This Sh*t's Delicious

Exploring the world through cocktails, shit hole restaurants, and UrbanAg

Category Archives: Misc

Links I liked

The magnificent multitude of beer – An incredibly detailed chart of the many different types of beer and the glasses they belong in.

Coffee grind chart – How fine are you supposed to grind your coffee? This article explains.

Beakerhead: Engineered Eats

What’s this? A new blog post? No, your eyes are not deceiving you – after having the privilege attending the Beakerhead Engineered Eats sneak-peek on Monday, I felt obligated to dust off the keyboard and give it a plug. After all, a food-based event for a grassroots festival in Calgary based on art and science pretty much pushes all of my buttons!

What better symbolizes food + science than sous-vide?

Of the seven Calgary restaurants who are participating in the 5-day-long Engineered Eats program, five of them were present at the sneak-peek – Mango Shiva, Charcut, Taste, Raw Bar/Yellow Door and Muse (the last of whom hosted the event). Each had brought a special concoction or two featuring science-y “molecular gastronomy” techniques – be it gels, foams, sous-vide, caviar, etc. – and in keeping with the Beakerhead theme, most of the dishes and cocktails were assembled in a creative and artful manner.

Looks like a lot more than "just 3 ingredients" to me ;) (Muse's description says it's just tomato/basil/watermelon)

To start off, I hit up Muse’s table for their “tomato and watermelon inversion” (my description, not theirs). It was a daintily put-together mini-salad, featuring tomato, watermelon and basil in numerous combinations meant to f*ck with your mind 😉 Indeed, what appeared to be a scooped watermelon ball had the vegetably-tartness of a tomato, and the meticulously-crafted watermelon slice was of course an intensely-flavoured tomato bomb (the cucumber rind was a perfect choice!). Even the watery sauce with sprinklings of dehydrated buckwheat modelled the innards of a tomato remarkably well. Muse also offered a cocktail of sorts, a Tequila Sunrise push-pop. Utilizing a dollop of sous-vided fruit gel and topped with slushy ice, their cocktail was also an inversion of sorts (this time a thermal one!) – the mix of cold and hot sensations is a fascinating one, though the leakiness of the push-pop device proved a little problematic.

Modernizing an ancient cuisine

The strong aroma of Indian spices was difficult to miss, as Mango Shiva’s chef doled out portions of delectable chicken tikka and gol gappa on demand. There always seemed to be a bit of a lineup by the Mango Shiva table throughout the night, but it was worth the wait – the succulent, yoghurt-tenderized chicken tikka was well complemented by the balsamic caviar, mango puree and mint-yoghurt chutney. The deconstructed gol gappa/panipuri featured artfully transformed chutneys in the form of yoghurt balls and tamarind spaghetti, and the traditional flavoured water (or in this case, a less-traditional herbs-and-vodka mix) was to be taken as a shot rather than poured into the shell. All of the components are reconstructed in your mouth for a complex mosaic of flavours.

More than meets the eye

Taste offered what was likely the most humble-looking offering, with their “gazpacho-on-a-stick”. But the appearance of the minimalistic beige rectangles simply increases the shock value of the explosive flavours that arise upon putting the jelly into your mouth – it’s a full-spectrum savoury sensation. My one criticism of the gazpacho was the size of the serving – it basically filled my mouth to bursting. Who eats soup by the bulging mouthful? Kent tried to bite his and ended up dropping the rest of it on the floor (though admittedly they were kind of melting due to it being really hot in the restaurant). I think a portion half to one-third of the size would make it the ideal amuse-bouche.

All it needs is a fat straw!Hollow ice spheres for cocktails should become a new thing

Perhaps one of the more delightfully-themed dishes at the event was the Tom Yum Bubble Tea, by Raw Bar – presented in a shot glass, the tom yum soup was jazzed up with “pearls” made up of tomato caviar and currant tomatoes (which Muse also used in their dish). The floating cilantro and flower petal just added to the tropical feel. Raw Bar’s cocktail was also a smashing hit – literally! An aromatic kaffir-lime based drink featuring Vietnamese cinnamon spray and jalapeno bitters (if I’m remembering correctly), the presentation of the cocktail left many impressed – the cocktail was injected into a hollow ice sphere, which is subsequently smashed with a hammer and pin. Too cool!

