Saturday, September 22, 2012

DineSafe - Keep Informed

I recently had a blog post up singing the praises of a bakery in the east end of Toronto. For fun I checked their DineSafe history and was shaken. I've eaten from this place many times and it had suffered numerous offences from inadequate pest control, protection of food from adulteration and contamination, selling hazardous foods at internal temperature between 4 °C and 60 °C, and failing to wash their hands before commencing work.....  This was just a few of their citations, and the same ones popped up on three separate inspections!

These are pretty basic food safety issues, the last two are pretty basic even for non chefs, cool your food quickly and refrigerate it if it'll spoil, and wash your damn hands!

I have never been sick eating there, and until I read their history, liked what I'd eaten. I just can't support a place that gets fined continually for the same things. It's a shame, after repeat inspection they'd go from conditional passes (yellow) to a pass (green) so they know what to do, I'm assuming they're too lazy to keep it up.

Keep informed:

In Toronto look at DineSafe before you dine.

In the Durham Region check out DineSafe Durham.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Al Tanoor - Shawarma

New to the scene on the Lawrence strip is Al Tanoor (1993 Lawrence Ave E). I hadn't heard of this place before today and as I was driving by, my shawarma radar went off. It was still early (just before 11am) when I arrived and the store was just being set up. The beef and chicken shawarma were already in full rotation however....

They offer a shawarma special which comes on a house baked sammoun bun, which is sort of a flatter version of a crusty French or Italian roll. The cost? $3. I ordered one of each of the chicken and beef.

 The chicken was well spiced, I seemed to detect cinnamon as the dominant flavour, it could be allspice, needless to say it was delish. It was moist and flavourful with a great char on the outside of the meat. I had it topped with fresh lettuce, tomato, onion, parsley and pickled turnip. Sauces are hummus, garlic, tahini, hot sauce and one other I hadn't seen before, it looked like a runnier version of tartar sauce (I have no clue what it's called). Be warned, the hot sauce is hot, the woman who served me put just a tiny bit on and I could pick it out with little hesitation.

A shot of the chicken, taken in the wild:

The beef had to wait for the ride home. I think the beef may have a touch of curry in it as it seemed to have a greensh yellow tinge to it, again I picked out cinnamon and or allspice as the dominant flavour, but, it had a well balanced flavour overall. Again the beef had a nice char on it and was very moist, it wasn't as 'beefy' as those from shawarma empire but was excellent overall.

The place was very clean and modern looking, and the woman who served me was very pleasant, explaining to me what a sammoun was and that in Iraq, people love them. It's good to have another excellent shawarma joint along the Lawrence strip, I just wish some would move out to Durham to provide some competition out this way.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Santa Maria Tri-Tip

I learned about tri-tip a few years back on a BBQ forum I read. What is a tri tip? It's a cut from the bottom sirloin, triangular in shape and is fairly lean. Overcooking a tri-tip is a sin, as it will dry out and toughen up on you. Ok you say, this is news to me, I have never seen tri-tip anywhere... There's a reason for this, there are only two per animal and they are only about two and a half pounds each. I have heard most of the tri-tip in the USA is destined for California where tri-tip is a specialty.

The problem with tri-tip in the GTA is finding it. Most butchers don't stock it as there is little demand up here, and, that's a shame. It's a lean cut, and, when prepared correctly has a rich, beefy flavour and is melt-in-your-mouth-tender.

How do you cook it? Traditionally it's rubbed liberally with kosher salt, garlic, pepper, and parsley and then grilled directly over red oak logs using a Santa Maria style grill. The secret is to keep it over a low to medium fire so it doesn't scorch before the middle of the roast cooks.

I recently found my local Sobey's stocks some harder to find cuts and the butchers there are really accomodating. A few weeks back I found they had AAA tri-tip on sale for $7 a pound. I ran right over and picked up four roasts. Previously, I had been driving to the west end of Toronto or to downtown butchers to find tri-tip. To find it five minutes from my house was the score of scores.

Here's my preparation:

Santa Maria Rub

1/2 T kosher salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp parsley flakes
pinch cayenne

This rub should cover one complete roast.

Since I don't have a Santa Maria style grill, I use my gas grill (I know, I know). I set the middle burner for minimum and the outside burners to medium high. My trusty Napoleon heats nicely and burns between 400°F and 600°F with the lid closed using this setup

Put the roast over the low flame and close the lid, rotate the roast 45° after a few minutes to create cross hatch grill marks. After 10 or so minutes flip the roast and repeat the previous steps. You need to make sure you don't overcook your tri-tip. Using an instant read thermometer here is your friend. Pull the roast when it hits 130°F and let it rest for at least 10 minutes loosely tented under foil.

Here's the most important piece of info I can give you. A tri tip has a grain, you see it best when it's raw. When you slice your tri-tip, you want to slice against this grain. You want to see the end view of the muscle fibres once it's sliced. If you slice along the grain, you'll end up chewing on elastic bands of muscle fibre. Tasty, but not what we want. If you look at the top picture below, you'll see the grain runs from lower left to top right. This means that when I sliced it I cut from top left to lower right.

Serve sliced, straight up or as a sandwich on toasted garlic bread with your favourite BBQ sauce.