Saturday, December 12, 2015

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak- Sips and Bites – Holiday Gift Edition

Sips and Bites – Holiday Gift Edition 

The past months have been busy with a lot of travel and other commitments, but I’m glad to be back. With Christmas almost upon us here is a short roundup of books and gifts that are sure to please your favourite foodie, even if that is yourself!

I’ve had the pleasure of living over the past few months with a few cookbooks that I have come to appreciate. Any cook will love one or more of these to peruse once the turkey is done!

I wrote in May about “Curbside: Modern street food from a vagabond chef” by Niagara-based Chef Adam Hynam-Smith (Whitecap Books). It is indeed a wonderful source of inspiration and one of my favourite books of the year.

Another book that I have turned to often, since I got my review copy, is the mammoth tome, “The Food Lab” by Kenji Lopez-Alt Managing Culinary Director of the great online site Serious Eats. He “birthed” the 6½ pound (seriously, you need to read this on a sturdy surface) earlier this year and I find myself drawn to it, not least for its down to earth and very practical writing, but to check on things like when to salt meat, his extensive testing of techniques etc., and for a better understanding of the science behind cooking. Given its size it has hands down the best cost per page ratio of any of the books I’ve seen this year.

My forays into Molecular Gastronomy have been helped by the book of the same name by Jose Sanchez, published by Wiley. It is a lovely book, that is both highly technical and practical, really aimed at culinary students. I like it for the clear definitions, history and explanations of the applications of various compounds used in molecular cuisine.

I’m also enjoying a trio of more ethnic books which are helping me re-connect with my European

roots, places I’ve enjoyed visiting, or cuisines new to me. “From a Polish Country Kitchen” by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden (Chronicle Books) takes me back to the recipes that were so familiar when I was growing up. They are dead on, and complement the vaguer books and hand written recipes I inherited from my mother.

Ikaria – Lessons on food, life and longevity from the Greek Island where people forgot to die” by Diane Kochilas (Rodale Books) takes the longest title, title. It is also a wonderful reminder that not all Greek Cuisine is souvlaki and feta salad. One is transported to the Aegean and encouraged to explore some of the healthiest dishes one can imagine, while learning about a setting one might voluntarily fly closer to the sun to reach.

Finally, New German Cooking, by Jeremy and Jessica Nolen (Chronicle Books) is a stout book (it has a nice solid, embossed cover), that updates German cuisine to lighter fare, heavy on the veggies. There are several recipes that I want to try, particularly some of the desserts.

On the gift side of things, a cow apron, made from real cowhide would be a neat, if expensive, addition to the kitchen armament, particularly of serious barbequers. You’ll never need another apron if you get this one from Backhouse Bistro in Niagara on the Lake via their website.

More manageable pricewise is the selection of Pristine Gourmet’s selection of vinegars and cold pressed virgin oils. The sunflower oil is terrific, and the Niagara wine-infused vinegars are nothing short of spectacular. You can easily purchase their products online.

The serious experimental chef or barman will appreciate the Imperial Spherificator from our friends at Cedarlane. I’ve been told you can produce caviar “pearls” from pretty well anything, providing the wow factor at the next event you host. While I’ve not tried it, I can tell you it sounds a far easier process than how I’ve made them to date!

Finally tickets to food events are always welcome in the old stocking. The winter launch of “Taste of Burlington” is always a good time, and tickets are available now for the Feb 9th event at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. You can also get gift certificates for participating ToB restaurants via the same site.

You can get advance tickets too for the Living Rock’s 2016 Soupfest (Feb 23rd at the Hamilton Convention Centre). It’s a great cause and in addition to a toonie Auction & live entertainment, local celebrities and politicians come out to serve soup and help with the event. I’ve been asked to come back as a judge, so see you there!

Popup Hamilton’s first event of 2016 is Mardi Gras on Feb 6th and a neat gift idea is a limited “Pop Up Gift Certificates for Two” for home delivery. The package allows admission for two to any popup event in 2016 and can be obtained by emailing dave@popuphamilton.com.

A couple of years back I featured a new artisanal distiller in a column. Geoff Dillon and his team have gone on to win some impressive awards and various of their products are LCBO listed. Their ever-expanding selection of bitters make for great stocking fillers and are available in several Hamilton and Burlington locations. A visit to the Distillery however is needed to pick up their unique Orangecello or, if it is still in stock, the brilliant, complex Absinthe.

Finally, check out the Holiday Edition of B City Magazine which is about to hit the streets: It has a feature on some other great tipples that are well worth trying, including unique offerings from Maverick Distillery in Oakville, and Vieni Estates in Beamsville.

With that, I wish all readers of The Hamiltonian and Food for Thought the best for the holiday season.

To see more pictures, click here
To see all past columns please see (and “like”) the Food for Thought Archives
Alex (Alex can be reached at fft@thehamiltonian.info or on twitter @AlexBielak)

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