Episode 3: blueberries, wine pairing, locavores and fried chicken

Rhubarb (Photo by powi/Flickr)

Summer has quickly faded, but we wanted to have one more go at it, so with a special late summer edition of tongue & cheek we hope you enjoy the last wisps of warm weather.


0:44 Donna Dooher, executive chef at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen talks about blueberries [ed: we recorded this piece a month or so ago, and the 5 a 7 is currently in full swing].
7:52 Nicole Campbell of Lifford Wine teaches us some of the finer points about pairing wine with food.
16:54 Hannah Classen creates a history of Antony’s love of Cleopatra’s buffalo mozzarella.
21:26 Sarah Elton discuses her journey from a Chinese cookie to a budding locavore movement.
29:30 We discuss what makes good fried chicken tick. (Runs 36:14)

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Juanitos- Soul Walking
Bedtime- Hace Soul
Hardly a Place of Honour- Ruined Machines
Sherele- Balkan Balagan
Black Samba- Juanitos

Special thanks to Josh Ratcliffe for his editing, mixing help and putting up with finicky producers.

Tour Beast’s rooftop garden

A few weeks ago, Beast co-owner and chef Scott Vivian gave us a tour of their rooftop garden which was then still basking in the summer heat. There, they grow a diverse number of herbs and vegetables that end up on the plate of Beast diners. Check out what they have there, you may be surprised.

Special thanks to Ryan Couldrey who shot and edited the video.

Ask a Chef : what are the green things that grow in garlic?

Growing garlic scapes (Photo by: Grongar/Flickr)

Question: What are the green things that grow in a clove of garlic? Does it change the taste?

Answer: The green thing  inside that is sometimes found in a garlic clove is the sprout.  Over time, garlic matures and sprouts.  Sometimes, you even see the sprouts coming out of the garlic head, but this is only when the garlic has been sitting out for a long time.  These sprouts are the the beginnings of garlic scapes.

The green part tends to be a hint bitter when sauteed, so it’s best to remove it before cooking.  Because it has a small diameter, it may burn more easily as well.  Removing it is fairly simple – it can be done by pulling it out with your fingers or prying it out with a pairing knife.  Of course, the ideal solution is to look for garlic that is in good shape. When at the grocery store, seek garlic that is very firm when you squeeze it.

If you are a patient person, you can actually plant these cloves with the sprout.  Over time, they will yield garlic scapes. Periodically harvest the scapes to encourage growth and you’ll have plenty to make a great pesto.  Over a period of months, they’ll even develop into a full head of garlic.

Matt Kantor is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He has worked in kitchens including Picholine (New York), Gayle and Tangerine (Philadelphia), and Fenouil (Portland). He now works in Toronto and runsLittle Kitchen, a catering company that will cook fantastic food in your own home. He also cooks for the monthly event, Secret Pickle Supper Club. Follow Matt on Twitter.

If you have a culinary question, email us at contact@tonguecheek.com. We’ll have a new “Ask a chef” question every other week.

Wine Decanted: the drip on acid

Lemon and orange (Muffet/Flickr)

Lemon and orange (Muffet/Flickr)

Last week I posed the following question to the Twittesphere and Facebook: “What comes to mind when you think of acidity in wine?” The responses were varied, some negative (sore teeth, vinegar), others positive (yes please!, the root of all good wines), others irrelevant (“LSD” is not found in wine!). So whose 140 character nugget hit the nail on the head? The truth is that acidity, an essential component of wine, can be both good and bad. When unbalanced or flawed it can make a wine overly tart or even spoiled, but when balanced, acidity can be the perfect complement to fruit, tannins and sweetness found in wine.

Types of good acid

All fruit contains acid that acts as a natural preservative. Acid is thus present in grapes, and so too in wine. Just as acid acts as a natural preservative in fruit, acidity in wine helps to maintain wine’s freshness as it ages, as well as protect wine from certain types of bad bacteria.  Tartaric and malic acid are the most important acids in wine.

Tartaric acid, the more prominent of the two, maintains the chemical stability and colour of a wine, while contributing much of a wine’s tartness. Tartaric acid levels are stable in grapes, so the level of tartaric acid in a grape at the beginning of growth is the same level of acid when the grapes are fully ripened. Once fermented into wine, it’s another story, the level of tartaric acid slowly decreasing as acid crystals precipitate out of the wine. Thus over time, a wine will lose its acid, just as it loses its tannins. For a white wine to age well it therefore must have high amounts of initial acid. This is why high-acid wines from cool-climate regions like Burgundy can age so well, while low-acid wines from hot-climate regions like California should be consumed quickly.

