Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Larder: Spanish Chorizo, and our first "sale"...

After stumbling home from the Dakota Tavern, Patrick Krzyzanowski  officially became the first buyer of Trinity Reach Farms product.  Pat is now the proud owner of a small vac-pack of saucisson sec.  With blatant disregard for monetary defamation law, we nailed up that first fiver for good luck.

Since the saucisson came out so well, we decided to start a new batch of sausages.   I wanted to do something that could be used for cooking, as well as snack-fodder.  We settled on Spanish chorizo.

Having never actually made a fermented sausage before, I consulted a few resources:  the Ruhlman "Charcuterie" book; Paul Bertoli's, "Cooking By Hand"; and my friend Johnny Poon.  Johnny is the new head chef at Delux Bistro on Ossington, and has always been a great help when it comes to curing, cutting, or salting any piece of meat.  Turns out, Johnny was putting in an order from his sausage supplier for a live bacterial culture.  This acts as a starter for sausage fermentation.

Armed with bacteria and gorgeous, farm-raised pork shoulder from Vince Gasparro, we set to work grinding the meat, and hand-cutting the fat.  After all the meat was processed, I stuffed the sausage into hog casings, while Paul started on dinner.

More updates to come.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Brew: Trouble Shooting the Coffee Porter

Well, it appears as though my beginners luck has run out. There is not much that I have experienced that is as frustrating as waiting two and a half months for something to be ready, only to find that it is unusable. I had an inkling something was fishy about this beer from day one.

When I fermented my first brewing attempt loads of yeasty gunk bubbled out of the bucket that I used to house the beer. For the Coffee Porter I used a glass carboy as the vessel for the beer. The fermentation process for the Coffee Porter lurched along, producing none of the overflow that had occurred during the last beer. I assumed that this was the result of the change in container, as it was the only thing I had changed in the brewing process. The same slow ferment happened when I pitched the yeast into the India Red Ale. Having done a little more reading on the process of making beer by the time I was making the IRA, I now know that a rapid bubbling fermentation is very important in producing a quality beer. Desiring a more rapid fermentation I biked over to Fermentations on Danforth to pick up more yeast, and see if a healthy dose of yeast would force the beer to ferment more vigorously. When I pitched a couple more packs of yeast it was obvious that the original yeast was the problem, as the beer produced a big overflow that made a mess of the broom closet I keep them in. The people from Brampton Home-Brew Supplies had sold me expired yeast. The beer pictured here on the left is how a beer should look during fermentation, the one on the right is the Coffee Porter, and how a beer shouldn't look.

Though I was able to save the IRA, I fear that there may be no hope for the Coffee Porter. When I opened the bottles they didn't produce the deafening pop that my brown-ales had, they simply made a little pffft. We still went ahead and drank some of them, we could all still taste unfermented sugar, and the beer gave us a horrific case of the toots. In an attempt to save the beer, and the sixty dollars it cost me to make, I emptied all the beer back into a carboy and pitched new yeast to see if the remaining sugars would ferment. I am concerned that this may be to little to late and I am now stuck waiting another month and a half before I have any new home-brew to drink.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fowl: Weekend at Leland's

This past March twelfth I headed to my friend Leland's farm in Cambelford for the nearby Warkworth Maple Syrup Festival. At this festival we celebrated the end of the sugar harvest with a massive pancake breakfast, syrup on snow, and a log sawing competition. Although I enjoyed the trip and festivities, particularly the breakfast at which I received all the maple syrup sausages of my vegetarian companions, I had an ulterior motive.

Leland is proprietor of a coop of beautiful chickens, and I will take any opportunity i get to go and visit them. These chickens have wonderfully decorative feathers and produce the most magnificently coloured eggs. The eggs come in pale blues and browns and have richly flavourful yolks. These birds are nothing like the poop covered White Bantams that I've seen crammed into massive coops in movies like Food Inc. They don't peck each other, or pick out their own feathers from stress. They are given enough room to run in the day, and yet still huddle together at night in cute sleeping arrangements. Having the opportunity to spend time with the chickens at Leland's farm has inspired me to make a chicken coop, so I can keep egg producing hens in my downtown backyard.

For things like smokehouses, cheese-presses, and compost bins, it's fine to "wing it" without plans, and figure out later if they work. For a chicken coop, that will be housing live animals, I would rather approach the building process with a little more care. So I purchased plans for a coop design that was suggested by This coop provides room for six hens to sleep in a roosting box, and a wired in grass area for them to walk. The benefits of having a design include, being provided with the know how to make the coop easier to clean, and keep out predators, like cats and raccoons. My older Italian neighbors, all of whom have had chickens in their backyard at one point, will also be great sources of advice on keeping the hens happy and safe.

I am approaching this project with a bit of apprehension because of the illegality of keeping chickens. This is not so much a fear of reprisal from law enforcement, but rather I worry about what I would do if a chicken gets sick or injured. Would I be able to take the chicken to a veterinarian? Without proper policy in place to help people with backyard food producing animals it puts urban farmers in a precarious position. This is why I have been discussing this issue with city councilors and the Toronto Food Policy Council to see what initiatives can be taken. My ultimate goal is to make our coop a part of a pilot project for keeping chickens in the city of Toronto.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Making a Trinity Reach Sign

In the hopes of drawing attention to the strange happenings in our house, we built a sign to be placed in the front yard. It is our intention that this will draw more people into our home to help us with projects, or give us much needed advice. We discovered last year that simply having a front yard vegetable garden provides an allure for neighbors to become engaged. Franka, among other nonnas, provided ample evidence of this. It would also be nice to entice participation from other young people operating their own vegetable gardens around Little Italy.

