Thursday, July 27, 2017

Beer's History and Toronto's Rorschach Brewery...

If Water is Mother Nature's fuel, then Beer must be Mother Nature's Rocket fuel!

"When men learned how to cultivate, cook and consume grains, we went from cave-dwelling savages to upright citizens."-- National Geographic's film EAT: The Story of Food.

"Who'd knew that when you put together grain, water and a bit of yeast, you can create this fermented alcoholic beverage that is absolutely delicious?"-- Chef Eric Greenspan

30,000 years ago we discovered how to cultivate, cook and consume grains. But what came first- Bread or Beer? According to the doc film- Eat: The Story of Food, bread has artifacts that date back to 30,000 years but none show when beer was actually born. We do know that the earliest recipe for beer came from Mesopotamia, and that in Ancient Egypt, pyramid labourers were paid in beer. Since beer is high in calories, it was an excellent energy drink to keep workers going. The Egyptians were one of the earliest civilizations to brew beer and the large breweries produced as many as 30,000 barrels a year.

Once the ancient food systems switched to agriculture, grains like barley, millet, corn and wheat were made into beer. Additionally, beer was seen as the drink of the common man because it could be made anywhere – it became a moveable feast if you will. Europe was the epicentre of great beer-making but in the US beer varieties were very limited. Further, after the prohibition in the 1920s, it became very hard to find good beer. The trend became to please more people akin to what was happening in the food packaging market. Thus, the flavours were bland and developed to meet the tastes of the masses. They appealed to the lowest common denominator. Put another way, the beer lacked quality. By the 1990s in the US, many microbreweries were springing up in basements and back rooms. More recently, especially over the last 30 years, the renaissance of craft beer has exploded in North America and has even transformed our Ontario beverage landscape. For example, there are now over three hundred breweries all over this great province. The diversity of craft beers, that we now enjoy, is unprecedented in history and ranges from humble to bedazzling. So much so, that the number has now increased by over 100 new breweries in comparison to last year. This explosion in growth is researched and well documented in The Ontario Craft Beer Guide. by Leblanc & St. John who came out with their second edition of the book a few months ago.

Launched just shy of the 2017 publication of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, we will be sure to find our very own Toronto's Rorschach Brewing Co. in the third edition. Rorschach’s story began in 2006 when three soon-to-become chemical engineers, Matthew Reiner, Chris Ristevski and Mohan Pandit met each other in the halls of the Wallburg building at the University of Toronto. With a joint passion for beer-making, they set up shop in Matthew’s basement studying the magic of fermentation. Extensive travels to research beer-making coupled with countless beer tastings in the years to come and crossing paths with Ben Ragan - a seasoned wine and beer maker - Rorschach Brewing Company was born. Pronounced "ror-shack", the name comes from a psychological test that dates back to the mid-1800s where ambiguous symmetrical inkblots were used to examine a person’s personality and emotions. The foundation of the test shows that each individual can appreciate the ambiguity and complexity of an experience according to their own ‘perceptual set’. 

"Beer, just like food, is a personal experience; no two people’s tastes are exactly the same. Our goal is to facilitate and enhance that experience, and ultimately help to elevate the beer experience."-- Rorschach

Much of the space is decorated with salvaged wood and material.

My family was invited to the brewery by co-owner Mohan Pandit's uncle Nick. Nick and I met at a grocery store a few years back (he was also my guest blogger with his delicious Apple Chickpea Salad recipe). He had just conducted a health & safety orientation with the brewery's staff and wanted me to come check out the goods and enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour with the kids. But first a Sunday romp across the street at the Ashbridges Farmers' Market. It had such a warm, friendly neighbourhood vibe for families, friends and just hanging out.

Fresh, delicious harvest and homemade goods and foods!

The building is the amalgamation of three distinct structures, beginning with the front of the building which is the
original brick home built in 1917. An extension was built onto the rear of property and used for boat building from 1932
until the mid 1950s. The warehouse that was built in 1970 was adjoined with the existing two buildings in 2008.

