The Cookbook Store

The Cookbook Store
On Sunday, March 23rd I attended an afternoon potluck open to a community of people that I’ve come to know over the last 6 years at my job working at The Cookbook Store. Jen graciously came along, “in the name of Crustcrumbs”, to document the last occasion we’d get to meet at 850 Yonge and talk about cookbooks. Working at The Cookbook Store has been one of the few jobs I’ve felt at home in. When I started I never imagined I’d stay on as long as I did, but I also had no idea what kind of people I would get to meet.

The Cookbook Store

Alison Fryer and Jennifer Grange

The store was a well-known hub for visiting authors and chefs. A strip of corkboard running behind the cash area that faced Yorkville Avenue was filled with sun-bleached and pin-holed photos of author visits going back to the store’s first years. I got a kick out of seeing the pictures of James BarberKen Kostick and Mary Jo Eustace because their shows were the ones I grew up on, for better or worse, and I liked how they were at one time part of The Cookbook Store’s community.

The Cookbook Store

Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver with Alison

The Cookbook Store

Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness Cake on a pedestal, as it should be. Maybe one of the most talked about cakes I’ve ever known.

I got to meet people that truly made up Toronto’s culinary scene through the 80s, 90s and 00s, beyond the celebrities whose photos were on that corkboard. These were the people that made the job interesting. I didn’t know Toronto had a butler school and that the man in charge, Charles MacPherson, aka Charles the Butler, was a regular of the store from its early days. I also found it fascinating that Charles and Ted Reader, Canada’s barbecue king, used to work together as caterers. Ted Reader became a regular at the store when he was a George Brown culinary student, like so many Torontonians, including myself have been. Ted Reader also cooked for one of the store’s first pop-up dinners, balancing hot plates and serving dishes behind the cash desk.

The Cookbook Store

Alison Fryer with Josh Josephson, owner of The Cookbook Store.

The last of the store’s pop-up dinners I’m proud to say I got to be part of because it gave me a chance to collaborate with several creative and talented people, including chef Matt Kantor and food stylist Janice Poon. Janice Poon, another long-time friend of the store, having owned a boutique down the street in the 80s as well as working with Dinah Koo, who still has Dinah’s Cupboard on Cumberland street not far from The Cookbook Store, called to tell Alison Fryer (manager of The Cookbook Store for 31 years) about the success of her new blog Feeding Hannibal, which detailed her experiences food styling for NBC’s Hannibal. Out of that one phone call, the Hannibal pop-up dinner was born. Alison gave me the chance to make the cocktail for that dinner and I’d say it went over fairly well because when season two started to shoot, Janice asked me if I’d like to work on the show with her.

The Cookbook Store
If you were to make a flow chart of all the people that have connected through that store over the last 31 years, you’d see the kind of incestuous city Toronto really is. Having an open door to the food and publishing industries for that long has created an invaluable network of people that I’m extremely grateful to know. That’s why when Alison called to tell me they’d decided to close the store, my first thought was that I’d miss meeting all the different people that shared the store as a community centre for food and publishing professionals, far more effective than the most connected LinkedIn profile.

The Cookbook Store

Former Cookbook Store staff member, Kevin Jeung http://bit.ly/1eb5G4o.

Now that they’ve been closed for just over a month, I realize how much I miss being surrounded by cookbooks. There were so many books, too many that I didn’t yet buy. Backlist titles such as Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking and Julia Child’s The Way to Cook were staples of the French section and I enjoyed reading through them during my shifts but I never ended up buying them. Like a lot of people I took advantage of the idea that the store would always be there. I will miss the British section the most with all its special import titles that were unavailable in most other stores. The British books always had better covers than their North American editions and contained the original measurements that use weight rather than volume. You need a scale to cook from them and as a store employee I was all too eager to tell you to go buy a digital kitchen scale, just as I am here on this blog.

The Cookbook Store

For the potluck we all brought a dish that we felt represented The Cookbook Store. Wearing something red, the store’s official colour was also an option.