Malic acid, the second main grape acid, gives green apple notes that are so often prominent in unoaked whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Unlike tartaric acid, the level of malic acid decreases throughout grape ripening in a process known as respiration. Grapes have their highest level of malic acid just before veraison (the onset of grape ripening), and gradually lose malic acid as the grapes’ sugar levels rise. In cool climates like Burgundy, New Zealand and Canada, grapes ripen slowly and malic acid remains high at harvest. In hot climates like most of California, South Africa and Chile, grapes rapidly ripen to their fullest potential, malic acid either completely dissipated or dwindled to very low concentrations by the time the grapes are picked. If no malic acid remains a wine can taste flabby and unbalanced. Warm climate countries often add acid back into wine to balance flavours in a process known as acidification.

In cool climates, the high levels of malic acid can sometimes be too acidic and harsh. To mellow out the tart green apple notes, wine makers will put some of their wine (especially reds and oaked whites like Chardonnay) through a second fermentation known as malolactic fermentation (or MLF). In MLF malic acid is converted into the softer lactic acid, which has milky flavours. Oaky chardonnay’s that taste “buttery” almost certainly have gone through MLF.

The bad acid

Not all acids are created equal. Acetic acid, most often found in vinegar, is usually present in very small concentrations in wine. When too much acetic acid is in a wine it creates a fault known as Volatile Acidity, where the wine smells and tastes like vinegar. If you taste a wine with vinegar characteristics either at home or at a restaurant, send it back! Flawed wine is a fact of life and your local wine store or restaurant will gladly exchange it.

What affects acid levels: climates and grapes

Climate has arguably the greatest impact on acid: hot climates produce low acid wine and cool climates producing high acid wine.

Different grapes naturally have different levels of acid. High acid whites include Chablis (chardonnay from Burgundy), Sauvignon Blanc, and German Riesling . High acid reds include Chiati (Sangiovese grape), Barbera and Bordeaux blends.

Balance Baby

Acid is to wine what carbonation is to soda pop. Without carbonation, a glass of Coke tastes very sweet and may even be difficult to drink. Add some bubbles and it’s much more refreshing.  Acidity in wine has much the same effect in sweet wine. A sweet wine without acid is overwhelmingly sweet on the palate and too syrupy to enjoy. However, this exact same wine balanced with high levels of acidity will taste sweet, but refreshing. The sweeter the wine, the higher the acid levels should be. There is a misconception that off-dry or sweet wines are less desirable than dry wines, but the truth of the matter is that our palates tell a different story. Just as so many of us love sweet foods, we also love the taste of sweet wines. Sweet, high-acid wines like many German or Alsatian Rieslings provide the sweetness we love, with a backbone of refreshing acid that makes the wine so delightful.

Acid and Food

In Europe, where wine has always been an essential part of any meal, wine is made to be drunk with food. As a result, many European wines (i.e., Italian reds), have high acid levels to stand up to acidic foods like tomato sauces. Acid in food smoothes out the acid in wine, and can transform a wine that initially seems too tart into a delicious pairing. So next time you have a wine that tastes too tart, make sure to pair it with acidic food before tossing it.

Concluding Experiment

Let’s end with an experiment. Take a wedge of lemon and suck on its juices. Notice the sensations on your tongue and in your mouth as you bite down and after you have finished tasting. From memory alone you can feel your tongue prickle and water from the acidic lemon. Acid in wine has the same mouth-watering zip of a lemon slice. It is refreshing and palate-cleansing. Just as you would reach for an icy glass of acidic lemonade on a hot summer’s day, the same refreshing acidity is found in a cool-climate Riesling (i.e., from Germany) or a Burgundian Chardonnay (Chablis). Beyond its refreshing effect, acid also adds complex layers of flavour to a wine, balances sugar and tannin levels, and enables white wine to age.

