I've never tasted Wagyu beef—considered the most expensive and most desired meat for it's dense marbling—let alone judged a competition that centred on this cut, but I found myself doing just that on a panel of judges at a recent Underground Chef Co event in Toronto.
The Japanese Government and Japanese Beef Association in partnership with the Underground Chef Co joined forces to help promote and educate the public on Wagyu beef. The most exclusive Wagyu in the world comes from Kobe, Japan where it's renowned for its superior flavour and tenderness, which comes from the intense amount of fat that helps keep it tender and heightens its taste.
The throwdown was hosted by chef Devan Rajkumar of Cityline and held in the open kitchen of Toronto restaurant Boehmer. The Battle of the Wagyu pitted two Toronto-based chefs against one another: Natshuiko Sugimoto of Guu Izakaya versus Daniel Ken of Blowfish. The mandate: each chef had to create four dishes in under an hour, using different cuts of Wagyu. They also had to incorporate a secret ingredient: burdock root.
Since I had never been this close to a piece of meat with a price tag worth more than my monthly rent, I was reeling with respect, awe and a little wonder. It was the most intensely marbled beef I'd ever seen. I could hardly see the light pink meat hiding between the web-like layers of fat. In fact, there was just enough meat to hold the fat together. Hello, Wagyu!
This was my first time eating Wagyu and I leaned more towards Natshuiko's dishes, as his natural approach let the flavour of the beef speak for itself. The words "meat butter" came to mind as slicing and chewing the tender beef was virtually effortless. And, similar to any foie gras experience, half the pleasure came from its exquisitely melting texture that fleetingly escapes before you've fully appreciated its complex flavour.
Any match demands a winner, but in this case I felt everyone came out on top. (When you get curiosity-driven, food-loving people in one room, competition and celebration become interchangeable.) But for those who must know, Blowfish won bragging rights that night. Daniel's sophisticated presentation and innovative use of ingredients, sauces and textures left me in no doubt he knows his way around Wagyu. His was a visual feast and, despite the dainty portions, the big round flavours left me sighing with satisfaction.
What if the foods you choose could help prevent
Alzheimer's disease? That's the tantalizing promise behind the MIND diet, a style of eating linked to a lowered risk of getting the progressive degenerative brain disease–one that disproportionately affects women.
In fact, 72 percent of Canadians with the disease are women, according to the Toronto-based
Alzheimer Society of Canada. While genetics do play a role in whether you'll develop dementia (including Alzheimer's), what you eat is an important factor in reducing the risk of developing dementia, too. A study led by researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago noticed that, of the 923 adults tracked for an average of 4 1/2 years each, those who rigorously adhered to the MIND diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer's by up to 53 percent. In addition, the aging of their brains slowed by about 7 1/2 years.
So, what is this seemingly magical food plan? MIND—which is short for "Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay"—features a combination of two well-known doctor-approved diets: fish, red wine and olive oil from the diets traditionally followed by countries bordering
the Mediterranean, such as Italy, Morocco, Greece and Spain; along with the lean proteins and low-fat foods of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which became popular after a 1997 study found that it lowered blood pressure. Salads, vegetables, nuts and berries round out the food plan, which is already being promoted by groups such as the Canadian nonprofit
Women's Brain Health Initiative, based in Toronto.
One reason the MIND diet might be working is its high levels of antioxidants and nutrients such as lutein and beta-carotene, which may help protect the brain and body from damage and stresses, says Dr. Vivien Brown, Toronto family physician, vice-president of medical affairs at Medisys and a
Women's Brain Health Initiative board member. It also promotes good circulation, another factor in brain health. While more research is needed to understand the link between this style of eating and the positive effects on the brain, the MIND diet does require some dedication. "This is not about a week or two of healthy eating, but rather, a lifestyle commitment to see long-term benefit," says Dr. Brown. She adds, though, that even moderate adherence does have benefits, and that we shouldn't forget other lifestyle
factors that help prevent dementia, such as not smoking, keeping blood pressure within a normal range, exercising and enjoying a social life.
To make the diet easier to try, we asked health and wellness expert Rose Reisman to design a week's plan of meals and snacks. Bonus: The healthful classics that follow make eating for a healthy brain taste delicious.
Dainty and flavourful, everyone loves to indulge in tiny bites of traditional tea sandwiches. Though they appear finicky to make, these tea sandwiches are easy to assemble and entirely make-ahead.
Pinwheel Sandwiches Trim crusts from 5 slices white or whole wheat sandwich loaf, cut Pullman-style. (Ask bakery to cut sandwich loaf horizontally, or Pullman style.) Using rolling pin, flatten slices slightly. Spread with 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, softened; spread with filling.
