Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I’m making doughnuts – not donuts!

You may wonder what kind of stress can there possibly be when you eat for a living, but believe me, I can have a few pretty bad days. So here I am in the middle of the worst day ever! I’m refusing to answer the phone any longer for fear it may be another fire that I may or may not be able to put out.

So what do you do on your bad days? I head for the sanctity of my kitchen and make something that makes me feel good. Usually it’s something sweet and today is no different. Today I’m making doughnuts. I use the English spelling instead of the American simply to distinguish between the sea of homogeneous dough balls, circles and twists from the pure luxurious joy one experiences from sinking your teeth into a warm, sugary home made doughnut – oh, yum.

Raised in a family who cooked really well, doughnuts are one of my many comfort foods. I remember my grandmother deep frying doughnuts and as fast as they cooked (and doughnuts cook almost instantaneously!) we gobbled them up. They were warm, soft, and sweet with a chewy outside and billowy inside. They were the culinary equivalent of a grandmothers love.

Of course, there are as many different recipes for doughnuts as there are calories in each one. My grandmother made traditional doughnuts with a yeasty dough that rose not once but twice. Today is not a good day and I need an immediate act of mercy so these won’t do.

Apparently, my habit is to make doughnuts in the fall because all I can find among my scribbled notes are recipes for pumpkin doughnuts and apple cider doughnuts. Ah finally, I find a recipe for Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts I found on a food blog one day. There is a note scribbled on the recipe that raves about the fantastic food blog called Christie’s Corner, written by Charmian Christie. Check it out, it’s really good.

The great thing about doughnuts is, the basic ones are never high maintenance. With a well stocked pantry, I have all the ingredients I need to make a batch of love – or in other words, Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts. I can just imagine my grandmother frying them up for me right now.

Unlike my grandmother, I wheeled my KitchenAide from the pantry and plugged it in to do the work for me. It creamed the shortening and sugar together until it was a golden sand mixture, then I added the egg yolks one at a time and the sand turned to a thick cream as I scrapped down the sides of the giant bowl.

I mixed the dry ingredients together and added it little by little to the yellow cream with intermittent scoops of sour cream. In the end the dough was quite sticky and wet. I wondered if perhaps I should add more flour. I resisted for now, covered the bowl and refrigerated it while I got back to putting out another fire.

I was successful in smoothing out one catastrophe and was feeling much better as I made my way back into my kitchen to fry up the doughnuts. Chilled, the dough was a bit firmer and I used a lot of flour on my hands, work surface and rolling pin. It was workable. I emptied a bottle of canola oil into a deep pot and set the gas to high.

I have a series of round cookie cutters so I was feeling no pressure to shape the perfect doughnut. When the hot oil was ready, I dropped in the first doughnut and the oil sizzled and sputtered. I dropped in the second one and that’s when I realized my perfect doughnuts weren’t so perfect after all. They are too big for the pot and I can only cook one at a time, aughhh.

I reworked the dough and cut out smaller doughnuts only to find I had no instrument to cut a hole small enough - now what? Finally, I found the top of a glue stick - hey, it worked!

Doughnuts cook incredibly fast and you certainly don’t have to cook them for as long as I did. I tried to reach a light golden brown colour but by the time I could get them out of the oil and onto a rack, they’d overcooked. There is a real skill to frying doghnuts and not wanting to be outdone by a doughnut, I made a vow to do this again real soon.

The recipe for the glaze looked like it would make way too much for me, so I whisked up about a third of the recipe. Next time I’ll buy some white vanilla so I can have a beautiful white glaze instead of a dull glaze, and my doughnuts were a darker brown than I would have like too, but for today, it didn't matter.

I sat in my big arm chair in the living room with a hot cup of tea and a plate full of 2 glazed doughnuts and 2 doughnut holes. I bit into the warm dough and the world seemed to instantly disappear as my teeth sank into the soft, sweet, billowy cloud with the silky texture of the glaze luxuriating across my palate and finding its way deep into my psyche.

Thanks Charmian for the delicious doughnuts and for giving me my “moment of love” that helped to turn my upside down world, right again.

Click here for the complete recipe, http://on.fb.me/HxLJ7U

Saturday, April 7, 2012

When Recipes Become Yours

It’s going to be a lazy day and I feel like puttering I the kitchen. Before I head to the gym for my usual early morning workout, I pull together a small grocery list so I can swing by my favourite grocers on the way home.

