Archive for ‘Eating’

March 27, 2013

Buying Cast Iron cookware

Recently, as I’ve been getting more into preparing food over going out, I’ve been paying more attention to cookware.

I’m not a gourmet cook. I do stove top frying and sauteeing. I do a lot of fish, pasta and mixed vegetables. And what I’ve found works best (at least for me) is cast iron skillets. Why cast iron? It holds heat evenly and consistently, without hot spots (if it’s quality cast) and it is better non stick than coated pans.

Cast iron is not all the same, however. Modern cast iron (post mid 1940s) is not as good as the more vintage skillets for a couple of reasons. The iron ore used after about1940 is said to be of a lower grade than previous ore. As a result of impurities, there can be hot spots and uneven heating. In order to maintain strength, the newer cast pans are thicker and heavier to compensate. The lack of the skilled tradespeople required to sculpt these pans is also a factor in the newer and heavier pans.

Not only does the extra weight make them harder to physically handle but also less responsive to heat manipulation from the burner.

Cast iron takes longer to heat than stainless or aluminum but it maintains its heat for much longer.  When cooking with cast one turns down the heat after the initial heat-up and lets the pan do more of the work. A thinner pan will be more responsive to heat input.

Older, thinner and purer cast iron are therefore better cookers and easier to handle.

As well, older cast iron skillets were hand ground after removal from the mold. The cooking surfaces, after conditioning, were like glass. Newer cast is pebbled because the cost of hand grinding led to its discontinuation as a cost cutting measure.

The end result is that modern cast iron is less non stick as well as less effective.

I’m afraid I don’t know much about Canadian cast iron as most quality products seem to be American.

There are several quality manufacturers of cast that date from about the 1880s. Griswold is the most desirable manufacturer (for collectors) followed by Wagner. Other well known brands are Vollrath, Wapak (known for thinness and lightness) and Favorite Piqua. The latter two happen to be what I own and enjoy.

If you are interested in cast iron there is a wealth of information available. One site I particularly like is The Cast Iron Collector (

The most important part of owning cast iron is learning to clean it properly. Water and soap are enemies of cast as it causes rust. A well seasoned iron pan (seasoning essentially involves heating the pan in the oven or stove top with cooking oil) is easily cleaned with a simple damp cloth while still hot and then allowed to dry and cool gradually. It is then lightly coated with oil and is ready for the next use.

The antique pans can be quite expensive to buy on eBay. A #9 or #10, the most versatile sizes, can run $50 and up (plus delivery) for the best sought after brands. They can often be found, however, at garage sales and the like for $5 or $10 and, unless they are badly damaged or warped, can be re-conditioned to perfection with a bit of effort.

A modern Lodge cast iron skillet can be had for $30. Personally, I would say if you can afford it, try a vintage skillet and you will never look back.

I must say that I don’t think I have used anything but cast iron on my stove top in the past year.

July 25, 2011

Splurging on dinner

Ok, so sometimes I need to step out a bit and do dinner in style. When that time comes, I often go to my favourite Portuguese restaurant in the College/Dufferin area. It’s at the higher end of my spending regime, but sometimes I feel I’ve been a good boy and I deserve it.

This place is staffed by professional waiters who know what they are doing. The service is pretty quick and happily appropriate to the cuisine. That cuisine is quintessentially Portuguese–the barbeque.

They barbeque bare steaks, that old time specialty, steak with an egg on it, all kinds of chicken and the real reason to go for Portuguese–fish. You can get grilled salmon, halibut, bream and, of course, cod. And with each of these fish you will get a couple of boiled potatoes (why do Portuguese potatoes taste so much better than my mother’s) and about a pound of steamed broccoli. Oh, and if you order the salmon, bring your appetite or plan on lunch the next day with the doggy bag you are going to take home. They don’t fool around here when it comes to portion size.

The salmon is going to cost you $13 (plus tax/tip).

The  large portion of chicken kabob comes with a great rice side dish (not just rice but with some kind of tomato sauce mixed in), a large salad and will set  you back $11.

Yeah, I know, I’ve gone over the top on my budget. But, really, this place is worth it.

In the summer time the real value comes to the fore. This might be the best patio restaurant in the city. It’s huge and treed and bustling with family activity. And if you hit it on a Wednesday, you will be treated to free portions of roast pig fresh off the turning spit. Vegetarians need not apply.