Jennifer Grange, who had been working at the store since three months after they opened in April 1983, has a fondness for the Brits. I believe it was Jennifer who got to know Nigella Lawson’s writing first while reading her column in British Vogue. That’s when they decided to start importing Nigella’s first book, before Canadian publishers knew who she was. Jennifer and I share many of the same tastes in cookbooks and food. I’m sad now that I can’t go into that store to find Jennifer behind the cash, ready to pile books in front of me to tell me which ones to buy. That’s how I got to own many of the cookbooks in my collection, including Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

The Cookbook Store

It’s true, Jennifer and Alison put Ottolenghi in front of a lot of people and it was met with considerable enthusiasm. When I was working at the store I was happy to bombard customers with Jennifer, telling them what recipes we’d made from the book and why they needed to buy it, despite the lousy conversion rate from British pounds to the Canadian dollar. The first Ottolenghi and Tamimi book—not to be confused as their third, as it was just re-released in North America with a different cover after the success of Plenty and Jerusalem—represents some of my best memories working at the store. Later when Yotam and Sami were promoting their book Jerusalem, they came to the store for an event and I used my iPhone video skills to shoot this interview and then I got them to sign my book.

The Cookbook Store

Jennifer Wlodarczyk, the store’s first and only vegan staff member, greatly improved the vegan section in the store.

The Cookbook Store

Our Crustcrumbs offering next to Jennifer Wlodarczyk’s vegan pierogi with real sour cream because Jennifer knows how to win over non-vegans.

Saying goodbye to the store but not the people, Alison decided to throw a potluck to celebrate, a bit like a wake at a funeral, a couple weeks following their last day in business. I had been in the store helping to remove the bookshelves and demolish the cash counter. I also helped to empty the dreaded upstairs storage and prop room—a room packed to the ceiling with props (some of which will be making their way onto Crustcrumbs) from the past 30 years of window displays. It wasn’t a shock to see the store hollowed out like it was on the day of the potluck but it’s a sad thing to see now whenever I pass by the intersection at Yonge and Yorkville.

The Cookbook Store

Shamelessly self-promoting Crustcrumbs, here is Ottolenghi’s “Crushed New Potatoes with Horseradish and Sorrel”.

To single out just one recipe to make for the potluck, after having so many discussions about food and cooking in that store was impossible. I decided to make something from Ottolenghi knowing that anything from that book would be a crowd pleaser. “Crushed New Potatoes with Horseradish and Sorrel” is what I went with and yes, it’s essentially potato salad but it’s one of those classic Ottolenghi and Tamimi recipes that takes familiar vegetables and ingredients like potatoes, horseradish, and yogurt, and combines them in a way that seems entirely exotic. Besides, potato salad is the quintessential potluck food, comforting and food safe enough to sit out for a few hours.

The Cookbook Store

Cheese! If these walls could talk, they’d say we ate a lot of cheese over the last 31 years.

The Cookbook Store

It was good to see everyone from former staff, to customers and authors all congregated for one last time in that space, sharing recipes and reminiscing over experiences tied together by cookbooks. I don’t know that another place like The Cookbook Store could exist. The boom of independent bookstores we saw in the 80s isn’t likely to happen again in this city. That said, Alison continues to plan special events, without the bricks and mortar store, such as lunch with Ruth Reichl at The Chef’s House, which offers a chance for writers, chefs, and readers to connect over a meal with one of their culinary heroes. And that sense of community that The Cookbook Store helped build will prosper through new channels that encourage people to cook and love food. I already see it in blogs like Joel and Dana’s WellPreserved, the work Mardi Michels does cooking with Les Petit Chefs, and Joshna Maharaj’s work with Sick Kids and Ryerson University. It all comes back to getting people together to get them cooking, which is something I first learned to do at The Cookbook Store.

The Cookbook Store

Winter Recipe Roundup

Crustcrumbs

What happens when you give drunk people fire and tell them to spell.

Judging by my Facebook feed, everyone wants this winter to die a fiery death and never return.  Well, suck it up, because I have more winter photos to share, as well as a reminder of the winter recipes we posted.  Hopefully soon this winter will be a distant memory, and you can look back on this post fondly in October when you’ve forgotten that time when it was technically spring but still -14 degrees Celsius and snowing outside.

Also, we busted our asses in a snowstorm to take these photos “in the name of Crustcrumbs!“, so you are going to look at them, okay?  Okay.

Actual snowstorm.