Cynthia Liedtke is Editorial Assistant for Health & Lifestyle Magazine (www.healthandlifestyle.ca) and she sent me a few copies of her magazine. It’s a purse-size magazine focused on wellness with inspiring interviews of celebrities and their health struggles like Clara Hughes battle with depression and Lisa Ray’s challenges with a rare form of blood cancer. There is a deluge of information from both traditional and alternative specialists on natural health products, diets, lifestyle issues and of course food.

Flipping through the magazines, the recipe that caught my eye was the Beluga Lentils with Porcini Mushrooms, Asparagus and a Sunny Egg. It came from the featured cookbook, The Eat-Clean Diet, Vegetarian Cookbook by Tosca Reno. The photo looked downright delicious and I just had to have it. So I begin.

Shopping didn’t go so well, couldn’t find beluga lentils anywhere so I settled for red. From the picture in the book it looks like there’s a huge difference, but I’m moving ahead anyway. I read the package directions for the lentils and end up with a very bland orange pudding. The starch on these little, overlooked lentils just took over. In the garbage that batch goes and I start again.

This time the lentils are cooked with bay leaves, a clove of garlic and lots of salted water for only 5 minutes instead of the 20 minutes recommended. The lentils are al dente and all looks good to go.

I took some dried porcini mushrooms and soaked them in boiling water for the recommended 5 minutes. Next I drained them and the recipe instructions said, “cook until lightly browned”. Well, there’s no darker brown than the colour of hydrated porcini mushrooms. I put them in a dry sauté pan and let the remaining water steam off them. Nice and dry, I added some extra virgin olive oil, minced, fresh garlic and dried thyme. It began to sizzle and as I stirred I could see how these mushrooms were absorbing all the wonderful flavours in the pan – yum, I added them to the cooled red lentils in a bowl.

The recipe calls for asparagus to be cooked separately but I’m not a fan of all that fuss so I cleaned them, cut them up and cooked them in the same skillet as the mushrooms and tossed them into the salad. The recipe didn’t call for any salt or pepper but again, I took the liberty and seasoned it.

Ok, now the egg, well I never did cook any, I guess the family was just too hungry or the salad was just so good there was simply not enough time to cook an egg. I think it was the later.

Like all good recipes, they’re guidelines and if you dare to adventure into them, they eventually become yours just by adapting it to your needs and likes. I will hunt for Beluga lentils though; it just looked so delicious in the magazine - although mine doesn’t look that bad either.

Btw, The Eat-Clean Diet made the New York Times best-selling list and it’s promoted as a must for anyone wanting to lose weight, help the planet or just spice things up a bit. I’ll probably pick it up next time I’m in the book store. Thanks Cynthia, I can see this becoming a delicious and long friendship.

Click for the original recipe, http://ow.ly/a8AJN
Click for more photos, http://bit.ly/HqXJUe

Friday, April 6, 2012

Prairie Beef Ribs

It’s Easter and we’re barbecuing! In the Canadian prairies, barbecue means beef and beef ribs are a favorite. Some people claim beef ribs are tough and fatty when barbecued and they’re absolutely right – that is, if you don’t know how to cook them.

Beef short ribs are cut from the bottom end of the rib cage called the "plate" or from the chuck area and the meat is as tough as brisket. However, if your beef ribs are cooking up tough you’re simply not cooking them long enough. Beef ribs can only be tenderized through a long, slow cooking process and smoking is the perfect way to do them.

Many people pre-boil ribs for tenderness. My advice is DON’T! You’re just robbing yourself of a whole lot of flavor and it will require more barbecue sauce than you can imagine to make them even begin to taste decent.

Think of it this way, if ribs need plenty of sauce to taste good, then the cook needs more practice slow cooking or smoking ribs. I don’t serve sauce on my ribs and I definitely don’t baste the ribs with sauce while they’re cooking. There’s nothing wrong with barbecue sauce, but it should be used as a compliment to the meat, not as a replacement for lack of flavor.

You can certainly marinate ribs in the refrigerator overnight but for traditional Canadian beef ribs, just put on a good dry rub a few hours before cooking and that should be the extent of your flavouring. Rubs are easy to mix together and they keep in your cupboard for whenever you want them.

