We here at Passable do a lot more than just talk about food. When we have time, we like to cook/bake/preserve/prepare it as well. That means having well stocked kitchens, pantries and refrigerators. From Mackerel to Maldon salt to our moms, we wanted to share with you some of our favorite things, places and people.
Eastside KP’s picks:
- Maldon Salt: there is always a box of this on my dinner table. Yup the box – fancy, eh. But it’s so delicious – flaky and salty but not overpowering – that it doesn’t need to be fancied up in some kind of container. I never thought I could be as excited about salt as I am about this salt.
Soda Water: I’m not partial to any particular brand, but I always have cans of soda water in my fridge. A few years ago I remember reading somewhere that a can of tonic water has as much sugar as a can of cola, and I switched from tonic to soda immediately. It took a bit of getting used to – that first gin and soda was pretty bitter – but now I can’t abide the sickly sweetness of tonic. I use it a lot as a mix for juice: a soda pop replacement.
Chowhound: this website doesn’t seem to really have taken off in our region. The are probably other places that folks turn to for their eating out advice, but I’ve always been partial to chowhound. The local board might be a bit sparsely populated, but still enjoyable. And the advice on the site has helped me find many a great meal in New York, Chicago, and other cities.
Heiwa grocery : Chebucto Road in Halifax is home to my favourite Asian grocery in the city. Well stocked with a focus on Korean and Japanese staples – it’s where I get my Sriracha sauce, gyoza wrappers, Mochi Ice cream balls, kimchi, ramen noodles, Pocky and more. Mary Park is often behind the counter and you couldn’t ask for a more friendly, enthusiastic proprieter. She often makes me tea and gives great product information. She gave a full tutorial (including hand written instructions and drawings) for stone pot bibimbap when I went there looking for ingredients (and dishes). A Halifax treasure.
Duck Rillette from Ratinaud Cuisine Française: available at the Seaport Farmers market along with great pâté and other French delights.
Public library cookbook collection: full disclosure, I’m a librarian, so maybe I’m too close to this to be objective, but I can’t help but feel that every home cook should be taking full advantage of their local library collection. My branch has two aisles of books devoted to cooking of any kind you can imagine. When I have a hankering to try a type of regional cooking I’ve never tried before, want to check out the cookbook of the latest celebrity chef I’ve been following, or seek out a recipe for a particular dish I want to try – the library collection is the first place I turn. I almost always check out from the library and try a few recipes before I buy a copy.
Just Us! coffee and sugar (in bulk): The staff at Just Us! always seem to look at me a bit oddly when I haul the 2lb bags of whole coffee beans or the 4kg bags of sugar up the counter. The sheer size makes them seem a bit more fitting a purchase from a big box store than a local cafe. But if you want to buy fair trade organic sugar or coffee and you’ve got a bit of storage space, it’s an economical way to do it.
Dalla Piazza Citrus Press: seriously, this thing changed my life. If you ever juice lemons or limes you really should just buy one of these. Really easy to use and clean, and very sturdy. It’s probably my favourite kitchen utensil.
Oxo Good Grips jar opener: another small utensil that has really improved my kitchen experience. I have a really hard time opening jars: this makes it a breeze.
Andy Murdoch’s picks
- Simplicity: I have a toddler, so this year was consumed by the principle of keeping it simple in the kitchen. Making simple things taste good is not so simple. I’ve been working on my mac and cheese, stews, baked beans and beef & barley soup. It takes a lot of practice to get a dish right. Lessons learned: Mac & Cheese: Don’t skimp on the sauce. Baked beans — don’t overcook beans in the parboiling stage! Stews — cook the night before and eat after 24 hours. Polenta: add a whole head of blenderized kale.
- Fresh mackerel. The randomness of their appearance always makes for a special event. When I see them, I buy ’em. I grill them with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon. I only wish they were available more often (note to The Fish Shop: please get more!).
- Coffee: Columbian Monserrate and San Pedro beans from Java Blend. They’re the best on my home stovetop.
Dairy: Foxhill Quark. I love Foxhill for what they do – for their efforts to go against the grain in Nova Scotia and follow their own path – but I find their cheese underwhelming. I eat their their yogurt all the time, however, and what I really like is the Quark. Quark adds dairy tang to pasta, quiche or borscht. My wife makes a spread with quark, smoked mackerel and green onion that’s great on crackers or rye bread.
Writing: Dorie Greenspan’s book Around my French Table landed on most best cookbooks of 2010, but for me, there’s a food site that helps me read about hot new destinations and trends in Paris that wins my vicarious living award of the year. Inspired by the popularity of le fooding, some of Greenspan’s friends created Paris by Mouth, an English-language blog about eating in Paris.
Easy bread: This was the year I really took Jim Lahey’s My Bread book to heart. Great, easy pizza dough and the long-rise no-knead bread is a staple now in my house.
Beer: I love the beer coming out of Sea Level brewing at The Port pub in Port Williams.