Our shooting conditions.

Winter Recipe Roundup

1. Ice Fishing & Perch Soup

For this recipe, we trekked over to Minet’s Point Park in Barrie to visit the cool ice fishing tepees.  We pretended to go ice fishing to the amusement of the locals while John cooked fish on a portable grill and served it up in a soup.  In a glorious display of grace and finesse, I slipped on the ice and injured my hip like a 90 year old woman.

Perch Soup

2. Hickory Smoked Venison Shoulder

The venison was smoked on the BBQ.  I made John go outside in the snowstorm to check on the meat while I took pictures through the window “for artistic purposes”.  This was also my first time trying venison and it was tasty, but not as tasty as the wild rice salad John made as a side dish, which I am still obsessed with to this day.

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3. Gluten-Free Sticky Toffee Pudding

We baked a cake in a wooden wine crate in a campfire (sort of).  Spoiler alert: the wood crate caught on fire.  The cake was still tasty, because John says it’s impossible to screw up sticky toffee pudding.  Even when it’s gluten free.  I didn’t take a good photo of the final product because cider.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

More Pictures

Ice fishing huts

Cooking Outdoors

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Sticky Toffee Pudding

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Sticky Toffee Pudding

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Enjoy spring!

Gluten Free Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I know you’re not going to make sticky toffee pudding in a wood box while standing around in three feet of snow. We didn’t – well we did but we finished the dessert in the oven – and even if we had taken it all the way, it would still only be for the sake of taking pictures of it baking in a wooden wine crate. Maybe it was a result of a little cabin fever, stubbornness, and a few craft porters tipping the 10% ABV point, leaving me with little fear of the cold and non-stop snow we’d been seeing all day. Determination meant we were going to get the most wintery photo-set out of this weekend, frostbite be damned.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

The real reason for the wooden oven experiment was to show that sticky toffee pudding is pretty hard to mess up. It’s a dark, damp cake made with dates and treacly brown sugar, and because of this it can stand up to a lot of undeserved punishment. So on top of the unconventional make-shift oven, we went with a gluten free version of sticky toffee pudding. The nubbly almond meal and dousing of bourbon really make this cake dense – a bit brick-like in the stomach, which would only be a welcome thing on such a bleak winter’s day.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

This is one of those recipes that really benefits from those big impossibly plump and soft organic Medjool dates that are somehow fresher than the non-organic varieties. The bourbon is optional, though appropriate with all the butter and brown sugar happening in this cake. If you wanted to leave the bourbon out entirely, you could replace it with water.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

As for serving this cake, you have to make the sauce to accompany it. It’s rich and comforting and this pudding needs that kind of familiarity as the cake itself, though related to a sticky toffee pudding, is nothing close to what would satisfy a sticky toffee pudding purist. Though as we have taken an unconventional route thus far, you might as well add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to serve along with it, letting the melting custard meld with the hot sauce.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Hopefully soon, wintery scenes like this will be a distant memory and when we’re no longer trapped by snow and ice, we can repress those memories and replace them with this pudding. Now that it’s finally spring, it’s time to finally shift the focus onto brighter, more verdant adventures.

 

Gluten Free Sticky Toffee Pudding

For the Pudding
250g organic Medjool dates, pitted
50g Demerara sugar
125ml water
75ml bourbon
100g unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
200g ground almonds
20g coconut flour
3 large eggs

For the Sauce
65g Demerara sugar
65g unsalted butter
125ml whipping cream (35% M.F.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Alternatively you could butter 6 ramekins or any other dish that’s large enough to take the batter.

In a small saucepan, combine the dates, sugar, water, and bourbon and heat over medium-high until the liquid begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes to let the dates soften. Pour the dates and their liquid into a food processor and add the butter, ground ginger, and ground almonds. Purée everything until fairly smooth – a few bits of date are fine in the final pudding. Add the coconut flour and eggs and blend again until fully incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a tester comes out relatively clean.

For the sauce, bring the sugar, cream and butter to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, until it reaches the consistency of thin custard.