Rubs are mixtures of many dry ingredients from spices such as red and black pepper, cumin, ginger and dry mustard to onion flakes, allspice and garlic powder. Dried herbs such as basil, rosemary, parsley or thyme. If you want a bit of a sweet flavour, you can add brown sugar to the mix and for a spicy rib, throw in some cayenne and chili powder, ancho or chipotle peppers to give it a bit of heat.

Mix these ingredients together and store them in an airtight container until your ready to use them. Then just pat a good layer of rub over the ribs and massage it into the meat. Let them sit refrigerated for a few hours before smoking them.

For complete recipe and smoking instructions, click here http://on.fb.me/HX2nxj

400 Cookbooks and Counting

I read cookbooks with the passion and concentration of my husband, Jon nose-deep in the latest Robert Jordan mystery. I read them in bed at night. I take them on book tours. I buy them where ever I go. I have about four hundred of them. I cook a lot and read even more and have decided that since I like the two habits equally well, I will continue.

To me, cookbooks are fantasies of great meals in much the same way that travel books are fantasies of perfect vacations. They produce visions of perfect paellas and eye-rolling soufflés. As I pour through them, I can almost smell the house filling with the savoury smells of a cassoulet. I visualize my dinner guests dunking chunks of crusty bread in the dark wine and garlic-rich veal Marsala sauce. Of course, the dried out, even burnt reality of cooking, as we all know so well, is often far removed from the fantasy pages of my cookbooks.

Because I still have cookbooks stacked in the kitchen and almost every other room in the house, people have asked me which are my favorites. So, here are some that I'm working with now.

Pasta Classica by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books). I bought this book on a trip to Florence, Italy so it is filled with many memories. It’s a basic recipe on how to make almost any kind of pasta you want from macaroni to spaghetti. There is a section of classic sauces and my favourite section, the one I use most often is the baked section. This book has taught me there’s more to baked pasta than lasagna. There’s a fantastic recipe for an eggplant and sausage timpano, the one that was served in The Big Night movie.

My latest love is Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ebury Press). Two Middle Eastern chefs offer recipes from their London restaurant. The dishes are full of remarkably meaty salads made from quinoa, cous cous and lentils. Irresistible vegetable dishes like Caramelized Endive with Sarano Ham I’ve morphed into caramelized fennel with proscuitto and I can’t count how many times I’ve made the Chargrilled Broccoli with Chilli and Garlic.

On a recent trip to London, England I discovered the series of Michel Roux cookbooks (Quadrille Publishing). I have the book on Sauces, Pastry and now Only the Best. Each one stretches my culinary muscles with simple dishes prepared elaborately. Sure there are some ingredients that aren’t common in Canada, but they’re easy enough to substitute.

Here are three of the ones I’m working with right now. Of course, my own cookbooks are the best of what I’ve learned from my 400 teachers, what’s worked, what’s easy and what I love to share with everyone who cares to cook.

Check them out http://on.fb.me/HWN1Ja

Monday, April 2, 2012

Craving Something Sweet

I was in the mood for something sweet, but it had to be something new and different. I didn’t have too much time so I searched the world wide web and found myself deep into the world of French pastries. I’d love to make croissant, but they’re so time consuming and if they’re not eaten within hours of baking, they begin to taste stale. There were Éclairs, Beignets and Gourgere – yum, but again, time consuming. I’d love to spend hours in the kitchen making macarons in pastel colours of pale yellow, green, pink and blue, but again, not enough time. I could make the crunchy and caramelized Palmier, I think they’d be the quickest and easiest with some frozen puff pastry.

I like searching for new recipes on Pinterest.com. It’s a site that is all about pictures and that’s where I discovered French cannelé.

A cannelé a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France. I saw them in many Parisian patisseries while there last year. Some Parisians call them “portable crème brulee” because they have a soft and tender custard centre, a dark, thick caramelized, crunchy crust and you can eat them with your hands. The recipe reads very similar to a custard batter, except for the rum. It bakes and bubbles for over an hour in a special mold, giving it the caramelized crust. The recipe was simple enough, just mix, refrigerate and bake.

On Pinterest.com, the recipes are hopefully as close as the link on the bottom of the picture and sure enough it was a link to the foodnetwork.com recipe. It sounded authentic right down to the use of beeswax. Apparently you are advised to mix some melted butter with shaved beeswax and coat the cannelé molds with this mixture so the batter doesn’t stick to the molds. I got a note from Patricia Shea of Belfast, Maine who had made them and warns against the use of beeswax. It worked well in the mold but when she ate her cannelé, the beeswax got stuck in her teeth. Beeswax was used decades ago to keep baking from sticking, but today we have many other options. Thanks for the heads up Patricia.

