Canned Tomatoes: Your Most Pressing Questions, Answered

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Open the pantry of any member of the BA team and what will you find? Lots of dried beans, perhaps—and definitely a can or two of whole peeled tomatoes. It’s dinner insurance: With a can or two on hand, you’re halfway to tomato sauce, tomato soup, chili, minestrone, pasta e fagioli… we could go on and on.

We’ve even gone so far as to say that canned tomatoes are better than fresh ones (and we’re not taking it back!): They’ve got all of the flavor (and less of the water content) and they’re consistently rich, tangy, and sweet even when tomato season is long, long in the future.

But how do you navigate the literal wall of canned tomatoes at the grocery store? And what’s the deal with fire-roasted versus diced versus crushed? Behold, our canned tomato 101, which will help you choose the best can for the job and then put it to work.

How do I know which one to buy?

Choose cans with the fewest ingredients: We prefer tomatoes packed with salt, but avoid sugar, garlic, or any preservatives other than calcium chloride and citric acid.

Okay, but there are so many kinds. What are the differences?

Whole peeled: Packed in juice or purée, it’s the versatile matriarch of all the rest. When in doubt, stock this can: It can be turned into the other types in a pinch.

Crushed: A mix of smushed tomatoes and juices, it’s a handy shortcut to smooth sauces or soups. Look for “no added purée” to avoid weird thickness.

Diced: Tomato chunks in juice, often with added calcium chloride to help the pieces stay firm. Use only when you want distinct bits of tomato.

Fire-Roasted: Charred over an open flame and sometimes enhanced with natural flavors like onion and garlic powder, they have a smoky flavor.

Paste: Hyper concentrated tomato juice. Use a tablespoon or two to add intense tomato flavor to sauces like bolognese; to release its full potential, caramelize it in olive oil until brick red (5 minutes over medium heat, stirring often).

healthyish-mutticherrytomatoes-canned

Canned cherry tomatoes: a thing!

Are canned cherry tomatoes a thing?

Yes! For extra sweetness and texture in stews, braises, and sauces, seek them out. We like those from Parma-based company Mutti.

Buy it: Mutti Cherry Tomatoes, $4 for 14 oz. on Amazon

What’s a San Marzano?

Sweet and low acid, with firm, thick flesh, the San Marzano is a super-hyped plum tomato that racks up a hefty price. Certified San Marzanos are grown in the region of Campania in Italy, while those grown elsewhere are technically wannabes. But certification doesn’t guarantee flavor, so ignore the marketing and find a brand you love.

How do I store the cans?

For best flavor, use within 18 months. Once a can is open, transfer any leftover contents to a glass or plastic container to avoid a metallic taste and refrigerate for up to one week.

Can I ever use the tomatoes without cooking them?

Um, no. Canned tomatoes should always be cooked and have no place in a BLT or salsa fresca. A long simmer in soups, braises, and sauces will soften them up, concentrate their flavors, and get rid of any bitter or tinny tastes.

tomato braised rotisserie chicken

Photo by Alex Lau, food styling by Sue Li, prop styling by Elizabeth Jaime

Canned tomatoes take rotisserie chicken to the next level.

What’s the first thing I should make?

Tomato sauce! Purée one 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in a food processor. Transfer to a heavy pot; add 3 smashed garlic cloves, 5 Tbsp. olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until reduced by a third, 20 minutes. Stir in 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter.

Then what can I make?

Try shakshuka, chana masala, salsa roja, or tomato-braised rotisserie chicken.

Any other tips?

Slow-roasting whole peeled tomatoes brings out a ton of flavor. Here’s how you do it: Drain two 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes. Gently crush and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet where they’ll fit snugly. Season with salt, drizzle with ¼ cup olive oil, and roast at 250°, tossing twice, 2–2½ hours. Coarsely chop, then mix with cooked grains and Parm, fold into scrambled eggs, or toss with pasta.