To serve, place a piece of the warm pudding in a bowl or dessert plate with high sides and drench in the sauce.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Hickory Smoked Venison Shoulder

I think we’re all sick of that cozy feeling we seek in wintertime. Putting on layers of constraining itchy clothes, lacing up bulky boots for a journey of only a few minutes, and wrapping a scarf around my head, up to my eyes, leaving bits scarf fluff caught in my throat, I think like everyone else, I’m over it. I want to be able to tell a story of drinking breezy cocktails in Miami or finding food along the boardwalk on Venice beach.

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I’m not going to do that though because it’s too easy. Character doesn’t come cheap and we are, if anything, paying dearly for our witty, sarcastic and bitter character. We’re still talking winter because it’s unfortunately still here. Just wait until spring actually pops up in Toronto, and then, I’m afraid to say it should I jinx it, summer along behind it. We will drop the bitterness and pick up a distinctly west-coast positivity that can only exist when the weather isn’t holding us hostage under a blanket.

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This meal was created for our ice fishing weekend. Inspired by the woodland environment, I wanted venison and I wanted it to be heavy, wrapped in an extra layer of fat (just like all Canadians in winter), and infused with hickory smoke. I like making roasts that take up a lot of time. Spending a bit of prep to get it in the heat, then forgetting about it until it’s time to eat. Venison doesn’t generally need much time in the heat though, which is why I went with a shoulder roast. For all its leanness, it still has some connective tissues that benefit from slow cooking to break them down.

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If you wanted to do this in an oven and don’t want to have a smoke out in your kitchen, you could certainly bard the roast with double smoked bacon, which would keep the roast moist while also providing a good dose of smoke flavour. I used hickory chips on the barbecue so using bacon wasn’t really necessary and even while maintaining a relatively low temperature on the barbecue, it’s still a harsher heat than the oven so barding in a heavier layer of pork fat is preferred.

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There are a lot of robust flavours venison can pair with. I like juniper, garlic, pepper, wine, bay, oregano, lemon, thyme and onion to not only flavour the meat but any sides to be served with it. Sweetness and acidity are also welcome additions to game meat, hence the pomegranate molasses in the marinade, which also caramelizes on the roast as it cooks.

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We kept the sides simple for this dinner because we’d spent the entire day outside in the snow and could barely manage to lift a pot by the end. A wild rice salad, featuring a vinaigrette of lemon, fresh oregano, parsley and olive oil, with some shallot and pomegranate molasses mixed through is a nutty and herbaceous compliment to the venison. Roasted celeriac purée, simply flavoured with heavy cream and fresh thyme is extremely satisfying and dare I say, cozy, along side.

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Hickory Smoked Venison Shoulder

Serves 4-6

1.13 kg boneless venison shoulder, tied
pork fat for barding
1 bag hickory wood chips, soaked
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon whole juniper
1 tablespoon whole allspice
5 whole cloves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
300ml red wine
100ml sweet sherry or port
100ml olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

Combine the juniper, allspice, cloves, peppercorns, and garlic in a mortar and pestle and crush until the spices are coarsely ground. To a large heavy freezer bag or a vessel big enough to hold all the marinade ingredients plus the venison, add the spices and the rest of the marinade ingredients. Mix to dissolve the sugar then plunk in the venison. Leave to marinate overnight or up to 2 days.

When ready to barbecue, remove the venison from the marinade, season with the salt and tie the pork fat around it. Place the venison in a barbecue safe pan and decant the marinade into a separate foil pan. In another foil pan add the soaked wood chips and cover with aluminum foil, piercing the top, which will allow the smoke to escape later.

With the lid down, preheat the barbecue to 275°F, placing the pan with the wood chips over direct heat. When the chips begin to smoke, place the pan with the venison over indirect heat and the pan with the reserved marinade somewhere in between direct and indirect heat. Leave the venison to cook for approximately 2 hours, opening the lid to check as little as possible to help keep the smoke from escaping.

When ready, let the meat rest at room temperature for 10 minutes, then remove what’s left of the barding fat before serving.

Ice Fishing for Warmth

Early Saturday morning we left the perfectly warm indoors to take pictures in defiance of winter. My parents used to go ice fishing regularly in the winter, drinking Dubonnet and lemon, pulling behind them a sled with a bundled up baby tucked inside. I know these acts are not a part of my genetic make-up. I’m half Finnish but that half is non-practicing. It seems to me a joke that this going out on a lake with ice a full foot thick, to fish for the day, has anything to do with my ancestry.

