Friday, August 2, 2013

Syngenta is a large global Swiss chemicals company which markets seeds and pesticides. My backyard tomatoes are not doing so well this year. No pollinators & nasty weather. So I tried the Syngenta Kumato tomatoes. It's a black variety & pretty tasty, and grown in Kingsville greenhouses by Mastronardi Produce. Product is ok for a supermarket tomato. But it's a patented gene & Syngenta owns the entire supply chain from seed to supermarket. It's not GMO, but is a hybrid so saving seeds is futile. I really don't think that companies should be able to own life.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Fest

What a year for tomatoes in Toronto.

I'm having trouble keeping up, but I'm still eating fresh from the yard!

This year has been all heirloom and all in containers. I've learned that tomatoes sure can grow tall and wide, even bigger than me! I continue to use my ball of twine to tie up the branches to anything I can find that supports the heavy fruit.

My favourites have been the Black Zebras and the Purple Princes. Both visually beautiful and amazingly tasty. But the Brandywine are pretty nice too. I find the Brandywine interesting because they have potato shaped leaves, rather than the highly indented common tomato leaves.

I really like the family of orb spiders that have set up home on my tomato plants. I know they are catching and eating bugs that would otherwise be feasting on my tomatoes. I think they are basically just called 'garden spiders' but I really find them interesting. They know when I come out to watch or photograph them. Some of them run off and hide in the closest leaves, and others just hang out in the middle of their web and tough it out. They watch me very carefully (no composite eyes like insects).

The yellow tomatoes are reasonably tasty, but they simply look so good that you will want them in any salad, or cut into sections with a touch of salt. They make a great visual contrast to the black (and really tasty) varieties.

Another variety that amazed my taste buds was the Green Zebra (no photo unfortunately, I ate them too fast). It doesn't turn red when ripe. It looks like it would taste totally sour, but No! It's amazingly sweet and flavorful!

There are a few varieties that I didn't grow this year but are on the list for next year. After tasting the Purple Calabash that my friend grew, I knew I wanted this tomato. It's thin skinned and ugly and is best eaten as soon as possible after harvesting. It's so good!

My first few fruit developed blossom rot so bad that I had to compost them. I think it was a problem with consistent watering (which is difficult with container plants) and that the tomatoes were growing their leaves and stems so fast early in the season that there wasn't enough energy and nutrients left over to keep the early fruit healthy.

As the season developed, my worst problem has been the cracking of the skin. Again I think it's a watering problem. I've been harvesting a touch early and letting the tomatoes ripen inside rather than let them crack on the vine.

Lots to learn for sure...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cherries - Two Weeks Later

Two weeks later and the sweet cherries are just asking to be eaten!

They look so delicous right now...

Some of the shaded are taking a little longer to mature.

But I have to wait another week before they are dripping scarlet juices all over me!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cherry Blossom Week In Toronto

After a warm and dry winter, spring just continued in the same way. The backyard sweet cherry trees flowered a week or two early. Luckily there was only one day, just after the first blossoms appeared, that was cold and sleety. Since then the days have contiued to warm up and the pollinators are out in force. We should get a sweet cherry crop this year.

Double click on the first photo to see a very cool insect.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Seven Briskets & Seven Tasters

We wanted to find out how local smoked meat/pastrami compared without being influenced by any advance knowledge of product identity. In other words, this was a single blind taste test. Only the host knew what was being served. The host was not allowed to participate in the judging or identify any of the samples until all the scores were in.

All the meats were purchased unsliced.
They were steamed and hand cut just before serving
(Note that Goldin's had to be cooked in its plastic packaging before serving. )

Meat samples were tasted without bread or any condiments (although we had sandwiches later after the official tasting featuring fresh rye bread from Bagel Plus and homemade creamy hot horseradish mustard from Cottage Chef).


Centre Street Deli $30 kg (Old Fashioned)
Wolfies $24 kg
Caplansky's $29 kg
Stockyards $33 kg
Cottage Chef $30 kg
Dunn's $12 kg (a Montreal product purchased from Ajax COSTCO)
Goldin's Romanian Style $22 kg
(Sandwich at Free Times Café.)

Note: If you buy hot meat to take away, you will pay taxes; but not if the meat is sold cold.


