Characters Blog

How to make a martini

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While variations of martinis have moved well beyond the traditional mixture of gin and vermouth, you can’t beat the original. With just a few ingredients and simple steps, you can readily enjoy this classic cocktail at home, but remember: The key to making the perfect martini is to think perfectly chilled.

Step 1: Ice Is Nice

To start, grab a cocktail shaker and fill it with ice cubes. Fill the shaker all the way to the brim, as this is key to chilling the martini while still allowing the ingredients to melt just a tiny bit of the ice into the drink.

Step 2: Add the Ingredients

Add 3 1/2 ounces of your chosen high-quality vodka or gin, and a tiny splash of dry vermouth, to the ice. Then start shaking. Shaking for a full 30 seconds to 1 minute achieves the coveted perfect martini chill we’re after, so be sure to keep that shaker going.

Step 3: Pour It Out

Pour your cocktail into a well-chilled martini glass. Place glasses in the freezer for 15 minutes before preparing your martinis, to get that perfect martini chill.

Step 4:Garnish & Enjoy

Finally, garnish your drink as you’d like. Want to be traditional? Use olives or lemon peel twists. Want to shake tradition up a bit? Garnish with caper berries, cherry tomatoes, cocktail onions or even baby dill pickles.

 

Explore flavors of the world with spices

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At Spice Ace, a San Francisco shop that sells over 350 spices, blends, herbs, salts, peppers and sugars, the best-selling spice is vadouvan.

Some spices are trendy today. “Right now, sea salts are really, really big,” says Ronit Madmone, co-owner of Whole Spice, a spice shop in downtown Napa’s Oxbow Public Market selling over 1,000 spices, blends (from Afghan ribs to zahtar), herbs and salts. Tastes in cinnamon have also changed. “A few years ago, they’d grab a cinnamon off the shelf. But now there’s knowledge about it – they realize it isn’t just one type, it comes from different parts of the world and tastes different.”

Though Mourad Lahlou, chef-owner of Aziza restaurant in San Francisco, who buys spices from Whole Spice, hails from Morocco – whose signature spice is ras el hanout, a blend of anywhere from 12 to 100 spices, including cinnamon, allspice, ginger, black pepper and coriander – he says less is more.

“Spices to me are simply flavor colors — there are basic spices that can be mixed in so many different ways to create a new shade,” says Lahlou, the cookbook author of Mourad: The New Moroccan. “Just like paint colors, ratios are critical. I think people tend to get carried away with the number of spices used, and muddy it with unnecessary additions.”

At Spice Ace, a San Francisco shop that sells over 350 spices, blends, herbs, salts, peppers and sugars, the best-selling spice is vadouvan. “It’s a delicious, savory, aromatic blend, sometimes called ‘French Masala Curry.’ You can use it on everything from chicken, squash to cauliflower,” says co-owner Olivia Dillan, who also sells blends like coffee-chile meat rub and bourbon-smoked cane sugar. Tasting before buying is allowed at her shop, and packaging is in half- or quarter-ounce glass jars.

The chef of Troya, a nearby Turkish restaurant on Pacific Heights’ Fillmore Street, a shop- and restaurant-lined retail strip, buys urfa biber flakes, a smoky, raisin-smelling, not-overly-hot Turkish chile pepper, at Spice Ace. Chris Borcich uses it in his roasted cauliflower and lamb meatballs, balanced with an equal amount of baharat, a Middle Eastern blend of mint, cinnamon, oregano and nutmeg, among others, which he serves with yogurt and paprika sauce.

A legend that sells over 4,000 international products, Kalustyan’s in New York City is a favorite of Lahlou, Martha Stewart (who filmed a TV segment here), and Emeril Lagasse. Besides over 500 spices and blends, the bazaar-like emporium in Murray Hill – nicknamed “Curry Hill” for its many Indian eateries and groceries – sells Middle Eastern and Indian prepared foods, over 100 herbs, 180 teas, 50 coffees, over 50 beans, 30 chile peppers, dried and canned fruits, nuts, bulk chocolates, sauces, grains, oils, syrups and its own chutney line. A counter upstairs serves lunch.

Srijith Gopinathan, executive chef at Taj Campton Place, a gourmet Indian restaurant in San Francisco, buys from Le Sanctuaire, a San Francisco shop that once sold to restaurant clients from Napa’s The French Laundry to Spain’s El Bulli only, but whose online store now sells to the public. The best way to implement powdered spices: cook the spices first, in a fat medium to release their flavor before adding the food, the Kerala-born chef says.

