with your eyes first from now on.

Happy snapping and eating.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Restaurant Review: Patois Jamaican Restaurant

A friend suggested that I check out a Jamaican Restaurant called Patois Jamaican Restaurant in the Pickering area.  He wanted to know what I thought about the place and the food so for his benefit and yours if you happen to be in the Kingston Rd. Hwy 2 area you will know what this place is all about.

On a beautiful saturday afternoon we ventured on the 401 East to Hwy 2 and stopped into Patois where I took in the whole experience.  The restaurant bills itself as more of an upscale Jamaican food dining experience but they do have Take Out available.  The restaurant has been open for about a year but the owner's are looking into some improvements and building their business and doing outside events.

They are currently working on a new website which I think has probably limited their reach by not having one over the past year.  They do have a Twitter @patoisJA account, facebook and Instagram (@patoisjamaican).

The first impression I had of the restaurant when I walked in was that it was very sparse or as one might say minimalist.   There are black tables and black chairs close to the large windows and against the opposite wall is a long banquette.  The space is very bright due to the fact that it is mostly windows without full window coverings.   There is an excellent painted face in the corner of the restaurant that was painted by the owner.  A talent that should be showcased more in the restaurant.

The menu consisted of the usual Jamaican standards like Jerk Chicken, Jamaican Patties, Ackee and Salt fish and Oxtail.   I decided to try the Coconut Shrimp and you have a choice to get it with rice or Provisions,  I asked what that consisted of and was told it was yams, and dumplings.  I assumed it was like fried dumplings etc.  As it turned out it was just boiled yams, banana and dumpling.  I would recommend getting it with rice instead to soak up the delicious coconut curry sauce that is poured on the shrimps.  The provisions are just boiled and very bland and meant to sop up the sauce but they were a bit hard to eat.    My friend ordered the Ackee and salt fish.  I tried a forkful of it and enjoyed the taste of it.  It was full of flavour.

The food is a bit more upscale and presented a little nicer than the Ritz Restaurant chain but I think they should expand their menu a bit to stand apart from other Jamaican Restaurants in Toronto and the GTA.  

They are a work in progress and plan to make changes to the interior and hopefully will add on some new things to their menu soon as they are planning on developing a catering menu.

I would like to see more touches made in the dining room and they said they were going to work on a few decor changes.

The place is owned and run by a husband and wife team who are the chefs while they have a young girl manning the counter.

Just an FYI... don't expect fast food service times. The wait was a little long but I hope they improve  once they get into a groove.
I will revisit the restaurant when they make the changes and will do a follow up post.

The restaurant seems to be building a regular clientele so it can only get better for them once they reach out to more people through social media.

If you like Jamaican food then check it out.  The prices for an entree were approx. $12 although my dish was $15 with tax for the provisions.  Try the rice and peas, they were very good.