Place 1 asparagus spear (or 2 baby gherkins) along 1 short end of each. Starting at asparagus, roll up tightly without squeezing. Wrap each roll tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour. With serrated knife, trim ends; cut each roll into 6 slices.
Makes 30 pieces. Pinwheel Sandwich recipe: Curried Egg Salad Triangle Sandwiches Spread 16 thin slices whole wheat or white sandwich bread with 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, softened; spread filling evenly over 8 of the slices. Top with remaining slices, pressing lightly. Place on rimmed baking sheet and cover with damp tea towel; cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Trim off crusts. Cut each sandwich into 4 pieces.
Makes 32 pieces. Triangle Sandwich recipe: Ham Pickle Spread Square Sandwiches Make sandwiches as in Triangle Sandwiches above except use 8 thin slices white and 8 thin slices whole wheat sandwich bread. Cut each sandwich into quarters.
Makes 32 pieces.Square Sandwich recipe: Pimiento Cheese Spread Finger Sandwiches Make sandwiches as in Triangle Sandwiches above. Cut each sandwich lengthwise into 4 fingers.
Makes 32 pieces. Finger Sandwich recipe: Tuna Olive Salad
Choose the best-quality bread. Never serve end slices. Freezing bread before cutting and then spreading makes for easier handling.
Bread should be lightly buttered no matter what the filling. Butter should be at room temperature before spreading. Sandwiches will not become limp and soggy as readily if you spread butter right to edge of bread.
Cut crusts off bread with long, sharp knife after (not before) assembling sandwiches. This keeps everything neater.
Since tea sandwiches should be delicate, cut each sandwich into thirds or quarters or in half diagonally. Or use cookie cutters to cut into decorative shapes.
Who doesn't have a sweet spot for sweets? Here, a roundup of our most adored dessert and baked goods recipes of the year.
Whether it's a favourite dish you whip up with the kids, a showstopper you make for an event, or a special dessert you treat yourself to, we all have a few go-to recipes when we're in need of something sweet. But, in case you're looking for a new recipe to add to your list of favourites, we have a few amazing contenders lined up.
For the cake lover, you've got to try our Canada's Best Carrot Cake With Cheese Cheese Icing. This deliciously moist treat is perfect for all celebrations—birthdays, showers, reunions, and beyond.
The Christmas cookie lover will be all over our Cream Cheese Gingerbread Thumbprint Cookies. They're soft and chewy and filled with a tangy cream cheese icing.
Like to enjoy your sweets with coffee? Go for our Pumpkin Scones With Whipped Brown Butter Icing, Chocolate Ginger Biscotti, Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Loaf, or our Best Ever Apple Pie—satisfaction guaranteed.
And finally, for the true Canadians, you've got to try our Maple Fudge, Butter Tarts and Butter Tart Squares.
But, no matter which recipe you try—though we encourage you try them all!—you're guaranteed to have an amazing go-to dessert on your need-to-bake roster.
We polled family doctors from across the country, and they laid down the law on eight things they wish we'd do—or stop doing.
According to our panel of general practitioners, Canadians aren't always doing what they should to make the most of doctor visits—and skipping out on these crucial tactics could lead to a delay in diagnosing serious conditions. Here's what our experts say you should add to your patient checklist.
1. Stop feeling shy
Many of us hesitate to talk to our physicians about sensitive issues (think substance abuse or sexual health—or even gender identity). But honesty and openness are important, both for fostering a good doctor-patient relationship and for ensuring that you get the best care, says Dr. Laura Pripstein, medical director of the Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto and a staff physician on the family health team. That's why it's OK to try out a doc before committing. Dr. Pripstein recommends booking an initial visit to see if your potential doctor is a good fit. "You want to see if this person seems like someone you can talk to, someone you feel comfortable with," she says. And if you don't think your doctor understands or respects your concerns, don't be afraid to find someone new. "If you feel you can't ask questions that might be embarrassing, you don't have the right provider," says Dr. Pripstein.
2. Don't come to your appointments unprepared
Get the most out of your time—and your doc's—by arriving at your appointment with a clear plan for what you want to discuss, says Dr. David Ross, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "It's good to have patients think about their problems from when the issue began, then look at it chronologically to the present," says Dr. Ross. Making a prioritized point-form list in advance helps ensure that you don't forget anything or mix up the order of events, he says. Then, work with your doctor to address the most serious issues first.