For his Spice Pot dish, he sautes onions, ginger and garlic in ghee (clarified butter), and adds fennel seeds, cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Then, he adds powdered Deghi chile, turmeric, fennel, coriander and chile, and cooks for a few minutes, finally adding potatoes — which he blanched in water with turmeric – and cooking for under five minutes. Last, he adjusts the taste with lemon juice, sugar and salt.

Fond of cardamom for sweet-and-sour preparations, from game and poultry to desserts and sauce, or with stone fruits in compotes — “I call it the feminine spice, extremely soft, sweet and pleasant” – Gopinathan says cardamom, mango and coconut are “the best combination ever.” You’ll find it in his mango cremeux, wrapped in a coconut tuile, served with tamarind gel and cardamom-scented candied rice puffs.

In Montreal, Olives & Epices sells boxed sets of six spice blends, packaged with the owners’ recipe book/travelogue, Spice Hunters: Asian Family Cooking, which showcases their suppliers from Sri Lanka – producer of the world’s best cinnamon, they say – Kerala and China’s Yunnan province. Other spice kits: BBQs of the world, curries/masalas from the world’s islands, seafood and game spices. Besides their shop is in the Jean-Talon Market, a huge farmers’ market, their online store lets you spice-hunt by cuisine – from West Indies to Southeast Asia or Mexico – or by spice, from Aleppo seven-spice to Zapotecan mole negro blends.

Written by: Sharon McDonell of USA Today.

The Art Of Plating.

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Food presentation is just as essential to the success of a dish as its taste and flavour.  The way the food looks on the plate is what tempts our eyes and makes you want to taste it. Imagine how your room looks when it’s messy and how it looks when you clean it up, the same ingredients, different results. It is just as true with food presentation and how the elements are arranged on the plate.

So yes, food presentation is important. It can make or break a restaurant and it can turn a dinner party into a great success if done right. What are the components of good food presentation? How do you know what to pay attention to when presenting food to your guests?

    • No matter how delicious a dish may be, if it is served on a dirty plate, you will definitely not be tempted to taste it. Make sure all plates are sparkling clean.

 

    • Adapt your plate presentation to the occasion. If you are preparing a kids party, choose fun food presentations that will make them want to eat. They prefer “fun” designs rather than serious and traditional presentations.

 

    • Food presentation is all about timing. There is no point in offering your guests a fancy dish if it is served cold, when it was supposed to be served hot. So spend just enough time plating your dish.

 

    • Another important rule of food presentation is balancing variety and contrast. It is good to have a variety of textures on the plate, but how these textures are combined is just as important.

 

    • Garnish or no garnish? That is a crucial question when it comes to food presentation. There are foods that would look uninteresting without garnish.
    • Matching portion size with plate size is another important aspect of food presentation. A plate that is too small for the food portion it offers will look messy and overcrowded. On the other hand, a small portion on too large a plate will look sparse.
  • Never serve hot foods on cold plates and the other way around. This is another essential rule of food presentation.

 

La Crema: Pinot You Can Rely On

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If you had to pick one California Pinot Noir label that year in and year out produces consistently fine Pinot Noir from multiple appellations at reasonable prices, La Crema would certainly come to mind. When neighbors, friends, and young people ask me what Pinot Noir to buy to take to a dinner, I often tell them La Crema. they usually thank me afterward, but La Crema is an easy recommendation to make. The wines are widely distributed (the winery website, www.lacrema.com, will help you find the wines close to home), with prominent placement on the top shelves of supermarket wine displays.

La Crema Winery is a family owned estate in the Russian River Valley that specializes in handcrafted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from cool climate vineyards in Sonoma, Mendocino and Monterey counties. Established in 1979, the winery has never allowed visitors (except for special events such as Winter Wineland), but the label quickly gained a reputation for quality. The owners are Laura Jackson-Giron and her sister Jennifer Jackson (family members belonging to the Jess Jackson clan).

Several winemakers developed the La Crema Winery style through the years, including Dan Goldfield (Dutton- Goldfield) and Jeff Stewart (Buena Vista). In 2004, La Crema hired Melissa Stackhouse to oversee all aspects of winemaking, and the wines reached a remarkable high level of quality despite the relatively large production and value pricing. The popularity of the label has never been higher and La Crema is consistently one of the top selling restaurant labels.

Stackhouse first joined La Crema in 2000 as an assistant winemaker. Before La Crema, her winemaking experience including stints at Peter Michael Winery, Hardy’s Tintara Winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia, Robert Mondavi, Sterling and Joseph Phelps Vineyards. She holds a degree in viticulture and enology from University of California at Davis. Recently, Stackhouse was promoted to Pinot Noir winemaster for all Jackson Family Wines, but will continue to be a part of the blending panel for La Crema. Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, who has been the assistant winemaker since 2004, will become winemaker at La Crema. Assistant winemaker Eric Johannsen is to take on the associate winemaker position at La Crema.