Nicole is a wine blogger and all around wine worker bee at Lifford Wine Agency, Ontario’s largest supplier of wine to the province’s hospitality industry and the number one supplier of fine wine to the L.C.B.O. Wine Decanted is a bi-weekly column about wine.  You won’t find tasting notes or scores here. Instead she’s taking the hot air out of wine writing and giving us tips for folks who just want to learn more about the good grape.

Things we like: San Francisco (part one)

View San Franciso Food in a larger map

I love San Francisco. I’ve not met a single person who didn’t like it and if you haven’t been, you’d probably like it too. That is unless you dislike sunshine, wine, fresh local ingredients, seafood and a population that understands the value of good food. Last weekend, I took a short trip to San Francisco and thanks to friends on Twitter, Facebook and “real life,” I had more than enough good food spots to choose from. I know many of you will be visiting SFO soon, so I’ve shared the food map I created for this trip. Please let me know if you think another place should be added to the map.

Photos to come…

Thanks to Klout and Virgin America for flying me there.

Things we (sort of) like: stinky tofu

Ben tries stinky tofu at Night It Up

OK, so I don’t really like stinky tofu and judging by his face (especially animated for the camera), Ben doesn’t either. But for me, stinky tofu is a pleasant (and smelly) trip down memory lane. It wasn’t that long ago that I lived in Hong Kong but I have fond memories of trying it for the first time with my mother when she visited. She grew up in Hong Kong and associates the snack with her youth. So it was both adorable and horrifying when my mother suddenly stopped in her tracks as we were walking around the city. Like a puppy who had just caught wind of a steak, she stuck her nose in the air and furrowed her brow with great concentration. We had just been hit in the face with the stench of hot garbage mixed with fish sauce.

“STINKY TOFU!” she cried excitedly and she was off, leaving her only child behind. Her little feet quickly maneuvering through the crowded streets of Mong Kok, eyes darting around for the coveted greasy squares. Finally, she spotted a stall, the one with the largest crowd around it. She didn’t even ask if I, a few yards back, wanted some, she dutifully handed her money over, doused the tofu in hot sauce and messily ate her cubes with glee.

When I think of stinky tofu, I think of those few minutes in which I witnessed my mother’s childlike excitement. I don’t first think of the smelliness, nor do I consider the anti-climatic taste of it (far less offensive then the smell). I think of my mom and the joy she gets from biting into a hot cube of fermented tofu.

Question: Have you ever tried stinky tofu? What did you think of it?

(I wish I had a photo of my mom instead weirdo Ben, but that photo is pretty great, eh?)

Wine Decanted: All about tannins

Malbec grapes (Photos IanL/Flickr)

The word tannin is often used and frequently misunderstood. Although the science of tannin is all chemistry and molecules, in this post I will skip the science to tell you the basics of tannin: why it matters and where it comes from.

What are tannins?

Over-steep a cup of black tea and take a sip without milk or sugar. Better yet chew on a grape stem. That bitter, astringent taste followed by the mouth puckering, gum drying sensation is a concentrated example of tannin. Both options sound terribly unpleasant with good reason. Tannin evolved in a variety of plants, leaves and fruit as a defense mechanism. The astringent flavours ward off hungry herbivores. Luckily for us, tannin in wine can be anything but off-putting. In fact, some of the world’s most revered wine is chock full of the stuff.

Why do we need tannins?

Tannin in wine is important for several reasons: it contributes to a full mouthfeel, enables aging, and provides health benefits. Tannins are thought of as the backbone of red wines, providing structure and ageing potential. The structure in tannin creates a full-bodied, mouth-filling sensation that we so often look for in a red wine. This filling sensation is created when tannin molecules bind with proteins in our saliva (more geeked out tannin information here).

Tannins also act as a natural preservative, preventing oxidation and spoiling. As tannins age their chemical makeup changes. These changes produce two effects. First, the once very drying sensations of young tannins become softer and more elegant. Second, some tannin may be converted to tiny crystals that form in the bottom of the bottle. These crystals are harmless, but usually not pleasant to drink so aged wines are sometimes poured into a glass decanter to the point where sediment begins to fall. Tannins are also thought to have a beneficial effect on our vascular system, suppressing arterial hardening (yay!).

Where do tannins come from?

[Editor’s Note: Warning! Some nerdy scientific wine stuff ahead…] [Writer’s Note: I’m a nerd!]