Foie and brioche - just a touch of sorrel to round out the fresh lightness

Last, but definitely not least, the venerable folks at Charcut put some modernist twists on classic favourites – foie gras and brioche. Both are normally extremely rich foods, but with a little magic foaming action they were transformed into a light, airy, yet flavourful bite. The brioche was apparently foamed before it was cooked, then microwaved – sounds like something even an engineer could cook 😉 Served with the light sweetness of cognac-soaked peach and apple jelly, the foie and brioche could almost double as a dessert. Charcut’s “Autumn in Cognac” cocktail was demure but delicious – cognac plus one other fortified wine whose name escapes me, topped with a little vanilla-apple foam. Not as flashy as the other cocktails perhaps, but I think I liked the flavor of this one best.

You can check out all of the above and more from today through Sunday – in addition to the five restaurants at the sneak-peek, downtownfood and Candela are also offering science specials. Be sure to check out the other Beakerhead events as well! Many thanks to Wendy for setting this all up and extending us an invite 🙂

-Richard

Links we liked: Canadian microbreweries mapped

Plan your cross-Canada road trip with this map. [link]

Links we like: The shelf life of beer and other liquor

If you are ever wondering if Baileys improves with age: [link]

Get a Spade, Plant Some Shit: A Candid & Oft-Hilarious Conversation with @downtownfood Chef Darren MacLean on Modernist Cuisine, Life & Urban Agriculture

There is no king or queen of urban agriculture in Calgary, but if there’s one guy who’s making waves, it’s Chef Darren McLean who recently converted a barren and life-less rooftop above his restaurant downtownfood into a full-blown permaculture ecosystem. The urbanag project, while not the first of it’s kind (Rouge has one), is intended to educate and start a conversation about our food systems.

I finally found some time to sit down with MacLean and dig a bit deeper into his story. Warning: MacLean is a fast-talking, passionate, no-holds barred kind of guy. He’s an interesting blend of humility, charisma, and the “let’s get shit done” attitude that Calgary is famous for.

I have tried to capture his essence as much as I can. So, if you are easily offended, then well, in MacLean’s own words, you can go fuck yourself.

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Tell me a little bit about yourself

I am just a cook who’s trying get by (laughs).

I have been cooking professionally for about 7 years but started at Ricky’s when I was 13 as a line cook. I grew up in Calgary mainly but have always been around farms and rural cultures around Innisfail and Alberta.

I went to university for Finance, realized didn’t like too much, so switched my focus back to cooking.

What is your inspiration behind downtownfood?

We wanted to bring something new and exciting to the city. We keep our menu small and very interesting. There are no super-safe items. I try to bring out the natural flavours in the ingredients we use.

The vision behind downtownfood is that it is an amalgamation of food that occurs downtown. The heartbeat of any city is the food downtown – we are trying to encapsulate the essence or soul of what downtown food should be.

Our lunch menu is very street food-esque. For instance, our burger comes with a free strawberry milkshake – we don’t tell you it’s coming with one, we just surprise you with one. If you want chocolate or strawberry, then quite frankly, you can go fuck yourself cause it’s only strawberry for me.

What is your definition of “interesting”?

That’s a very interesting question. I want to do things that are new and different, something that you haven’t seen before. I like to challenge conventional notion of what certain foods are and get people talking about food in terms of where it came from, and so on.

Sounds like you are integrating a little bit of molecular gastronomy into your food.

We do. We cure our own bacon; we spherify and foam ingredients when it makes sense. Absolutely.

But technique for technique’s sake is a waste of time. If the technique works and adds to the plate, then I am all for it. But I don’t want to put a bunch of fucking spheres and foams on a plate just cause it’s cool to do.