Photo Credit: Rorschach Brewery Co.
From left to right: Co-Owners Mohan, Matthew and Chris and Manager Ben 

4oz. tasters were the way to go with so many to choose from on tap. The full sensory notes described for each one made it that much harder to select a few. We went for a range of light and dark beer.

Enjoying the experience on the patio with the crew.

My twins enjoying some handcrafted sodas in silver birch beer and old tyme orange!

My favourite of the lot was the "counterconditioning" blueberry IPA brewed with oats and hopped with mosaic, citra and ekunot hops, fresh blueberry puree, notes of blueberry, red fruit, citrus and pine, hints of vanilla and stone fruit.... smooth, light-bodied, flavourful to the nose and tongue, and refreshingly enjoyable to the finish!

Love the gorgeous spacious rooftop patio and family-friendly atmosphere!

What's beer without some munchies... A nice selection of tapas-sharing plates, we noshed on nachos with pico de gallo and guac, fried calamari (nice touch with the fried pickled hot pepper rings), fries, battered-fried eggplant spears (Omgosh so deelish), and jerk-rubbed chicken wings!

We had a nice surprise meeting with the previous owners of the location, and proprietors of Le Papillon on the Park, Paul and Danielle Bigue, who stopped in for some food and drinks.

My French-speaking husband having a nice French conversation :D. 

The tour begins....  Here the refrigerated kegs of beer are hooked up with tubes that snake up to the rooftop patio's bar to serve beer from their taps.

And it all starts with the grains... 
The stuff of our foods that is the most basic, and everything is celebrated from that simplicity! 
Bread, pizza, pasta, beer...

Nolan was our awesome, very knowledgeable and friendly behind-the-scenes tour guide....

Photo Credits: Nick Pandit

Giant hectolitre tanks fill the back space connected to the casual restaurant in front.

The beer-making process is very technical and labourous that takes days from brewing to bottling. Chefs of beer see grains as the canvas, and then paint with herbs, hops and other ingredients to add flavour and build character.

The mega-bottling machine.

They are looking forward to growing their own herbs, vegetables and flowers on their rooftop garden for the brewery. A huge plus is they have a large free parking lot right beside their building! 
Check them out this summer:

"As a small brewery and tasting room, we intend to experiment with different brewing styles, unique ingredients and innovative techniques, but we will always have a heavy focus on the specific styles of beer that we enjoy to brew and drink. We strive to craft beers that are both full of flavour and make us want to have another." -- Rorschach Brewery Co.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sautéed Escargots and Mushrooms in Butter, White Wine and Garlic...

We can all agree the classic combination of butter, white wine and garlic equals ridiculous deliciousness! But mesh two ingredients best served in this intoxication, and you've got eyes-rolled-back-of-head Heaven BOMB for your senses! Mushrooms check, escargots, check check! Tickled-fancy by an instagram post by @passionate.cook with their escargots and mushroom caps, sautéed with a little garlic, fresh herbs and topped over crispy baguette, I held back my drool and bolted out to the store. Not only did I make my own rendition with oyster and shiitake mushrooms, I made up a large batch that doubled up as a sauce over pasta (with diced tomatoes). An appie and a dish to enjoy my meal from beginning to end :D.

Escargots and mixed mushrooms over red pepper sundried tomato ciabatta. 

Sautéed Escargots and Mushrooms in Butter, White Wine and Garlic

2 tsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter

2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
mixed mushrooms (I used oyster and shiitake (cleaned and stripped/sliced))
2 cans escargot, drained, rinsed and well-drained (about 36-40 snails)
1/3 cup white wine

a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and ground black pepper to taste
parsley, chopped
1 baquette, sliced and toasted

For the pasta:
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 pkg. pasta (I used fresh linguine), cooked according to package instructions

Ingredients for the pasta sauce-- just add tomatoes!

Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté garlic until fragrant and soft. Add the mushrooms and cook for one minute while sautéing. Add the escargots, and cook for about another minute. Then finish with white wine and let simmer for another minute; splash with a squeeze of lemon juice then season with salt and pepper. Toss in parsley.

The harmonic aroma of garlic and white wine is intoxicating!

Scrumptious bite of soft yielding mushrooms and escargots over crunchy toasted bread.

Now for the pasta: move the escargots over in the skillet, add a little olive oil and sauté the tomatoes for a minute until soft. Mix it with the escargot and mushrooms, toss in more parsley and you've got a sumptuous sauce for pasta.

Looks so French and Italian at the same time... Oooh la la! :D

The dish that started it all with my love for plump canned snails-- Escargots au beurre d'ail, a popular French appetizer of snails in garlic butter baked in a six pocket ceramic dish. Yum!

Friday, July 14, 2017

DIY Hawaiian Poke Bowl...

Poke pronounced "POH-keh" is trend-setting the food scene in Toronto, and for good reason. First it was maki sushi-style burritos and now it's all the same fresh makings in a poke bowl. Healthy, delicious and customizable, this Hawaiian dish is a favourite for native Hawaiians and has been around for centuries.

Poking (haha pun intended) late at night on Yelp for interesting downtown restaurants my eyes immediately transfixed on images of eye-popping vibrant fresh poke bowls, and I couldn't help salivating. The gorgeous cascade of raw salmon and tuna cubes over rice with a heap of sublime avocado beautifully bespeckled by green onions and sesame seeds had my taste buds in yearning. Forget waiting to go downtown, I must have this the next day. Not much different than making DIY sushi rolls (which we have occasionally), I was gung ho to make it happen. The only concern was finding ripe avocados on the spot. And I scored-- for a price at $3.29 each, but what the hey, when inspiration strikes you do whatever it takes :D. While it may look complicated it really is super simple. Pick up fresh ingredients, do a little prep, cook the rice and you're set to have your own fun make-your-own poke bowl.

Reading down the menu of ingredients offered at the place of my inspiration Poke Box, I rendered a list for shopping. 
Here is the assortment of things I used to customize our rice bowls.

sushi rice (see below for preparations)
fresh sushi-grade salmon and tuna, cubed
imitation crab meat sticks, shredded by hand
flying fish eggs (masago)
ripe avocados, cubed
edamame beans (shelled)
green onions, sliced
alfalfa or pea sprouts
Japanese seasoned seaweed salad
spring mix or torn lettuce leaves
fried onions
wasabi peas

sushi ginger
toasted sesame seed

wasabi paste
ponzu citrus sauce

unagi eel sauce (sweet glaze)
soy sauce
Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise
Sriracha hot sauce
furikake (nori rice seasoning)

The most important element in sushi is always the rice-- vinegared rice. You can also cook the rice without the kelp and forgo the vinegar mixture. I like to make mine as authentic as possible for the best taste experience. To prepare:

Vinegared Rice for Sushi
Serves 4 to 6

3 cups short-grain rice
4-inch kombu kelp
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Soak the kelp in water for about one hour to make stock for the rice. Wash the rice 30 minutes prior to cooking and drain in a strainer. Meanwhile, put the vinegar, sugar and salt into a small pot and heat slightly until dissolved.

Place the rice and kelp stock into a rice cooker and cook. When cooking is finished, keep the cooker covered and let stand for about ten minutes until the grains are settled.

Transfer the rice into a large shallow bowl (wooden if you have is best), moistened with a little water. Sprinkle the vinegar dressing all over the rice. Using a flat paddle or wooden spoon, toss the rice with horizontal, cutting strokes while cooling rice with a hand-fan. Cover the rice with a clean towel until ready to serve.

* Use only a sideway cutting motion when mixing the vinegar dressing otherwise the rice will become mushy.
* Wooden bowls eliminate excess moisture of cooked rice and keep grains firm.
* Use electric fan to cool rice-- expose rice to breeze while mixing the rice for best results.