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Maple Syrup: Your Most Pressing Questions, Answered

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Do you only break out the maple syrup for pancake Sundays? Then you’re missing out on the full potential of this liquid gold. A natural sweetener with depth and complexity, maple syrup goes with way more than breakfast. Here we present a collection of tips, techniques, and trivia that will help you pick out a bottle and use it for all it’s worth. (And if you, like us, were ever wondering why so many bottles have a seemingly useless, teeny tiny handle, well—read on to know why.)

How do I pick the right syrup?

We strongly recommend 100 percent maple syrup. Syrup has a terroir, just like wine, coffee, and chocolate. Not only do the two sugar maple cultivars produce different-tasting syrup, but the syrup is dependent on the air, water, and soil, varying greatly region to region and season to season. Taste syrups from different regions to find out what you like best.

Why is it so pricey?

Syrup is so expensive because it takes 40 gallons (!) of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Sugaring season runs for just about two months, from early February to late March, in a very small region of the world, predominantly in the Northeastern United States and Canada, which means the supply is limited. But don’t worry: Bottles are available year-round.

Where should I keep it?

To protect against fermentation and molding, keep open bottles in the fridge for up to a year. For indefinite storage, stow syrup in the freezer (it’s too sugary to solidify).

crown-maple-syrup-flight

Photo by Winnie Au

Flights of maple syrup.

What do all the grades mean?

Formerly divided into grades A, B, and C, the bottles at the store today are all Grade A, with USDA descriptors that clearly spell out the hue and intensity. Confused? Just remember: Darker syrup means bolder flavor. Here’s a breakdown.

Golden color, delicate taste: Fruity and subtle, it’s easily overshadowed but makes the best substitute for white sugar when baking.

Amber color, rich taste: Popular for all-around use, it’s the ideal table syrup for pancakes and French toast.

Dark color, robust taste: Bold in flavor, it holds its own in savory dishes like braises and in whiskey cocktails.

Very dark color, strong taste: With the most powerful maple flavor, it delivers the biggest bang for your buck—use sparingly!

Uh, what’s pancake syrup?

Pancake syrup is corn syrup with artificial flavor and color, whereas maple syrup is 100 percent boiled maple sap with 33 to 35 percent water.

Can I replace sugar with maple syrup?

To substitute maple syrup for sugar in a recipe, follow these rules from Baking with Less Sugar by Joanne Chang. In general, one cup of syrup is equal to one cup of sugar. But decrease the amount of liquid by 3 Tbsp. for each cup of syrup used. If baking, reduce your oven temp by 25° to prevent burning (since syrup caramelizes faster than sugar). Unless your recipe already calls for an acidic ingredient like buttermilk or sour cream, add 1⁄2 tsp. baking soda with the syrup. And experiment at your own risk!

20180125 MOB24863

Photo by Alex Lau, food styling by Chris Morocco, prop styling by Emily Eisen

Maple syrup makes a good marinade for anything from chicken to tofu.

Is it only for drizzling?

Nope! Try adding a touch of maple syrup to savory foods; its earthy caramel flavor complements bitter, spicy, and salty notes. We like adding it to barbecue sauce, sautéed bitter greens, squash soup, marinades, and mustard vinaigrette.

What else can I do with it?

Make a crunchy maple topping for yogurt or oatmeal: Toss 1 cup toasted seeds or nuts + 3 Tbsp. maple syrup + 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350° for 15–20 minutes. Let cool, then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

glazed carrots 1

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Dana Bonagura

These guys are Maple-Roasted Carrots.

Any other ideas?

Dress up any roasted vegetable with an easy maple glaze: Whisk together 2 Tbsp. each maple syrup, unseasoned rice vinegar, and soy sauce, and 1⁄2 tsp. red pepper flakes. Season with salt. Drizzle over vegetables and toss to coat in the last 5–10 minutes of roasting.

Use it to sweeten switchel, a refreshing drink made with apple cider vinegar and fresh ginger.

Or use maple syrup to add a glaze-y shellac to pork chops, salmon, bacon, chicken, tofu, carrots, or brussels sprouts.

hidden springs maple syrup

Photo by Chelsea Kyle

To have on hand at all times.