I don’t have cannelé molds so I used a special deep narrow muffin tin and it worked just fine. While mine might not have the beautiful shape that traditional cannelé have, the flavours are supurb! Luscious, creamy and rich in vanilla flavours on the inside with a crunchy caramel crunchy bottom, the sides are also caramelized but they’re a bit softer giving the illusion that they’re drizzled in caramel – oh yum!

Instead of rum I used icewine so there was an elegant flavour that fit beautifully with the textures and caramel. I think I’ll use rum next time just to taste the difference. French cannelé are wickedly delicious and sinfully good and they’re as easy as whipping up a liquidy batter and baking. Click here for the recipe http://on.fb.me/H9XzPw.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Ontario Table $10 Challenge: A Year of Eating Local

This is my new magazine – or better put ezine. An ezine for those who are wondering is an on-line magazine. So why a magazine when the book, The Ontario Table is still so popular?

Last year I traveled across Ontario on a book tour participating in over 55 events from June to December. I met thousands of wonderful people, all interested in local food. As I talked to each one of them I realized there was a common theme in peoples understanding of local food. Most people think of local food as the fresh vegetables that come out of the garden in the summer months.

As I tried to explain that local food is everything that is grown, raised and produced in Ontario, some got it and others dismissed it. It made for interesting conversations. I realized there was a need for a tool that was more specific than The Ontario Table book. What was needed was a tool that would both educate consumers on what local foods are available and when and also give them some quick and easy recipes to eat local all the time. It needs to be both fun and surprising.

So here it is. April is our 4th issue and I hope you like it. It has become bigger than I could have imagined. We now have over 32 agricultural commodity groups working with us. In this issue we’re featuring Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and Ontario Veal, Goat and Rabbit with others scattered throughout. In between are recipes, some identifying local ingredients with a comment or two on the ingredient. At the end you’ll find events that celebrate local food in different ways so you can get involved in a personal way. After all, local food is personal.

The official launch of The Ontario Table $10 Challenge: A Year of Eating Local will be at the Green Living Show, Direct Energy Building, Exhibition Place from April 13 to 15, www.greenlivingonline.com. I’ll be sharing a booth with the good folks at Rowe Farms (booth #1309). Please drop by and celebrate with me. We’ll have some delicious draws and who knows, you may be the lucky one.

Click here to download the on-magazine http://bit.ly/H5Of46
Click here for a preview in pictures http://on.fb.me/H6yQkD
Click here for launch invitation http://on.fb.me/H4kkEA

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hooray! Ontario Greenhouse Produce is Back!

“The first shipment of tomatoes was shipped out today”, said Laura Brinkman, Marketing Coordinator for the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG). I called the OGVG because I’ve been looking for Ontario produce in grocery stores and apart from cucumbers, haven’t been able to find any tomatoes or peppers.

So yes, I called to ask why and in the process, discovered that there is actually a season or cycle for Ontario greenhouse produce.

Modern greenhouse agriculture is a beautiful way to produce delicious food in Ontario. Greenhouse growing gives the farmer a completely controlled environment, free from rain, wind, scorching sun, and hungry pests. It also extends the growing season by creating a warm, sunny environment for almost an entire year of growing, but since plants don’t live forever, they’re pulled out and new ones planted.

This cycle of replanting usually happens in our coldest months. You know the days between December to the end of February when we have very short days with very little sunshine. This is problematic for greenhouse growing because without sunshine, plants don’t grow. If plants don’t grow, yield is down but in the coldest winter months, energy costs are high.

So it makes sense to pull out the crops in December, scrub and sanitize the greenhouses and replant in January. The new plants begin producing in March and will produce all the way to December again. This is a common cycle for tomatoes and peppers but cucumbers have a different cycle and this is why I can find Ontario greenhouse cucumbers in the grocery stores right now, but no tomatoes or peppers. Well, not until now.

Laura taught me a few other things about greenhouse growing. For example, growing crops in a greenhouse allows the farmer to grow approximately 10 times the amount as the same size outdoor field would yield. The way they’re grown means the tomato and pepper plants often reach a height of 20-feet tall. Most greenhouse operations are hydroponic (using water) and are certified in the most current food safety standards. Pest management is easier in a controlled environment, the farmers introduce good bugs that manage the bad bugs.