Winemaking includes careful sorting, de-stemming, 5 to 8 day cold soak, aging for 7-8 months in about 25% to 30% new tight-grain, medium toast French oak barrels, and minimal fining and filtering.

La Crema has supported sustainable farming since 1999, when they were among the first wineries to become a certified Sonoma County “green business.” 75% of La Crema’s vineyards are farmed using “non-tillage” practices to reduce carbon dioxide output. In all the estate vineyards, composted grape pomace and chipped vegetation are added to replenish organic matter. Habitat boxes in the vineyards for owls, bluebirds and falcons help to naturally control vineyard pests. Riparian areas that border vineyards are planted and maintained. Beneficial insects are introduced to eliminate the need for pesticides.

I last tasted through the La Crema lineup of Pinot Noirs in the 2005 vintage when the wines showed beautiful balance and attractive textures but were more similar than different. With the 2009 vintage wines reviewed below, I discovered more appellation-specific character. All the wines can be recommended for early drinking. Prices vary widely depending on the retail source. Appellation-specific coastal region wines are produced from the Russian River Valley AVA, Sonoma Coast AVA, Los Carneros AVA, Anderson Valley AVA and Monterey AVA. La Crema also produces an age worthy reserve small production (200 cases) expensive bottling labeled Nine-Barrel Pinot Noir which has received many accolades from the wine press.

Getting to Know Basil

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Latin Name: Ocimum Basilicum
With all the tomatoes floating around this summer – yes, as far as I am concerned it’s still summer, and no one tell me otherwise – our thoughts naturally turn to the classic accompaniment to them, the beautifully aromatic basil leaf.
Flavour Profile and Growing Basil:
There are a few different kinds of basil, with the most common being sweet basil, with its characteristic bushy deep green leaves. The others are Thai basil, Lemon basil and Purple basil. These varieties all have their own flavours. Sweet basil starts off with a slight peppery note, and finishes with its distinctive sweet anise essence. Purple basil is more savory, while Thai basil is extremely characteristic with its anise notes and is sometimes called Pepper basil. Lemon basil, which is harder to find obviously has citrus notes to it.
Basil is native to Asia and Africa, and is widely cultivated in Europe and North America as a culinary herb. Indian Hindus will usually have a small ‘holy basil’ or ‘tulsi’ plant in their houses, as it’s considered sacred. Tulsi, is drier and less lush than sweet basil, and is used more for medicinal purposes, rather than culinary ones.
Basil is a finicky herb to grow and needs a lot of sun. Plant your seeds indoors and transfer them outdoors once it is hot enough and no chance of frost. Harvest leaves regularly to encourage growth, pinching off the centre stems to prevent flowering. You can also grow your basil indoors. Check out our FBC tutorial on growing herbs inside your house for more information.
Storage and Use of Basil:
Basil is best used fresh off the plant and is a staple in Italian and other kinds of cuisine. If you cannot bring your plants indoors, you can harvest basil by pinching off large bunches of leaves, drying them quickly and freezing them. This helps preserve them for the best flavour. You can also dry the leaves completely (you can even dehydrate them) and store them in airtight jars.
One of the most popular dishes that use basil is obviously pesto. Fresh basil leaves are blended with pine nuts, garlic and olive oil, with parmesan and pecorino cheese and served with pasta. In Genovese cooking, pasta, new potatoes and crisp green beans are boiled together and served with fresh basil pesto. There are also several other dishes starring basil, including the famous Margherita pizza.
Along with its culinary use, basil is also widely used in traditional medicine, including Ayurveda, where it is used as a remedy for colds and fevers. Basil tea is also used to relieve chest congestion, and it is used as a home freshener in many countries. Basil oils are also used in perfumeries, and in the cosmetic industry for skin care supplements.
And finally, did you know that basil seeds are also edible? They are used as coolers in many countries, and expand and go fuzzy when soaked in cold water and drinks, especially in the Indian classic, falooda.
by Michelle Peters Jones
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CHARACTERS FINE DINING

Anthony Bourdain’s 3 best tips for eating great when traveling abroad

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If you like traveling and you’re an even bigger fan of food, then you might also be a fan of Anthony Bourdain. The restaurant chef turned author has become a popular TV personality in recent years, first with his show No Reservations on the Discovery Channel and now with Parts Unknown on CNN.

At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Bourdain has a large and respected presence in the worlds of food and travel. The 58-year-old is known for his honest, no bullshit approach to exploring and telling the story of cities around the world through the people there and the foods they eat.