David (Food With Legs)
Manny (Embee on Chow)
James (JT90 on Chow)
Paul (Food Share) (Slow Food Toronto)
Mark (foodyDudey on Chow)
Barbara (Ms foodyDudey)
Al (Torontovore)

The ten (10) criteria used in judging each smoked meat sample are as follows:

After Taste
Overall Texture
Ease Of Swallowing / Moisture

Highest possible score for each single criteria is 10 points, lowest is 1 point.

Highest possible total score (10 points in all 10 criteria) from one judge, for each specific sample, is 100 points.

Highest possible total score from all 7 judges for one specific sample is 700 points.

All individual score sheets and comments have been saved as spreadsheets and are available for a more detailed analysis. Just leave a comment and I'll send them to you. The latest analysis has put Stockyards out in front by a few points. Some numbers might change a little (I've learned that handwriting is not the best recording medium), but the overall results are solid.


We had the support of Peter from Bison Basics who hosted the tasting in his Harbourfront condo and did all the meat prep work. Much Thanks!

Overall Total Scores (out of a 700 point maximum), with Additional Comments:

( Note that the comments are from individual tasters and may contradict each other based on personal preferences.)

At 574 points - STOCKYARDS

-perfect saltiness
-smoky aroma
-looks gorgeous

At 568 points - CAPLANSKY'S
-sweet but not overwhelming
-a bit too sweet
-too little smokiness & spiciness
-a little dry on swallowing

At 427 points - GOLDIN'S
-maybe overcooked
-very dry with no fat
-greasy aftertaste
-needs more spice and salt
-too salty
-deeply meaty
-fat and lean not integrated

At 414 points - WOLFIE'S
-pleasantly spicy with a pleasing texture
-very commercial
-processed taste
-more smokiness needed

At 365 points - COTTAGE CHEF
-nice aroma
-too sweet
-needs more salt
-chemical taste
-too much pepper

At 362 points - CENTRE STREET DELI
-very commercial
-not enough salt, smoke, or pepper
-should be smokier and spicier

At 317 points - DUNN'S
-very commercial
-chemical taste
-no smoke and barely spicy
-not enough salt
-too dry and stringy

Each Specific Criteria Has Been Scored Out Of A Possible Maximum of 70 Points
(7 judges x A Maximum of 10 Points Each)

Most Acceptable Smokiness
Stockyards (51) and Caplansky's (50) essentially tied for 1st place.
Goldin's (36) came in at third place.

Best Overall Texture
Caplansky's (56) and Stockyards (52) were both out in front.
Goldin's (43) held onto 3rd place, followed closely by Dunn's (41).

Some surprises here as Stockyards (60) ran away in first place.
And out of nowhere, Wolfie's (47) grabs 2nd place.
Cottage Chef (42) had a respectable score for third place.

Nicest Overall Aroma
Caplansky's (60) wins the sniff test with Stockyards (56) close behind.
And again Wolfie's (44) makes a great showing with Goldin's (40) holding down fourth place.

Best Meatiness / Umami
Caplansky's (63) leads with the best meatiness score with Stockyards (59) again a close second.
We drop rapidly to Goldin's (49) as a follow up contender.

Most Acceptable Saltiness
This was a wildly scored category. Low scores reflected too much or too little salt.
Caplansky's (60) and Stockyards (61) tied for most appropriate salting.
Wolfie's (50) held onto 3rd place

Most Acceptable Sweetness
Another category that had personal bias. Low scores reflected too much or too little sweetness.
Caplansky's (61) and Stockyards (60) once more tied for 1st place in the sweetness category.
Wolfie's (51) again held onto 3rd place.

How Does It Look?
Caplansky's (64) and Stockyards (61) continue neck to neck for 1st place in the appearance category.
Goldin's (54) fights for 3rd place.

Ease in Swallowing - The Moisture Factor
Caplansky's (61) stood out here!
The Stockyards (57) also made a good showing with Centre Street Deli (51) holding strong at 3rd place.

And Finally the 'After Taste'
Stockyards (57) and Caplansky's (57) once again both matched each other's scores with Wolfie's (50) holding in at 3rd place.


We have some really superior choices in Toronto for deli-style smoked meat. The artisnal products from Stockyards and Caplansky's really stand out as the best sandwich experiences. And if you're visiting Caplansky's on College Street, you can also find Goldin's meat just a block away at the Free Times Cafe.

For those up in the north-west GTA, the surprise was how well Wolfie's performed. A traditional deli (which doubles as a shrine to Coca Cola) scored way above what was expected. In retrospect, we should probably have included a sample from Pancer's too, but the cost and logistics of the project was already pushing our limits. Maybe next time.