I always thought the largest greenhouse operations are in Essex Kent County, the warmest spot in Ontario. While many of them are there, large and small greenhouse operations are located throughout the province from Windsor across to Ottawa. Here in Niagara we have a few greenhouses operations. St. Davids Hydroponics produces multi-coloured sweet peppers, eggplant and some cucumbers. Koornneef’s in Grimsby grow lots of juicy cucumbers, tomatoes and sweet peppers, Muileboom Greenhouses in Port Colborne grows multi-coloured tomatoes and cucumbers (and you can buy from them directly). If I’ve missed any, please let me know.

Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) is a not-for-profit organization representing over 220 greenhouse farm members across the province with greenhouses that cover over 2,000 acres of glistening glass. Under this glass they grow many varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers and multi coloured sweet pepper crops. Chances are you’ve seen their logo in grocers produce section next to the Foodland Ontario banners. They also produce a delicious cookbook called, A Taste of Ontario. www.ontariogreenhouse.com

For simple, easy recipes that bring out the flavours of greenhouse produce, click here http://on.fb.me/H00cDH

Friday, March 23, 2012

Apologies to John Hall

I’m a sucker for sexy food porn, so when I was leafing through the latest edition of a food magazine who’s name I won’t mention, I saw this picture of a mouth watering, seductive slab of succulently juicy beef with sauce running all across the cutting board in a sloppy yet seductive way. The messy knife beside it was wet with delicious juices and I was left dreaming of how absolutely delicious the brisket would taste.

The next day I ran out and bought a slab of beef brisket and the rest of the ingredients, or at least, most of the ingredients. The recipe list was extra long and some of the ingredients I felt were cost prohibitive. For example, would you buy an entire bottle of bourbon to use 4 tablespoons in a recipe?

I would have substituted the stout for a regular beer if I didn’t just happen to have a bottle of Wellington Imperial Russian Stout in my refrigerator. I still have fresh thyme in my garden so I guess I was good to go.

The next day I settled into the kitchen. I seared the beef brisket nicely and pour in the rest of the ingredients from ale to whisky to herbs and brown sugar. It simmered for the exact 4 and a half hours. Next I removed the brisket to a cutting board and reduced the sauce to a lusciously thick liquid. All was all looking good, I decided not to glaze the brisket with jam (I’m not a fan of sweet meat) but I did broil it with a thick basting of the silky sauce. I let the brisket sit on the cutting board and then began to slice it.

Whoa, wait a minute. Inside my brisket was an unattractive gray color, not at all like the picture in the magazine of a pinkish juicy slices of meat. I tasted the sauce and while very robust, it was not as delicious as it looked. I just hate it when I’m duped by food porn.

February is the time of year for slow roasted meats like brisket and I was not going to be outdone by what could be a great dinner so I bought another brisket, did a bit of research, altered the recipe and tried again. I seared the brisket and added the remaining ingredients. I used a bottle of Niagara’s Best Blonde Premium Ale from Taps Brewery in Niagara Falls. It has a quarter of the robust power of the Wellington’s Russian stout but I wanted complimentary flavours not an overpowering flavour.

As I added the thyme, tomato paste and balsamic vinegar I grabbed the whisky from the cupboard over top of the fridge. What is it with liquor cupboards, why are they always difficult to get to when you’re in a hurray? I grabbed the bottle and poured out half a cup. It spilled over my fingers so I licked them – yum. I’m not a whisky drinker but I do enjoy the flavours and this one was smooth.

I reduced the sauce and put a bit into the blender with a dribble of fresh whisky. With the frothy concoction, I basted the brisket for broiling. While that was sizzling in the oven I was separating the sauce to remove any fat and that’s when I noticed it.

Licking my fingers again, the sauce was sublime! It was seductively rich, elegant, beefy with a hint of butterscotch, or was it vanilla. I sipped a spoonful and the velvety liquid luxuriated across my tongue with heavenly flavours. The brisket was sliced (ok, it was still grey but I brushed the slices with the sauce and they became a rich brown colour) and the sauce poured overtop. What a fantastic meal and all it took was a bit of adjusting to meet my kitchen conditions and taste buds.