The fifth season of Parts Unknown premeires on CNN on Sunday, April 26 at 9 p.m. ET. He’ll be exploring South Korea, Miami, Scotland, New Jersey, Madagascar, Budapest, Hawaii and Beirut.

We caught up with Bourdain in-between shoots. He talked about how, when it comes to food, people tend to play it safe when they travel to unknown places. He stressed the importance of eating great — especially when in the most foreign of lands.

“If you’re some place magical like Venice and you want to see the same people you see in the Hamptons or in St. Bart’s then, you know, there’s something really terribly wrong in your life,” Bourdain says with a laugh. “If your idea of eating great only happens at places like Phillipe or Mr. Chow or Cipriani [in New York City] … where you’re paying five times the going rate then, well, it’s already too late for you.”

Don’t settle. Be adventurous. Here are Bourdain’s tips for eating great when traveling to faraway places.

1. Be open to ‘happy accidents.’

The greatest meal, Bourdain says, is the one “you need right now.” For instance, he recalls a time in the Caribbean when he was riding scooters with his girlfriend. Out of nowhere — as it does in that part of the world — it suddenly started pouring rain. Needing to get off of the road, Bourdain and his companion pulled over next to what appeared to be a dilapidated wooden shack with a tin roof. Bourdain worked up some courage and went inside.

“There was a sinister-looking dude wearing a dirty t-shirt, grilling chicken in a sort of sawed-off 50-gallon drum,” he says. “Mangy dogs were walking around. But we sat down at a table under a bare lightbulb and ordered that chicken.

“Everything about it was unexpected, but it came together,” Bourdain continues. “The beer was cold, the right song — something by Peter Tosh — came on the radio. It was a happy accident, and it was the best jerk chicken I’ve ever had. There’s something to be said for letting great meals just happen to you.”

2. Go out of your way to get genuine advice.

While happy accidents can be great, Bourdain recommends also getting some local intel. But don’t simply ask your hotel conceriege where to eat. “That conceriege is sending you to a place they know tourists will like,” Bourdain says. “Don’t eat like a tourist. That’s not the type of knowledge you want.”

Get food recommendations from real locals. This doesn’t mean you should start interrogating random people on the street or in a bar, Bourdain says. Before you arrive at your destination, tap your network. Find out if you know someone — or know someone who knows someone else — who lives or has lived in the place you’re traveling to. Ask that person about where the great food is. The individual should be able to recommend a place because the food is amazing or the experience is great, not simply because it’s easy to get to or the bathrooms are clean, Bourdain says.

If you don’t know anyone in the city you’re traveling to, Bourdain has a fun alternative: Try posting a fake food review to an international food or travel site. Pick a random place and make up a story about how the ramen you ate there blew your mind. “Then, wait for all the angry food nerds to tell you how wrong you are and about all the other places you should go instead,” he says.

3. Explore, explore, explore.

Hopefully your time abroad isn’t all go go go on business. Take some time for yourself. Get outside and explore the area. Be observant.

“Look at what the locals are eating, and eat that,” Bourdain says. “If you’re in a restaurant where everyone looks like you, like a tourist, you probably wound up in the wrong place.”

If you want to eat amazing seafood, explore the local seafood market. “Chances are high that a guy selling fish in a fish market will know where you can eat great fish,” he says. “He might well know where you can get an amazing bowl of pasta, too.”

When you see locals crowding into a restaurant, the food there is probably good. Even if you aren’t familiar with the food, consider giving it a try. “Work up some courage, take the plunge and just walk into a place,” Bourdain says. “That simple moment when you get good yakitori or something else you’ve never heard of for the first time — its a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.”

Written by: Jason Fell Source: www.Entrepreneur.com

Characters Fine Dining in Top 100 Restaurants in Canada

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EDMONTON – Six Edmonton eateries made the list compiled by OpenTable of the top 100 restaurants in Canada.

The list, released Thursday, from the online reservations provider reflects the combined opinions of more than 275,000 dining reviews submitted by verified OpenTable users for some 1,500 restaurants. The reviewers dined at the restaurants between Feb. 1, 2014 and Jan. 31, 2015.

Read article here (The Edmonton Journal)

Taste of Iceland in Edmonton: April 9-12

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Enjoy Icelandic food, music, film, and more during this exciting cultural weekend in Edmonton!

Taste of Iceland is coming back to Edmonton this spring in response to popular demand! This exciting cultural event will celebrate Iceland’s food, music, and film from April 9-12 to give Edmontonians a taste of what life is like in Iceland. Click here to RSVP on Facebook, and join the conversation on Twitter & Instagram by tagging @IcelandNatural with the hashtag #TasteofIceland.