If it doesn’t taste good, who cares what it looks like. It’s the flavours that preserve memories.

So you prefer the term “modernist cuisine” to “molecular gastronomy”?

imageFood should have soul. You have these chefs who are very technical and their dishes look beautiful. But if it tastes like a fucking paper bag, who cares? Molecular gastronomy has developed into modernist cuisine. Everybody can spherify – it’s not a secret – we can take it now and apply it to modern cuisine as it makes sense.

Modernist cuisine essentially is a portrait of the latest and greatest techniques of the 20th century. It is still rooted in classical cuisine and if you don’t understand the latter, then the modernist cuisine is a waste of time.

It’s cool. It’s really cool. But man, nature did it best. Why mess with it?

Give me a brief description of the urban agriculture project you started at downtownfood.

It’s a 2000 sq. ft. roof top space that we have converted into a permaculture ecosystem. We partnered up with REAP (Respect for Earth & All People), Greengate Garden Center & Alberta Beekeepers Association to create this ecosystem in a barren dead zone.

We have two beehives, solar drip irrigation, a rain catch and 36 pots amongst many other things. There are no artificial pesticides in use – it’s all natural compost.

This isn’t just a bunch of hippies getting together to plant some seeds and grow food. We have meticulously thought about it as a system all they way down to plant spacing and the plant arrangement.

That’s quite a massive undertaking. What inspired this?

You know, growing vegetables has become so foreign to us. Sixty years ago, there were no supermarkets. If you told someone you were growing veggies in your backyard, they would give you this wtf look. In a whole generation, we have managed to entirely disconnect ourselves from the food system. That’s not right.

I am an activist. I want to change the food system from the inside by leading the conversation and getting people to understand where our food comes from.

What kind of reactions have you gotten from people?

The groundswell of support has been amazing. I have random people living in skyscrapers above the garden who love seeing things grown in a barren dead space. Random people tweet me or drop off their plants for the rooftop garden.

Did you envision this as a community project from the start?

I am just an ideas guy who gets shit done. Quite frankly, I don’t understand the fundamentals of growing food. I just called up Greengate and started chatting with them. They got so excited, they donated everything.

People wanna eat real stuff man. Get a strawberry from Broxburn Farms and compare them with the California shit that is artificially ripened. You will know what real strawberries taste like.

How does one get started, especially if you live downtown and don’t have a backyard?

Get a planter, fill a box, and plant some shit.

If you get stuck, go to Greengate Garden Centers, tell them what you want, and they will know what to do. Start small with one thing at a time.

So what’s your long-term vision for this project?

I want to become a node in the community. My vision is to help people understand the culture of food and where food comes from.

In 6-7 years from now, I want to spearhead a food stop in the inner city. It’s essentially like a food bank, but instead of getting canned food, the needy get hot, freshly prepared meals from locally sourced ingredients.

I want to take half an acre out somewhere in the inner city and feed people. I grew up poor. My mother worked two jobs to support us. I ate a lot of canned food growing up.

Food is a fundamental human right.

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MacLean was kind enough to provide me a sample of his watermelon salad. I am not going to into the details of what was in it – you can go to his restaurant and find out yourself – but suffice to say, I *got* his philosophy and passion. The entire dish tasted like watermelon – that was the singular focus of the dish and it was executed well.

Watermelon is so fucking delicious – why would you want to change it and make it taste like anything else?

Brilliant.