What I discovered later was that the whisky I grabbed in my haste was a bottle of Forty Creek Whisky, but not the Barrel Select – it was the John’s Private Cask! It’s $70 a bottle! Believe me, it was a total mistake and I intended to use a lesser expensive whisky. In hindsight, I’m glad I made the mistake because the sauce was an unforgettable experience no doubt in large part because of the whisky.

Forty Creek Whisky is a local whisky (Ontario). John Hall is owner, winemaker and spirits master at Kittling Ridge Winery & Distillery in Grimsby. He is recognized internationally as one of the most talented whisky masters in the world and we’re so lucky to have him in Niagara. I owe him a huge apology for spilling his prized drink in my brisket sauce, but I have to say – it was so delicious, yea, I would do it again!

Click here for the recipe, http://on.fb.me/zgTZEZ

Monday, March 19, 2012

If you missed the dinner - feast on my words!

What a spectacular dinner! 7 Chefs and a Table at London Convention Centre. 7 chefs from across Canada all converged to create one dinner of 7 courses and it wasn’t shy on flavour. Here’s what I had and what you missed!

Chef Todd Perrin from Newfoundland made a layered salt cod and beetroot tian. So this may not sound good but it was luscious, delicious and not at all like my grandmothers salt cod!

Chef Jesse Vergen from New Brunswick made a dish of sturgeon belly on a bed of lentil and pork cheek. Ok, this was a very distinctive dish and you could see many people refusing it, not wanting to venture into tasting sturgeon belly. I’ve never had it before but I was game. The belly was actually very nondescript but the entire lentil dish was more robust than beef could be!

The home chef, Alfred Estephan created a stunning vegetarian dish that blew both of the previous dishes out of the water! On the plate with the maple braised squash and goats cheese roulade was apple caviar – little clear pearls of sexy apple flavour. Wow, the best dish yet!

Chef Craig Flinn of Nova Scotia made a brown sugar cured pork belly – yum, Chef Paul Rogalski created candied duck with a fried rice cake and mushroom tea and chef Michael Smith made braised beef ribs.

Dessert was the second most exciting dish with chef Scott Baechler of Fanshaw College made a double chocolate ganache with hazelnut praline caramel – omg!

For my version of food porn or to feast with your eyes on all the courses, go to http://on.fb.me/AreIGz

Friday, March 16, 2012

Delicious Elgin County

Southwest Ontario tourism held a conference this week in St. Thomas. Of course, I went for the food and it certainly didn’t disappoint! If you haven’t visited some of these places in Elgin County, try them out.

Pinecroft (www.pinecroft.ca) made some luscious mushroom soup and Farmgate Markets made some seductive corn beef sliders. Empire Valley Farms (www.empirevalleyfarms.com) brought chef John Mairleitier who made the most irresistible roasted garlic and butternut squash soup and the Windjammer (www.thewindjammerinn.com) in Port Stanley offered iron spike pulled pork with yummy buttermilk chive biscuits.

For dessert, Heritage Line Herbs (www.heritagelineherbs.com) had two different cheesecakes; one flavoured with lemon balm and the other with pineapple sage herbs – heavenly! Clovermead Farm (www.clovermead.com) was there with yummy waffles, whipped cream and drizzled with their luscious honey, a simple dessert with stunning ingredients!

If yoy’re like me an love Sunday afternoon drives, these destinations are worth the trip – enjoy! Check out http://on.fb.me/zgTZEZ for delicious pictures.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SouthWest Ontario Fun

It's the spring launch of SouthWest Ontario tourism. I'm going because this new region from London to Windsor that includes Simcoe, Woodstock and all the beach front and rural areas in between is one of Ontario's most satisfying summer playgrounds. Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Chan thinks so too because he'll be there cheering on the dozens of tourism people who coordinate activities, restaurants, history, farm to table culture and natural landscapes so it's easy for people like me to navigate and have a truly enjoyable experience. In true tourism fashion, the 2-day event is at the historical railway station in St Thomas - I can't wait. I'm not a railway buff but I appreciate our history and enjoy the experiences both fun and educational that they offer.

You may not get to the SouthWest summit today, but let me know what your favourite place to visit is in SouthWest Ontario. Here is a travel story from The Ontario Table - there's many more in the book and at http://on.fb.me/zgTZEZ you will find lots of pictures - eye candy that will inspire you on a lazy summers day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Eat Local in March!

