Bannock’s holiday tourtière
This time of year, it takes a strong will not to indulge, whether it be in the beautiful pastries and cakes spilling out of patisserie windows or the drinks at a holiday party. We say, why even try? We’ve rounded up some of our favourites, along with a few other gifts that your food-obsessed friends are sure to love (including one salve for those who’ve indulged just a little too much).
For those hoping to allay guilt accumulated from too much yuletide indulgence, Belmonte Raw owner Carol Belmonte suggests her juicing cleanse. Depending on the severity of the indulgence, the program can last anywhere from one day to three full weeks. Each day, Belmonte will deliver juices made from organic vegetables and produce, cashew milk for protein, a little coconut water, an elixir and a liver-cleanse tea. Crucially, it also comes with a detailed schedule explaining how and when to consume the various components.
Kick up the standard holiday spread with handmade fruit and vegetable pickles from Mississauga’s Edna Fernandes. These versatile condiments feature the flavours of Goa, and can be served as dips, with rice, bread and grilled meats, or spread in sandwiches. The best-selling hot eggplant flavour is made from vegetables purchased from Mississauga farmer’s markets, while the newly launched zucchini special is blended with roasted red pepper. The aromatic and sweet pear chutney uses pears from Fernandes’s own tree. To our ears, Goa-style pear chutney sounds a lot more practical, not to mention more delicious, than a partridge in a pear tree.
From Food Truck Eats to the Toronto Underground Market, everyone has been buzzing about Rossy Earle’s Diablo’s Fuego, a hot sauce that’s more rounded and balanced than tongue numbing. Earle hand-picks a proprietary blend of peppers and combines them with aromatic garlic, scallions, cilantro, parsley and other spices. Tart lemon and cider vinegar give the sauce a mild sharpness, which is mellowed out by fruity olive oil. The handmade sauces are available in 250 mL jars but, if you ask nicely, Santa might just bring a case.
Hang around enough chefs long enough and eventually you’ll hear about the Gray Kunz spoon. Designed in the late 1990s by the chef at New York’s Lespinasse and originally only given to chefs who worked in his kitchen, the spoon has a large bowl that holds exactly 2.5 tablespoons of liquid. Its slightly tapered edge makes it ideal for precision work like flipping, saucing a plate or making perfect quenelles, and its nine-inch handle make it very easy to control.
Nathan Myhrvold’s $625 Modernist Cuisine has inspired many ambitious home cooks to play around with modernist techniques—of course, most of them give up when they see the price tags and counter-space requirements for water baths and immersion circulators. With the Sous Vide Supreme, ordinary chefs can finally have a go at the kind of low-temperature slow cooking that’s become a staple in so many professional kitchens. Simply fill the device with water, set the temperature and timer and submerge the seasoned food in a vacuum-sealed pouch. It’s a consistent, foolproof way of achieving perfectly cooked meats, delicate seafood and fruits and veggies with surprising flavours and textures.
Augie’s ice pops are a light yet intensely flavourful way to end a filling holiday feast. The special holiday lineup includes candy cane Creamsicle (condensed milk, low-fat milk, peppermint extract and crushed candy cane); eggnog-sicle (egg yolks, low-fat milk, cream and nutmeg) and Christmas clementine (clementine and key lime).
As an alternative to champagne (or, more likely, cheap prosecco), consider this seasonal option from Mill Street Brewery. The rich, round and slightly syrupy barley wine has sweet honey aromas and a pleasant hoppy finish. Brewed in January but aged until November, the strong English-style ale (11.5 per cent alcohol) comes in a gorgeous black ceramic bottle and goes well with some very old gouda (as recommended by the Toronto Star’s Josh Rubin).
The festive yule logs from midtown’s La Bamboche are made with rich and airy mousse-based cakes. The white chocolate mousse cake with Christmas spices and crystallized ginger is set on a gingerbread cookie. The Earl Grey cassis has a blackcurrant cream core that’s surrounded by Earl Grey mousse and a layer of blackcurrant-stained chocolate. Finally, the Decadence de Chocolate has a fresh cream centre enveloped by alternating layers of dark chocolate mousse and chocolate biscuit. To complete the table, pick up a delicate handmade white or dark chocolate tree that’s encrusted with pistachios, cranberries and toasted almonds.
Ontario’s best sparkling wines are emerging as strong alternatives to pricier champagnes. Using 100 per cent chardonnay grapes—a particular strength, given the province’s cool climate and limestone-rich soil—this light, local sparkling from Cave Spring Cellars has warm apple and buttery brioche aromas and a dry, crisp long finish. Great served as an aperitif or with appetizers.
The holidays are busy enough, so leave the baking to the experts. Bannock, the new Oliver and Bonacini restaurant, is selling classic gingerbread men, Scottish shortbreads, gift baskets and pork tourtières at its take-away counter. Using executive chef Anthony Walsh’s family recipe, the tourtière’s flaky pastry is packed with seasoned ground pork and pork shoulder and comfortably feeds six. The heavenly Mexican alfajores are more cakey confections than cookies, with creamy dulce de leche sandwiched between two melt-in-the-mouth cookies, which are coated with a feathery ring of toasted coconut. Spiced stollen, created by O&B Artisan’s head baker David Wilson, is chock full of plump sultanas, cranberries, candied orange rind and a tube of supple marzipan, and covered with a buttery layer of icing sugar.
Instead of the usual truffle medley, this collection contains the chocolatier’s top four hot chocolate flavours: the popular Mayan (spiced with ginger, vanilla and chili), the rich, indulgent gianduja (Italian hazelnut milk chocolate), a creamy malted milk (which uses single-origin Costa Rican cacao) and A la Taza, a classic, thick Barcelonan hot chocolate scented with cinnamon, vanilla and allspice that’s basically dessert in a mug. Just add hot water or milk to the dry mix and whisk over low heat until smooth.
The playful creations at Xococava this year include chewy ginger molasses cookies, boozy almond financiers slathered with a rum-spiked sugar glaze, crunchy citrus-pistachio biscotti and chai cranberry butter tarts, all of which go very well with a nice cup of tea. Boxes of chocolate-covered salted tamarind caramels and festive bags of chewy pistachio and cranberry–stuffed túrron (Spanish nougat) make excellent stocking stuffers or hostess gifts. The Kahlua truffles are probably too good to share.