Do you have a favorite brand?

Hidden Springs Amber Rich Organic Maple Syrup, with its toasty flavor, is our favorite for everyday use.

Buy it: $8 for a half pint at springsmaple.com.

Okay, but what’s up with that little handle?

It harks back to times of yore, when syrup was collected in big earthenware vessels on which handles were critical. Today, it’s just a miniaturized sign to us consumers that what we’re getting is a real deal. This sort of design that contains just-for-show characteristics of the original is called a “skeuomorph.” (Use that on your next crossword!)

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Ballot points: your questions answered about voting in Toronto’s election

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After a tumultuous six-month election campaign, voting day — Monday, Oct. 22 — is upon us.

Voters will decide which of the 35 candidates will be mayor, and who out of more than 250 candidates will win one of 25 councillor seats for the next four years.

Here’s everything you need to know to cast your ballot.

When do I vote?

Polls are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Where do I vote?

You must vote in the ward you live in. Each of the 25 wards has multiple voting stations. To find locations close to you, visit myvote.toronto.ca.

Am I eligible to vote in the Toronto municipal election?

Any Canadian citizen 18 years or older who is a resident of Toronto, or owns or rents property in the city, is a spouse of someone who owns or rents property in the city, and isn’t prohibited from voting under any law can vote in the municipal election.

People cannot vote if they’re serving a sentence of incarceration, convicted of a corrupt practice under the Municipal Elections Act, or as a corporation. They also cannot vote acting as an executor or trustee, except if they’re a voting proxy.

Students attending school in Toronto can vote both in the city and in the municipality they call home. Toronto residents attending school elsewhere can still vote in Toronto’s municipal election, and can appoint another voter to proxy vote on their behalf.

Am I eligible to vote in the Toronto school board election?

The same eligibility rules apply as in the municipal election with the exception that only owners or tenants of residential, not commercial, property can vote for a trustee.

People are allowed to vote for the same school board once, and must be a “separate school board supporter” or spouse of one to vote for trustees outside the English public school board system.

In order to support another school board (such as Catholic or French language), people must have already directed their property taxes to another system. To vote for a Catholic school board trustee, you must also be Roman Catholic. To vote for a French school board trustee, you must be a French language rights holder, or the spouse of one.

I didn’t receive a voter information card. Can I still vote?

Yes. A voter information card is not mandatory, although it speeds up the voting process at the poll site.

What identification do I need to bring to vote?

You are required to show documentation with your name and Toronto address, such as a driver’s licence, tax documents, bank account statement, utility bill or payment stub. Your documentation doesn’t have to have a photo.

I can’t make it out to vote. Can I still cast a ballot?

Yes. Eligible voters who are unable to vote for any reason can appoint another eligible voter to vote on their behalf by submitting a proxy appointment form and providing identification to the city clerk by 4:30 p.m.

Forms can be picked up in person during regular business hours at city clerk office locations: Election Services at 89 Northline Rd., city hall at 100 Queen St. W., Etobicoke Civic Centre at 399 The West Mall, North York Civic Centre at 5100 Yonge St. or the Scarborough Civic Centre at 150 Borough Dr. They can also be obtained by calling 416-338-1111 or emailing voterregistration@toronto.ca.

Am I allowed to leave work to vote?

Yes. You are entitled to three hours to vote.

I have a disability, or other special needs. Can I still vote?

Yes. If you are unable to go inside a voting place, election officials can meet you at your vehicle or outside the building.

Inside voting places, voter assisted terminals provide a way for you to vote independently, offering a touchscreen, audio, Braille key pad, sip-puff tube device, rocker paddle-foot switch and zoom features.

For more information on accessibility, contact the city at accessibleelections@toronto.ca or 416-338-1111 ext. 6.

How do I find out the winners?

The city and the Star will post live election results on their websites starting at 8 p.m. Oct. 22.

Samantha Beattie is a city hall reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @samantha_kb

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