3. Choose your family doc over the walk-in clinic whenever you can
Yes, a clinic is convenient, but what we gain in easy access, we lose in familiarity. "I think it's really valuable if people can connect with a family physician who they'll be able to see long term, rather than just looking for the quickest way to access care," says Dr. Maurianne Reade, a physician with the Manitoulin Central Family Health Team in Mindemoya and M'Chigeeng First Nation, Ont. A family doctor will know your medical history and will keep it in mind when suggesting treatment—so, for example, if you've recently taken several courses of antibiotics for a UTI, your physician will likely look for a different course of action if you come in with another infection. According to the most recent statistics, about 4.5 million Canadians don't have a regular family doctor. If that's you, contact your provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons, or check to see if your region has an online registry (Ontario has Health Care Connect, while Quebec launched a web-based family doctor finder last year). "It's important to know that we doctors are privileged to share in your stories and to help you through difficult times," says Dr. Reade.
4. Share what's happening in your life
There's a reason your doctor wants to know where you're working, if you're dating and how the kids are—and it's not just because she likes you. (Though she does, we're sure.) Physicians need a picture of their patients' lives beyond their specific health symptoms and conditions, especially when they're first getting to know you, says Dr. Stephen Wetmore, the family medicine chair at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University in London, Ont. "Doctors need to know these things to understand how your lifestyle and habits may be influencing your health," he says. So when you're talking about your exercise habits, your health history and whether you smoke, drink or use drugs, mention your employment status, family obligations and intimate relationships, too, says Dr. Wetmore.
5. Be a better googler
Doctors know you do it (hello, late-night web searches), but they would prefer you to ask about good sources of information, rather than going rogue online. They also want you to be honest about your fears if you've read something particularly upsetting. Physicians can't address your concerns or point you in the right direction if they don't know what your fingertips have been up to. "The thing we want our patients to do is ask us for the most reliable Canadian websites to go to as resources," says Dr. Heather Waters, an assistant professor of family medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton.
6. Don't think your symptoms are "no big deal"
If you've noticed you are having more headaches than usual or are sleeping more or are eating less, you might not think to tell your doctor—but you should. There's no set of rules for determining which symptoms are worthy of investigation or discussion, says Dr. Wetmore, but make a note to mention anything that is new or has changed since your last appointment. "You should bring up things like sudden weight loss or fatigue that seems excessive," he says. "It could be a sign of a larger problem, or the cause of a developing problem." Evenif it doesn't end up being serious, seeing your doctor will help ease any anxiety you might be feeling, and that's worth the visit, too.
7. Talk about what you're taking
Tell your physician about any herbal medications and alternative treatments you take, says Dr. Mel Borins, a University of Toronto associate professor and author of A Doctor's Guide to Alternative Medicine: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why. It's important for patients to share what's working for them and for doctors to be open-minded about therapies outside their own practice or traditions, he says. This is also a concern when it comes to conventional meds, especially if you're pregnant; there are only 23 medications specifically approved for use during pregnancy— yes, out of every available drug—which can leave women feeling anxious about taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs when they're expecting, says Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Bridgewater, N.S. But don't stop taking your meds as soon as your pregnancy test comes back positive. "It's really important to talk to your doctor instead of stopping cold turkey," says Dr. MacQuarrie. Physicians can help you determine the risks and benefits of using different drugs, and they can let you know when the effects of not taking a medication while pregnant may be worse than taking it— which is the case with some antidepressants.
8. Avoid diagnosing yourself
You know doctors don't like it when you come in prepared with a diagnosis you've made thanks to the aforementioned Dr. Google. But do you know why? It's not because they think you're encroaching on their territory! Rather, they worry that a serious medical problem might get missed or you'll cause yourself unnecessary anxiety over something not serious. That's because not everyone has the most common symptoms of a particular condition. Plus, men, women and different ethnicities can have varying symptoms for the same problem. For instance, Dr. Reade's community has a large proportion of people with diabetes, which can affect the warning signs of cardiac disease, a major killer in Canada. Instead of the usual pain or pressure on the left side of the chest or arm, men and women with diabetes may instead have spells of profuse sweating with weakness. And, of course, women who don't have diabetes can have differing symptoms, too; sometimes, a heart attack can feel like acid reflux or come with sudden nausea, vomiting and lightheadedness. So always tell your physician if your symptoms are surprising or strange—like a headache that feels different than usual, for example. And if you're worried about a specific diagnosis, be sure to bring that up, too.
While every Canadian faces his or her own unique set of health hurdles, there are a number of ailments that have become pervasive in Canada. Though medicine has advanced over the years, our modern lifestyles have introduced a new set of health challenges. Here are some of the top health problems that Canadians face today.