Tannin in wine comes from two sources. The first source of tannin is from the grape or more specifically the seeds, skins, and stems. As most of a wine’s tannin comes from skin contact, the thickness of a grape’s skin is linked to its tannic potential. Grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Syrah have thick skins and thus tend to produce more tannic wine. Grapes like Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc have thinner skins and produce lower-tannin wine.

Although grape skin thickness plays a role, winemaking techniques ultimately determine tannin level. For example, white wines are not exposed to grape skin during fermentation so have no tannins and no colour, colour also determined by grape skin contact.

Red wines, by definition have skin contact, if they didn’t they would not be coloured red. The length of time a red wine soaks with the skins (“maceration time”) and the amount of times the skins are stirred in the fermentation tank (“punching down the cap”) impacts the amount of tannin in a wine.  Tannin is further impacted by how the grape’s juice is extracted. The juice that flows freely from the tank after fermentation or “free run” contains less tannin than the juice that is pressed from the tanks after free run finishes (press wine). This makes sense, as pressing the wine further crushes the grape skins, concentrating tannin. Sometimes free run and press wine are combined, the free run juice adding bright fruit flavours and the press wine adding tannins, colour and complexity. Other times these wines are not combined and will be produced under different labels, the free run usually higher regarded and higher priced.

The second source of tannin in wine is from oak barrels, newer oak in particular. Remember that tannin occurs naturally in bark, and plants. Oak ageing is the only way a white wine can have tannins.  Tannins from oak are usually softer and more easily oxidized than tannins from grapes.

Although tannins are very important to red wine, wines with low or no tannins are not necessarily lower quality and may in fact be more enjoyable in their youth. Wines like Beaujolais (from the Gamay grape) and Pinot Noir can be delicious, and complex without high tannin levels. So what to do with all this new-found tannin knowledge? Drink of course. Notice differences in tannin levels, think about what these differences could be caused by, and most importantly sort out what types of wines you prefer.

Nicole is a wine blogger and all around wine worker bee at Lifford Wine Agency, Ontario’s largest supplier of wine to the province’s hospitality industry and the number one supplier of fine wine to the L.C.B.O. Wine Decanted is a bi-weekly column about wine.  You won’t find tasting notes or scores here. Instead she’s taking the hot air out of wine writing and giving us tips for folks who just want to learn more about the good grape.

Things we like: watermelon and halloumi cheese

Watermelon, cantaloupe and halloumi salad (Photo by Andrea Chiu)

When I  say heat wave, what do you think of? I think of watermelon. Cold, just out of the refrigerator watermelon is my definition of refreshing. Its  sweetness makes it a welcome addition to many dishes. Currently, my favourite watermelon dish is a salad made with halloumi. Halloumi is a salty cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk (and sometimes cow’s milk). It has a high melting point so it’s ideal for pan frying.

Watermelon and halloumi salad:

Ingredients:  watermelon (sliced), halloumi cheese (sliced about 1 cm thick) and chopped mint.
Method: Pan fry the halloumi cheese until golden brown on both sides. Let the cheese cool for a couple of minutes. Place on it top of the watermelon and toss the mint on top. The halloumi is so salty, you really don’t need more seasoning.

Variations: For an even easier dish that requires no cooking at all, use a salty feta cheese in place of halloumi. In the photo above, I’ve added cantaloupe which is nice too, but I prefer the dish with watermelon only. Any version makes for a great salad or light dinner on a hot day.

Question: What’s your favourite way to eat watermelon?

Ask a Chef: what are the differences between onions?

Red onions (Photo by Darwin_Bell/Flickr)

Question: What are the differences between the various onions commonly found at groceries stores?

From the perspective of a grocery store, you can divide onions into two major categories very quickly: bulbs and sprouted bulbs. Leeks, Ramps, and Scallions are examples of onions sold with the tops on. While some people discard the tops, they can be used just as easily as the bottoms, especially in making stocks.

Shallots look like small onions, but are oval in share and usually are covered in a brown skin. Shallots are sweet and mild with their own distinct flavor. I use them in salad dressings, risottos, and cold puree sauces. Another great use for them is peeling them and roasting them in the oven to go with game or fowl. And finally, sliced very thin they compliment a number of southeast Asian dishes, especially Thai.

Spanish/sweet onions contain more starch and sugar than yellow or white onions. I use them when I want to make jams, french onion soups, or anything where people will be eating a cooked onion. You can eat vidalia onions raw as well, but this probably is not for everyone.