The 1, 2, 3: One egg, two pancakes, three slices of bacon. Or is that 3 pancakes and two slices of bacon? Either way, it works, trust me, because it bridges the brunch gap between starch and protein.
Dim Sum at Fan’s: Firstly, because they are kid friendly. The accept the mess and the waiters all come over and coo over my kid. Secondly, the kid loves floppy rice noodles & dumplings. Finally, you can tell the dishes are made in-house and are not reheated factory stuff from Toronto. Their dim sum menu is far better than their day-to-day one.
Amy Wilson Sanger: Her World Snacks series of children’s books are fantastic. I love them, especially Yum Yum Dim Sum.
Boulevardier: Bishop’s Cellar gets Henri Bardouin Pastis. HB is a great pastis. Stronger than Pernod and far tastier. After HB, you’ll only use Ricard in a saucepan. It’s in another league of boules. It’s worth the $33.
Off the Hook community supported fishery: The haddock was fabulous and it was fun to fillet the fish and talk to friends after work in the fish line. Sure, it was overpriced, with no selection, but still, I hope this CSF trend takes off and grows in this province.
Simon Thibault’s picks
- Lion & Globe Peanut OilI discovered this stuff at a local asian grocer. Most peanut oils could easily be substituted with other veggie-based oils, and you wouldn’t know the difference. But this stuff is amazing, it smells deeply of roasted peanuts and is perfect for stir-frying dishes, especially when you just want to quickly sauté your food. It imparts a wonderfully nutty and fragrant aroma to your dishes. It may be a little more pricy than others, but it’s totally worth it.
Ketjap Manis – Indonesian Soy Sauce
I have in my fridge, at any time, at least five soy sauces – two Japanese varieties (including tamari), Chinese light and dark, but my favorite is their indonesian cousin, called Ketjap Mamnis. Unlike other Chinese or Japanese soy sauces, this one is tinged with a pleasing sweetness, as palm sugar is added to it. Depending on the brand, it can be either thick and viscous like molasses, or as thin as regular soy sauces. The thicker variety works well in marinades, while the second is best served simply over steamed rice or used in quick stir fried.. Conimex makes a great thin version, but it can be hard to find. The thicker version is easily found in most asian grocery stores.
Your mom had one, and she prolly used it to drain pasta, or maybe to sieve flour, or icing sugar on cookies. Yeah, they’re great for that, but I end up using mine for doing much more than that. I wrap cheesecloth around it and pass stocks through it, leaving me with crystal clear broths with much less fat in them. I pass cooked fruit through them to make sauces and pastes, or even fruit bases for sorbets. What I end up with is consitent, even textures in my sauces, soups, sorbets and more. A life saver and a tool of refinement, all in one.
Vanilla sure isn’t plain, especially when you’re talking about beans. These beautiful dark pods have a much more delicate and complex perfume than their Madgascar (or Mexican) cousins, but they are also less flavoursome. Having said that, their smoky, luxurious aroma is enough to convince me of their grace. Luckily, the Grainery Co-Op at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market carries them and for a good price too!
“I can’t bake.” I’ve heard everyone from supermoms to chefs to hanger-steak-scarfing food fiends say this. Let me say this once: YES YOU CAN. People get intimidated by baking, thinking it is an exact science with highly rigid rules. Well, guess what? It kind of is. But did you know how to play checkers until someone explained the rules to you? Nope. Baking is the same thing. And sometimes, just like checkers, you’re going to lose. Your cake won’t rise. Your cookies will spread out too much. Your pie dough will be tough. And that’s when people throw out their baking sheets. But you don’t have to. Ask friends who are bakers what they do, why they do and when they do things. Go to a library and borrow some baking books. You’ll soon start to see patterns in recipes, and some of the best ones will explain to you why that is. Because let’s face it, opening up the oven and finding your cake has risen, your cookies are golden and your pie crust is flaky is pretty awesome.
Learning to season
“Season with balls!”, chef Renée Lavallée told me. I wasn’t sure. I was always afraid of using salt/pepper/vinegar/lemon juice when I cooked. Wasn’t that supposed to happen at the end of the dish? But my dish already has salt in it, with the bacon? Right? Nope. Learning to really taste my food, and to make minor adjustments as I went along – and learning to accept mistakes and take joy in my victories – have made me a better and more confident home cook. That lentil salad? A little bland, until I added red wine vinegar. Those onions? Yeah, adding salt now not only helps them get rid of some of their excess liquid, but it also gives a greater base for whatever they are going in to.
Forget Google. Forget youtube videos. Moms are the real source for culinary information. “What did you put in that sauce?” “How long did you cook that fish?” “Why is my pie dough tough?” Moms usually know. They are irreplaceable and indispensable. They just KNOW. But then again, so would you if you had to make dinner for your husband, your picky kids and anyone else who happened to sit down at the table that day. Oh, and did I mention that you had to keep it interesting, so that no one complains about eating a particular dish “again?” Thanks Mom, and all the other moms out there who taught us how to eat, how to cook and how to phone home.