The sign is made from the stump of a tree, that I salvaged from Christie and St. Clair. Two men from Toronto Hydro were dismantling the tree. When I asked if I could have the large stump of wood, and told them I would transport it by bike, they laughed. When I returned with my bad-ass bike trailer they were eager to help, and interested in the trailers design. The stump sat in my room for over a year without any purpose, until we decided it would be a clever place to stencil Trinity Reach Farm.

When developing a name for this project, we wanted something that would reflect our place in Toronto. Our original thought was to title it after the street we live on, Crawford Street Farm, but we thought this lacked creativity. The name Crawford Street Farm would also disregarded the dozens of other backyard gardens situated along Crawford. Since these projects are a throwback to a time when people produced their own food in their urban dwellings, we thought it would be interesting to research Old Toronto, and see what existed in our location. Perhaps there was an old farm or some other sort of food producer in this area that the project could be named after? What we discovered was that Garrison Creek ran directly through our neighborhood. Immediately below our house is a portion of the creek called Trinity Reach. Running from Harbord St. to Queen St., Trinity Reach connects Dewson Stream to Denison Creek. Evidence of Garrison Creek exists all across the neighborhood. Shaw Street has slowly sinking houses that appear to be gradually disappearing into the buried creek. The creeks valleys are also still to be found in Christie Pits, Bickford Park, and Trinity Bellwoods. Despite the worry that Trinity Reach would make us sound like an outreach organization, it reflects where we are situated in Toronto, and refers to the history of the city, and so the name stuck.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Brew: Scavenging for Bottles

After having to consume an unhealthy amount of Grolsch in order to have swing-top bottles for my first brew, I decided I will need another way to get my hands on these hard to find bottles. I tried going to the Beer Store to see if I could rummage through their returns in search of the elusive swing-top. Only a couple of Beer Stores were open to the idea, most said that it was against the rules for them to give untreated bottles back to customers. From the Beer Stores that did let me scavenge it appears as though other people are as interested in keeping their swing-tops as I am, since there were none. I was nearly at the end of my rope and ready to give up and pay an exorbitant amount of money for liter Grolsch style bottles from Home-Brew Supplies in Brampton until I found the perfect solution. My employer, Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy, stocks birch and spruce beers at his Gilead Cafe. These bottles have swing-top lids affixed to them by metal brackets. I've been getting dozens of these from Jamie for next to nothing, the deposit price, and now have plenty of bottles for my home-brew.

For cleaning these bottles I purchased a fancy doodad from a wine making store at Queen and Ossington. This bottle cleaning contraption rigs up to the sink and blasts out any undesirable gunk in the bottle. This is particularly useful for getting out any settled yeast left over from former beers, or the inevitable cigarette buts left from parties past.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Larder: Saucisson Sec-cess

Cured sausages have intimidated me, thus far.  The risk of the dreaded 'case-hardening', the need for exacting ratios of cure, and the omnipresent danger of botulism poisoning made me approach this project with a bit of trepidation.

Under the careful watch and guidance of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (or at least, their Charcuterie handbook...), I started simple saucisson sec: a French country-style pork and garlic sausage.  There aren't too many ingredients, and the sausage requires neither a bacterial starter-culture, nor any incubation time.  We'll save fermented sausages for another time.

As previously mentioned, one of the major problems most people seem to run into is 'case-hardening'.  When conditions are too dry, the outside of the sausage will lose all of its moisture very quickly.  This forms an impenetrable skin, preventing the interior from drying adequately.  The result is a sausage or cured item that looks finished, but when cut open, is effectively rotten from the middle.

The best way to combat case-hardening, is to dry your sausages in a cool area with lots of humidity, such as a basement, or root cellar.  For apartment dwellers, the best option is a fridge.  Unfortunately, standard bar fridges have air that is far too dry, so a humidifier is often needed.

Our solution was to purchase a wine storage fridge from Craigslist.  To prevent wine corks from drying out, the natural ambient relative humidity in a wine fridge is about 75%, spot on for curing meats.  It also looks bad-ass.  More on that later.

I also elected to use lamb casings.  Natural casings are an amazing product to work with.  The tensile strength is incredible, and they shrink up at the same rate as the sausage interior.  The lamb casings, specifically, are very skinny, so we would shortly find out if the sausage were a success (or disaster).

Lastly, I wanted to do a cured sausage with all hand-diced fat.  This proved to be a more time consuming task than initially estimated, since a small gauge sausage would require a particularly fine dice, and the fatback has to be quite chilled to slice uniformly.

At long last, success:

I'm not going to lie:  These are some tasty sausages.  They were a bit of pain during maturation (growing some wacky fuzzy mold that required diligent cleaning), but well worth it.  So far, no botulism, either.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Vegetable: Gardening in a Small Apartment

In an apartment as small as ours, barely 800 square feet, it can be difficult to find space for all of these projects. It is also important to make sure these projects don't begin to invade our living space. A little project in the living room now and then is nice, but when you find yourself sitting next to fermenting pickles with your feet up on a case of homebrew and a leg of prosciutto hanging over your head you realize you may have a problem. This lead me to put some effort into finding a nice space for our seedlings to sprout. It is necessary that the spot in the apartment brings lots of sunlight to our little seedlings, which can be challenging in the grey days of winter and with minimal window space. With these restrictions in mind I looked up to the sky light in our living to find a home for our little sprouts. Using salvaged plywood from a neighbors demolished garage I constructed a shelf to hang from the ceiling so that light can still enter the room and egg cartons filled with soil pellets and seeds can perch along it. This puts the seedlings out of the way and yet keeps them easily accessible by stepladder for watering. The seedlings are getting lots of sunlight and there are already some chives, marjoram, oregano and coriander peaking out from under the soil.