White and yellow onions I use primarily for sauces as they are not as rich and flavorful as vidalia onions. They usually come in mesh bags at five pounds and are not usually pleasurable to eat raw.

Red onions, of course, I serve either raw or slightly cooked. They work great in salads and salsa, but also can be good just quickly sauteed in a warm salad, like with roasted mushrooms and balsamic vinegar.

Cippolini onions are small flat onions, which you usually see in the olive bar, already marinated. I like to braise these and sieve them with cooked meats, especially beef and veal.

Pearl onions are the tiny round ones that come in small bags.  I don’t often have the patience to deal with them, as they require considerable labor to prepare. If you want to use them, blanch them, then peel the outer layer of skin off. I like them best in my Gibson (Boodles or Hendricks).

Matt Kantor is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He has worked in kitchens includingPicholine (New York), Gayle and Tangerine (Philadelphia), and Fenouil (Portland). He now works in Toronto and runsLittle Kitchen, a catering company that will cook fantastic food in your own home. He also cooks for the monthly event, Secret Pickle Supper Club. Follow Matt on Twitter.

If you have a culinary question, email us at contact@tonguecheek.com. We’ll have a new “Ask a chef” question every other week.

Wine Decanted: myths about the tongue and wine

(Photo by AntToeKnee/Flickr)

The tongue is important for many things, amongst them licking stamps, sending popsicles to their death and of course, tasting wine. I recently took my International Wine Education Guild (IWEG) class on taste perception, so I was ready to espouse my new knowledge on tongue sensitivities in this blog post. But after doing some research, my “compact tasting 101″ post was out the window. Everything I knew about the tongue was wrong!

Wine tasting folklore: the tongue edition

In my IWEG class, we frequently referred to the tongue map. The four tastes our tongue can perceive:  sweet, salty, sour and bitter, are neatly divided into distinct areas on the tongue: the tip tastes sweetness, the front sides saltiness, the back sides sourness and the back middle section bitterness. We were taught that when you drink wine we’re supposed to use this guideline to measure residual sugar, acid and tannin levels. After you sip a sweet wine you should taste the sugar lingering on the tip of your tongue. A wine with high acid, great for food pairing, should be felt on the sides of your tongue, making your mouth water. A wine high in tannin or unbalanced alcohol will be felt at the back of your throat, and in the case of tannins, also on your gums. And there you have it, the importance of the tongue in wine tasting 101…but wait, it’s not all true…

Wine tasting truth: a tongue lashing

The tongue map, popularized in the 1940s, was disproven in 1974. Scientist Virginia Collins found that although there were variations in sensitivity to the four tastes around the tongue, these variations were small and insignificant.  Since then, research had confirmed that all areas of the tongue can perceive each taste, and that sensitivity locations vary between individuals.

What does this mean for tasting wine?

It means that the traditional rules in perceiving sweetness, acid and tannins need not apply. When you sip a wine, don’t focus on the tip of your tongue when looking for sweetness, instead use your entire palate. The same applies for acid, tannins and flavours. You are blessed with more than  9, 000 taste buds, use as many as you can to taste the flavours and characteristics in your glass.

There aren’t really four tastes either. The fifth taste, umami, is the taste of glutamate, found commonly in Japanese foods, meats and aged cheeses. Umami, less a taste and more a quality or completeness of flavour, is best described as savory or delicious. Can wine be savory? Yes! Although measuring its exact levels  in wine is almost impossible, the fermenting process imparts some red wine with glutamate levels approaching that of aged cheese (high!). There is no umami location on the tongue, the taste of umami something to think about with the whole palate. Is there a rich delicious quality to the wine over and above any flavour profile present? If so, umami may be the culprit.

Overall the message here is similar to that of my last post dispelling wine myths: when it comes to wine throw out the standard guidelines, the most important teacher is your own palate.

Nicole is a wine blogger and all around wine worker bee at Lifford Wine Agency, Ontario’s largest supplier of wine to the province’s hospitality industry and the number one supplier of fine wine to the L.C.B.O. Wine Decanted is a bi-weekly column about wine.  You won’t find tasting notes or scores here. Instead she’s taking the hot air out of wine writing and giving us tips for folks who just want to learn more about the good grape.

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