You can serve the fish raw on its own or dress it up. For the salmon I simply sprinkled some sea salt and a splash of lemon juice. For the tuna, I marinated it with a mixture of ponzu, soy and sesame oil.

Set everything out on the table and invite your family and guests over to start topping.

Serving the meal with some Korean side dishes of marinated spicy radish strips and dried anchovies.

A little Furikake seasoning goes a long way in flavouring.

My excited son Etienne's poke bowl.

1-2-3, where your bowl goes nobody knows....

Whatever fits your fancy, top to your heart's content!

Indeed a kaleidoscope of colours, flavours and textures!

Love the final touch of kewpie mayonnaise and sriracha.

Wasabi peas for crunch and bite! POW!

Mix it up! A bowl you can eat with chopsticks and a spoon!

Try creating this for your family and friends. It sure makes a great refreshing summer entertaining party theme that is sure to please! Just prep it, set it and let your guests take care of the rest. :D

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tango with Mango: From Breakfast to Bevvy...

Walk into Asian supermarkets these days and you will likely find boxes of bright yellow ataulfo mangoes on sale. There can be stacks of them piled high for your picking. The cheapest I've seen were 20 in a case for $6.99!! Of course the best is always eating it ripe freshly peeled, but if you are looking to savour the bounty of fruit with other complementary flavours, here are some ideas from breakfast to bevvy that have won my family over.

Have you ever tried mangoes in a sandwich? Yes a sammie. This was an easy peasy idea my sister-in-law from Quebec made for us while visiting when my boys were babies. It is as simple as slicing up mangoes and bell peppers into strips and wrapping them in a pita with grilled chicken breast (here I used shredded leftover rotisserie chicken meat) and a spread of mayonnaise. It was an amazing taste combination!

Jazz it up for a heartier fare with added veggies like lettuce, tomatoes and red onion. This could be a great lunchbox idea for your young campers.

The soft & crunchy textures with creamy & sweet flavours really makes this a colourful & fresh standout summer wrap!

Why not serve breakfast with cut up mangoes on the side instead or on top of the usual fruit companions? 

Mangoes and papaya add a tropical touch to French Toast.

This Caribbean-inspired black bean salad is a vibrant colourful medley of fresh sweet and fruity flavours, with crunchy textures and bite! In here, we've got mangoes, papaya, bell peppers, raisins, almonds, lime juice and jalapeno. So refreshingly good also served along a meal of Slow-Cooked Jamaican Oxtails.

Papaya Mango Black Bean Salad

Homemade mango sorbet! Simply freeze 4 cups of diced mango for several hours. Then along with 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar, whiz in a food processor for five minutes and serve. See more on my post on how to best cut a mango.

Mango Sorbet

Forget going out for those uber Taiwanese fresh mango icy dessert bowls. Make your own with crushed ice, fresh mangoes on top, a dollop of vanilla or mango ice cream and a drizzle of condensed milk... 

Fulfilling my son Etienne's persistent request :D.

Take it a step further and make mango juice shaved ice, and add a beautiful cascade of cooked adzuki red beans for an authentic Asian dessert taste experience.

Shaved Ice with Mangoes and Red Beans

And of course, we can't forget Vietnamese smoothies, or sinh to. The thick creamy shakes-- made from blending peeled fruit, crushed ice and a touch of condensed milk until glossy-- do double duty as drink and dessert. Next time you have a bowl of beef noodle pho, try ending the meal with a fresh mango smoothie. To make your own Vietnamese-style mango smoothie at home, blend 1/3 cup chopped mangoes, 1 tsp. sweetened condensed milk, and 1/2 cup water. Add 1-1/2 cups crushed ice and blend until smooth. Serve with a straw and spoon.

Mango Smoothie Vietnamese-Style

I hope I've inspired you to experiment-eat your way through your box of mangoes. How will you eat it next time?

This month, we've got a Food Revolution #cookwithfoodrevTO contest on how you eat your fruit! Snap a photo and enter for a chance to win a Jamie Oliver cookbook. See here for all the details.