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Dried persimmon and vegan ba’con, anyone?
Dried persimmons are available from the end of November to the end of February and are snapped up as quickly as they can be restocked. In North America, they are mostly eaten fresh. But in China and Japan, the fruit is harvested and dried – either air-dried in the sun or on racks over a heat source. It tastes somewhat like a dried fig, with a smoky note and a texture like fruit jelly. This lends it to both sweet and savoury dishes. Be warned: Dried persimmons are not pretty – that whitish powdery stuff on the outside resembles mould, but it’s simply the fruit’s own crystallized sugars coming to the surface. Available in most Asian grocers across Canada. – Signe Langford
New at Williams-Sonoma is a great line created by Moroccan-born chef Mourad Lahlou, who received a Michelin star for his modern Moroccan cooking at Aziza in San Francisco. It’s hard to say what’s more appealing about this cured Eureka citrus, the texture or the flavour, but these salty, deeply citric, melt-in-your-mouth preserved lemons add punch to salads, stews, sandwiches and compound butters. You can even try them on their own, but be forewarned: The intensity easily matches a spoonful of straight hot sauce. Mourad’s Moroccan Preserved Lemons, $20.95 for a 12-oz jar (plus shipping). williams-sonoma.com – Bonny Reichert
Tori’s Bakeshop in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood makes a meatless bacon that transcends the limits of cured pork. It’s actually organic coconut smoked over hickory wood before being dressed with tamari and maple syrup and toasted into savoury shards of crispy goodness. Sold in small Mason jars, sprinkle it on oatmeal, add it to a lettuce and tomato sandwich or just munch it by the handful. “Vegans are always looking for that salty, meaty replacement. Coconut is fatty and crunchy, and we make it smoky and salty,” says Tori Vaccher. “Ba’con” is available from Tori’s Bakeshop, $10/500 ml jar, plus shipping. email@example.com; 647-350-6500. – Bonny Reichert
Beta 5’s Hot Chocolate Sticks, from the award-winning Vancouver-based chocolatier, are an elegant and simple idea that actually works. Choose from high-quality milk or dark chocolate that’s been moulded around a Popsicle stick into a single serving cube. All you need to do is heat a cup of milk and stir until the rich, dark goodness melts away. Tuck ’em into pockets for hot choc on the go or, if there’s no milk around, they’re a chocoholic’s perfect lolly. Sold individually ($4) or in kits comprising 6 sticks and 12 house-made marshmallows for $30, plus shipping; shop.beta5chocolates.com – Bonny Reichert
Coconut vinegar is a product of the Philippines, where it’s a pantry staple. It’s highly acidic and sharp, more like our classic white vinegar, but because coconut trees flourish in nutrient-dense volcanic soil, the finished product is also packed with healthy goodies. Organika Health Products Inc. imports two types: plain coconut vinegar and one with added raw, wild Philippine honey. This dark amber treat is more like nectar than vinegar. It’s delicious with salads and slaws, fish dishes, marinades, barbecue sauces and dips, on cut fruit or in sparkling water. Available in fine food shops and major grocery chains across Canada, $18 for a 250-ml bottle; www.organika.com – Signe Langford
Mike Kurtz first tasted hot honey at a little pizzeria in Brazil. Smitten by the thrill of squeezing sweet chili-infused goodness onto a savoury slice of pie, Kurtz returned to New York with a mission. Soon he had experimented his way into a great recipe. In 2010, Kurtz introduced the good stuff to Paul Giannone, proprietor of Paulie Gee’s celebrated Brooklyn pizzeria. Giannone loved it, and so did his customers, who persuaded Kurtz to bring his honey to market so they could enjoy it at home. In addition to kicking up pizza, Mike’s adds spice to ice cream, cheese, chicken, ribs, roasted veggies and peanut butter. $8 (U.S.) for a 12-oz jar; mikes-hothoney.com – Bonny Reichert