Sushi for breakfast: Eating the world’s freshest fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market

If you are seeking the freshest seafood on the planet, look no further than Sushi Dai, located at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Tsukiji is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, and pretty much everything caught in the area will be sold through here. This is the same fish that is eventually sold to restaurants across Tokyo, so the seafood is that fresh. sushi daisushi dai

Having it for breakfast is almost not an option, since it is usually a 2-3 hour wait in line to get into the 12-seat restaurant. We woke up at 3AM on a Friday to make sure that we would get into the fish auction, which is held every morning here at Tsukiji. They only let about two groups of 50 people each in to view the auction, so its better safe than sorry. Rows of frozen tuna will be first inspected for quality and size, and then for 20-30 minutes, each slab is auctioned off for thousands of dollars, before it gets portioned off and sent to the winning restaurants. My friends and I didn’t even hit the lineup for Sushi Dai until about 6AM, and I don’t think we got inside until 8:30-9AM.

sushi daisushi dai

The four of us all got the Chef’s choice. At 3900 yen (about $40 CAD at the time of this writing), you get 10 pieces of nigiri chosen by the chef, one roll, and one nigiri of your choice. It sounds like a lot of money for 12 pieces of sushi, but the entire meal is really filling, and the quality of the fish is completely worth it.

sushi dai

Everyone is seated right in front of the three chefs working. Not only are you entertained by the work of art that is created in front of you, but the chefs are humorous and engaging, chatting with every customer. They are definitely used to tourists. Each sushi is made one at a time: the chef makes it, places the single piece on your plate, and waits for you to finish before the next one is made. There is the standard fare, like fatty tuna and shrimp. And there is stuff that is just uncommon here in landlocked Alberta, like mackerel and sea urchin. If you’re wondering exactly how fresh some of this sushi is, well the clam is still moving when the chef places it on your plate. Back home in Alberta, squid at a sushi restaurant is usually tough and hard to chew. Here, your teeth slices right through like butter.

sushi daisushi daisushi dai

Was the 3 hour wait worth it? Definitely. But if I ever return to Tokyo, I don’t think I will do it again since there are plenty of restaurants at Tsukiji of almost equal quality. Maybe I am too impatient. If you already plan on visiting the fish auction, you might as well swing by Sushi Dai right after.

New Project: A Cocktail-a-Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Cocktail-a-Day-0042June 02, 2013

Hello Internet. Today, I launch an ambitious personal project: I am going to make a cocktail a day for the next 365 days.

And blog about it.

I love making cocktails, and more importantly, consuming them. But life always gets in the way. There’s always some excuse in the way that prevents me from enjoying my passion.

After facing the epic tornado in OKC this past weekend on my storm chasing trip through the mid-West, I had an epiphany about doing things that are important. Although I love experiencing life, I am constantly distracted by so many other cool things that I forget to partake in activities that I enjoy the most.

There are many questions that my over-analytical right brain is throwing at me. What happens if I go traveling for 3 weeks? Do I pre-blog three weeks worth of cocktails? What happens if I miss a day? Does the counter re-set? Or do I count the number of cocktails made, i.e., 365, instead of the number of days? Should I be using the Adobe RGB or sRGB color space for my photos? Is this a joke? Will I be giving it up after a week?

I honestly don’t know. But I am going to launch ahead and figure out things along the way. My target is to spend no more than 1 hour a day making, photographing, editing, and writing about the drink. My inspirations are many, but my primary source is going to be the Food & Wine Cocktails ‘09 book that I picked up a couple of years ago. I have imbibed many a delicious cocktail from this holy manuscript (and also spent a lot of coin on alcohol) and look forward to going through the rest of the book.

Photography

Cocktail-a-Day-0044June 02, 2013In addition, I will be forced to practice my other passion – photography – which I have neglected for many years. I bought a simple light box online for less than 50 bucks during the last Boxing Day sale that I am finally going to get to put to use. I find a soft box is the best option as it evenly diffuses the light internally casting out any harsh shadows.

To be honest, I don’t have much experience with product photography, so it’s going to be a great learning experience. I have mainly dabbled in photography using natural lighting, so this is definitely out of my comfort zone.

For the interested, the kit comes with a translucent collapsible light box, two tungsten lamps (3200 K), and an assortment of lighting backgrounds. In order to get the lighting just right, I had to hang the second lamp from my inverted flower pot!