The icing on the cake? After 6 pm, on street parking is free… unless of course the weather is nice and you don’t need parking because you cycled over.

This place is great and I highly recommend it. Too bad, though, that Matt Galloway outed in during the World Cup of Soccer last year as the best patio in the City at which to watch the games. As a result I found it hard to get a seat in prime time. So I am not going to Galloway it to another audience.

Just rest assured that if you don’t know where I am talking about, you are really missing a great deal and a great experience.

July 24, 2011

Eating my way across the West Annex, and beyond

If there is one thing I really like to do (not unlike all of you as well) is eat. And I admit to a proclivity for eating out.
Bloor St between Bathurst and Spadina has an excellent selection of eateries. It is missing a good Italian place…ever since the $10 all you can eat Tres Fontaine disappeared several years ago we have been left with no representatives of the world’s greatest cuisine…except for decent pizza slices at Pizzaiola.

So, lets embrace our inner Asian selves and enjoy some good Japanese (and some Asian fusion) food.
I admit to a very strong initial reluctance to eat raw fish. I wasn’t going to let a sushi dish leave me with a metre long fish tapeworm. And I’ve seen them alive and up close.  But, although I still occasionally find myself wondering about diphyllobothrium infestation I have, nevertheless, given in to my inner need for fish in any form.
Since we have no Portuguese restaurants in the neighbourhood, we cannot immediately avail ourselves of the planet’s best prepared fish. Instead, we can still have very good fish on Bloor St.
After literally trying every Japanese sushi place on the strip, I initially settled on Sushi on Bloor (515 Bloor St W) as the best. It’s atmosphere is quite young, mainly students. It can be quite hectic. The noise level is loud, the lineups can be long. If you are there after about 6:45 you can expect to wait a while to get seated.

The food is generally very good and the prices are great. You can eat well for under $10. As with most of these sushi places salad and soup are included, as is a scoop of ice cream for desert.

If you don’t catch a line up and want a quick, good and cheap meal, you cannot beat Sushi on Bloor.

However, and it took me a couple of years of devoted loyalty to Sushi on Bloor before I was able to accept this, for about $1 more per entree, my current favourite restaurant has even better food and the decor is a bit nicer. But I am not going to name this eating establishment because I don’t wish to Galloway it (*def. `To Galloway`: To announce to a large audience a herebefore hidden treasure of a restaurant, which then becomes so overcrowded you can no longer get in. Named after Matt Galloway, after he outed the patio of Bairrada Churasqueira on the air during the summer 2010 World Cup.)

What I really like is that it is less crazy and busy than across the street. It is better suited to a more leisurely meal. And the fish on the rainbow rolls seems just a bit fresher here. But I think the teryaki meals are better at Sushi on Bloor as it comes with more, and better, vegetables.

My current fave is indeed one of the best prepared and best value restaurants in Toronto.

There are other good Asian and sushi places on the strip that I will speak of in future articles.

I want to give a notable mention here to a couple of other places worthy of some consideration. I really like the potato pizza slices that Enzo prepares Pizzaiola. Thats the Pizzaola near Howland and not the newer usurper closer to Spadina.

And now that Ghazale (beside the Bloor Cinema) has fish as part of their $6.99 dinner plate, they are a value, taste and heath oriented pit stop for a quick take out. You can eat there but it isn’t the most pleasant place to sit with only 2 seats and a line up of people. But, just to repeat myself, there is not a better value for a good solid meal than Ghazale’s.

July 7, 2011

Eating Matt Galloway

Well, he’s done it again. Matt Galloway of Metro Morning on CBC Radio I mean.

He lives in downtown Toronto and I am convinced he’s out to ruin my leisure life. During the FIFA World Cup he talked about a certain Portuguese restaurant on College St as having the best patio in Toronto at which to watch soccer.

Well that did it for me getting a table on the patio last summer.

Now he has a schtick where he is asking people to out their best kept secret places to take out of town visitors to see the real Toronto. This week someone from the Cookbook Store spoke about the great sandwiches at a little place that I frequent on the way back from a long bicycle ride. It only has about four outdoor tables and cannot handle a crowd. I haven’t been there since the program but I presume that’s been ruined as well.

So what’s with that, Matt? Are you out to ruin my life?

I’m going to have to start following Matt around so I can out his favourite places so he can see how it feels.

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