Cottage Chef, who caters in the cottage lands, but also delivers to Toronto, was firmly in the middle range with his distinctive sweet and savoury product. Centre Street Deli was the most disappointing, especially at the price point. Dunn's, imported from Montreal, lost out in almost every category and its only redeeming feature being a price that's half that of all the others tasted.

I'd like to thank all our judges for finding the time for this taste test. It was a great meaty evening!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pastrami From Marty - The Cottage Chef

Last week I received three items from the Muskoka based Cottage Chef, a package of pre-sliced pastrami, a brisket deckle, and a bottle of creamy homemade horseradish mustard.

My most successful preparation (seen in the picture above) was the result of hand-slicing the cold deckle before steaming the slices, loading the hot slices on light rye bread, scooping the mustard onto the meat, and finally topping the sandwich with a second rye slice.

It was difficult to convince my tasters to wait a moment before devouring the sandwich so that I had time to photograph the delicious snack. I found the meat tender, without smoke notes, but leaving a lingering warm, sweet, and spicy taste. The mustard complimented rather than overwhelmed the meat's spicing. I tried to identify the sweet savory aroma rising from the steaming meat and think that it may have been coriander.

Even those friends who would never choose a spicy tasting food had no problem with the flavor of the meat. Some did prefer a milder French's yellow mustard though and others thought the homemade horseradish mustard was a little too thin. I did notice that if the mustard was spread on the rye first it sank deeply into the bread and you lost the mouth feel that a more grainy textured mustard gives to each bite of a sandwich.

I cut the deckle in two.

The first half I steamed whole and then cut slices from it. I found this difficult to do because the hot meat was both soft, and slippery from the spicing. The taste results were fine though.

For the second steaming session, I cut the slices first from the cold deckle and then steamed the slices as we made sandwiches. This worked out much better. It was easier to cut nice evenly thin slices and they could be steamed in small sandwich size batches in a short time.

The machine pre-sliced pastrami was ok to eat cold, but was massively better after a quick steam, or even a few seconds in a microwave under a covered dish. I find the surface texture of machine cut slices to be too smooth for my preference.

Yet no matter which prep method was used nobody failed to finish their sandwiches, many going for seconds. Everyone enjoyed the pastrami and gave their approval. The only concern seemed to be a lack of agreement on the horseradish mustard. For those who liked it, they wanted a thicker, more grainy style.

So now I have three favourite pastrami and smoked meat sources, Cottage Chef, Stockyards, and Caplansky's (I have yet to try Goldin's), all different, all delicious.

Cottage Chef - Pricing and Ordering Information.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Stockyards Smokehouse

I had a chance to visit The Stockyards Smokehouse yesterday at 699 St.Clair W. in Toronto, and I really enjoyed my meal. I'd heard lots of chatter about the ribs, the pastrami, and the burgers and wanted to find out for myself what the real deal was.

We arrived on Friday about 4pm before the evening rush. A quick look about hour later revealed a lineup of people hoping to score the smoky ribs & chicken (Tuesdays/Fridays/Sundays only after 5pm).

All I wanted to try was the burger. Although not included on the current printed menu, the Rowe Farms grassfed burger was on the chalkboard for $9. From the included toppings I only chose the raw fresh onion, tomato, and lettuce. But since I love cheese, I added the cheddar for an extra dollar. No specific cooking instructions were given. We added an order of fries to be shared, along with a ginger tea each.

The griddled burger arrived served in a cast iron skillet and was cooked medium. There was pink in the middle. It wasn't dripping in fat, but that's not what I expect a grassfed burger to be. It was moist and juicy and very tasty. The flavour of the cheese melded into the burger and didn't dominate, just adding that incredible umami mouth feel. The tomato, onion, and lettuce were not exceptional but appropriate. The sesame seed bun was a perfect delivery vehicle for the meat, not overwhelming, but just right to hold all the ingredients together.

The fries were skinny and tasty and none were left over at the end of the meal. The ginger tea was ok, nothing special, but definitely not bad. All night I kept thinking about how much I enjoyed the burger. Too bad for me it's a trip into the city, but it's seriously recommended.

I also took home a 1/2 pound ($8) of their dry cured apple wood smoked pastrami. I tried not to nibble on it as I rode the subway north, but it sure tasted good. I'll be steaming some tonight to put onto some fresh rye bread with horseradish mustard. I'll be reviewing this along with the pastrami from the Cottage Chef (and maybe Pancers) in the near future.