I am excited to further sharpen my studio photography skills – I am sure I will *absolutely need* to buy additional equipment along the way (like the Spyder4 or Light Sphere)

Cocktail-a-Day-0043June 02, 2013

Cocktail-a-Day-0045June 02, 2013

As a side note, for those interested in experimenting with product/studio photography, here’s a great article on a homebrew light box that you can make for less than 30 bucks and in under 20 min.

Thanks!

 

[infographic] Cuts of Beef

Pretty neat graphic of all the different types of beef, how it can be cooked, and its cost.

Cuts of Beef[/caption]

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 18,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Japanese Knives & The Art of Cutting Like a Chef

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I love knives. They are so…sexy. There’s a quite beauty in these sleek and sexy knives that just makes them just dangerous enough that you want to play with, but not something you want to sleep with. These knives definitely aren’t the $20 Ikea blades that you pick up cause a “knife is a knife”. Knife-making in Japan is a centuries old (samurai swords, anyone?) family tradition where the knowledge and skills are passed on through generations and apprentices dedicate entire lifetimes to hone the art of making the perfect blade.

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The premiere location to get knives in Western Canada (and maybe the whole of Canada) is Knifewear down in good ol’ Inglewood, Calgary. Going into that store is like going to MEC – you know you are going to come out with something cause you “really need it”. I don’t think I have ever walked out of Knifewear (or MEC for that matter) without purchasing something. It simply cannot be be done.

The last time I went into this store, I was looking for something in the $150 range, but ended up walking out with a Suisin INOX Honyaki that cost double that. Traditionally, Japanese knives are forged from carbon-steel which provides the hardness necessary to hold a razor-sharp edge. However, carbon-steel is prone to rusting, so these knives require more care and proper-handling. Often, the carbon-steel inner core is “sheathed” by sandwiching it between outer layers of software stainless steel. These knives have the advantage keeping their sharpness but are protected from rusting, so don’t require as much maintenance.

Honyakis are hand-forged from one single material such as high-carbon steel (carbon steel is the traditional material of choice) which is very hard. Because of this, they are difficult to forge and sharpen, which translates into a a higher price. Also because of high hardness honyakis are more prone to breaking, chipping and cracking. It took about 20 years for Junro Aoki (the designer of the Suisin line) to perfect the technique to sharpen these knives. On the positive side, they can be sharpened to incredibly thin and sharp edges that will hold for a very long time. The advantage of using stainless steel is knives that are super-light and just as sharp as carbon-steel knives. They are also corrosion resistant, and thus, easier to maintain.

The knife pictured in the photos in this post is the Konosuke Sakura and is hands down the most beautiful knife I have ever seen. These knives are similar to Honyakis in that they are also forged from steel but are capable of holding an edge similar to carbon steel knives, keep their edges, are easy to sharpen, and of course, don’t rust. This particular cherry blossom pattern is unique to Konosuke knives.

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So, the point of the lengthy digression is that when Knifewear had a 2-for-1 deal on knife cutting skills, I jumped at the opportunity. There’s no point owning a Ferrari if you drive it like a mini-van.

Some of the more basic tips for keeping your knife sharp are:

  • Don’t ever throw them in the dishwasher
  • Wash and dry the blade by hand after every use
  • Do not cut through bone
  • Use only plastic or wooden cutting boards; never cut on glass, marble, or granite as they are harder than the steel
  • Use the top of the knife to clean things of the cutting board, not the cutting edge
  • Hone your knife after every use using a ceramic honing rod, not a stainless. If it’s a Japanese knife, hone it at a 15 deg angle; European ones at 22 deg.

We also had hands-on lessons on how to baton and julienne veggies, how to dice onions without breaking out into tears like a 12-yr. old, and how to cut herbs to ensure the retain their flavour (the trick is to NOT chop like a madman).

My favourite tip was that for cutting veggies, a nakiri is the way to go as it has a straight edge which prevents the “vegetable accordion” effect that you get from using the traditional curved edge blades that don`t cut all the way through to the bottom.

So, the next time you are in Inglewood, make sure you check out Knifewear. If nothing, you will gain a deeper appreciation for knives as works of art.