Ice fishing huts

Jen and I make our first stop at the little convenience store at the park’s entrance to see how we get started. We look the part, in matching red Canada Goose parkas and bulky black snow pants but really we have no idea. My outfit isn’t my own but borrowed from Jen’s dad. I’m more worried that my leather city boots are going to get ruined in this real arctic tundra. Inside, we’re told to go talk to Sean out on the lake as he could hook us up with rods and a hole in the ice – the two things we were aware we needed for this shoot to work.

Ice Fishing

Towards the lake we go, making another stop to talk with the French Canadian man handing out mini fishing rods. We explain we have no interest in fishing *spoiler alert* but we want to take pictures to make it look like we’re fishing. He supplies us with rods and points us out to the lake to speak with someone else about setting us up with a hole. Now I feel like we’re playing a mission in RuneScape, chatting up merchants and locals, collecting bits and pieces of information that will help us on our quest.

Ice Fishing

With a bit of wandering we make it to one of the brothers running the hut program. He directs us to one of the brothers out further with the snowmobile because he’d have the ice auger we’d need to get that hole. Our story is that we’re working on a “project” since we’re both too embarrassed to say the words “food blog” in front of outdoorsy types.

Perch fillets in snow

Like everyone before him, the brother with the ice auger was incredibly accommodating and was kind enough to make us a hole in the ice for our shoot. Promptly after he left us to our work, Jen fell good and hard on that thick lake ice. It wasn’t like we had forgotten we were on ice or that it was slippery when the layer of snow was slicked with water but Jen’s graceful side plant (so as not to crush the camera) helped to drive the point home to take extra care.

Cooking Outdoors

The whole point of this exercise and as it turns out, winter weekend, is to show what people do when the environment you live in turns to snow and ice. There’s still warmth to be found from the people and traditions out in the bleakest of places. There’s also life underneath all that snow and ice. The lake is full of perch, reminding us of warmer days spent fishing off the end of the cottage dock.

Cooking Outdoors

I wanted to capture the warmth and its simplicity in these photos. The meal that brought us here is a basic perch soup made simply by frying perch fillets in plenty of butter and serving them in a stock made from the bones and heads. The burned cabbage may sound odd but is easy to do over the gas flame of a camping stove and not only does it make for an interesting garnish, the toasting brings out a flavour reminiscent of kale chips. It’s the kind of lunch that works well for the middle of a frozen lake where warmth must be made.

Cooking Outdoors

On our way back to the car, we did find Sean and admitted sheepishly that we were shooting for our food blog. We talked a while about how successful their hut program is running this season and how they hope to make some pretty fancy huts by next season, tricked out with potbelly stoves. I hope by next winter, once we’ve had a full summer to warm up, we can go back and take pictures inside one of those mini cabins on the lake. A potbelly stove inside would make it so much easier to find warmth.

Perch Soup

Though making your own fish stock is easy to do when you’re dealing with whole fish for this recipe, you can absolutely stick to a pre-made stock, seasoned lightly with the spices below if you caught your fish fillets at your local fish monger.

Perch Soup

Serves 4 as a light lunch

4 small whole yellow perch, cleaned
2 litres cold water
1 fresh bay leaf
5 allspice berries
5 whole white peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 leek, sliced finely, tops reserved
8 leaves savoy cabbage
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
fennel fronds, for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Fillet the perch, reserving the heads and bones. Add the water to a large pot and add the perch parts, minus the fillets, then the allspice, white peppercorns, salt, and leek tops. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Strain the stock, and return to the pot over low heat.

Using a pair of tongs hold a leaf of cabbage over an open flame to toast it, allowing it to burn in places. Repeat with the rest of the leaves and reserve. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and gently cook the leeks just until tender. Remove the leeks form the pan and set aside. Season the perch fillets lightly with salt and pepper. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan and fry the perch, skin side down until lightly golden brown. Flip the fish and cook for an additional 20 seconds.

To assemble the soup, in a wide bowl place the leeks on one side and a burned cabbage leaf on the other, followed by a fried perch fillet. Garnish with a fennel frond.

Perch Soup