April just around the corner and spring is already in the air. April is a busy month on the farm getting ready for the busy summer months. Trimming the trees and vines, plowing the soil, setting up irrigation, repairing equipment and planning for the upcoming season.

We live in a province rich with delicious local food and wonderful farmers who work hard in and out of season to provide this food, yet how many of us really take advantage of what we have all around us?

I have provided a page from the March issue of the new Ontario Table $10 Challenge Ezine. This online magazine was released at the beginning of the year and is filled with hints and tips to eat local year round. The Ontario Table presents the $10 Challenge encouraging consumers to switch $10 of their current food budget to local food. This is a great tool for those looking to take up this challenge and support these farmers. You can find the full January, February and March issues on the Ontario Table website at www.ontariotable.com

I would love to hear your thoughts and how you plan on taking up this challenge in the year ahead!

Like our Facebook page and share the local food Ezine with all your friends!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lunch that is Brunchified

Step into the elegance of wine country cuisine with sunshine streaming into the simplicity of Early Canadiana décor of crisp, white woodwork, contrasted by muted Tuscan colours and romantic chandeliers hovering over crisp white tablecloths. This is Peller Estate Winery Restaurant and I’m having brunch, or as Executive Chef Jason Parsons tells it, “lunch that’s brunchified”.

“I make dishes at the restaurant that I’d make at home and then some,” explains Parsons of his irresistible menu that has room for both lobster and baked beans on the same page. The food reflects a rich Canadian culinary tradition and a typical chef’s playground all at the same time. Yet Chef Parsons is a real peoples chef; he makes food you’d want to eat instead of the artsy plates.

Brunch is one set price of $47.95 and it includes the most decadent start, a glass of Peller Estate sparkling Ice Cuvee. This is a delicious glass of uber elegant sparkling wine with a kiss of icewine used as the dosage – oh yummmm! To say the rest of the menu includes an appetizer, entre and dessert, is to understate the palate experience that follows the high expectations already set by sipping.

The Lobster salad fills the palate with fresh, sea breeze clean flavours of succulent lobster, bright greens, juicy beets and luscious chevre. It’s a dish that leaves you feeling as happy and exhilarated as a walk on a warm sunny spring day.

The Truffle Seared Diver Scallops offers up large, mouth-watering scallops that are seared and caramelized on the outside, seductively moist on the inside. The icewine hollandaise sauce lends a melt-in-your-mouth, heavenly texture while the potato rosti anchors the play of elegance with a crispy, weighty texture. With a sip of the Ice Cuvee, this is a dish you’ll swoon over.

The Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with House Baked Beans, and Riesling Braised Winter Greens is a rich, savoury, heart-warming dish. The dance of hearty flavours wraps you in an embrace of passion and with every mouthful, you feel it right into your soul.

Heritage Beef Tartar with Celeriac Remoulade and House Made Toast offers up bright beef flavours on a floating texture that’s feather-light on the tongue and brought into focus with a morsel of celeriac slaw (or remoulade - chef’s speak).

The menu changes often and has more to do with Parson’s creative rhythm than any culinary schedule. In the spring you may find tiny tarts of bright, virgin asparagus and thick, sexy brie but the next week it may be gone in favour of what Parsons finds new and exciting. Parson’s is a rare chef that cooks with a heart and shares it with everyone who cares to eat his food. Don’t miss this amazing dining experience.

To feast with your eyes, check this out: http://on.fb.me/ykLc4V

Peller Estate Winery Restaurant
290 John St, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Saturday, March 10, 2012

7 Chef's and 7 Dishes - Yum!!

My taste buds are humming and my palate is whet with excitement. There's a charity gala on March 17, 2012 at the London Convention Centre that includes 7 amazing chefs from across Canada hosted by celebrity chef Michael Smith from Prince Edward Island. London's own Alfred Estephan, Owner/Chef of the Idlewyld Inn, a beautiful old mansion that has been transformed into an elegant estate with the most luxurious bedroom amenities. I'm making a weekend out of it. Join me at the gala, meet Michael Smith, eat the best of Canada's top 7 chefs and have a great night. I'm going for the food and company and I hoping to bring some new food ideas and recipe tips back with me. http://bit.ly/y1jHra

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I’ve perfected my Beef Bourgogne!!!

I’m still dreaming about my Christmas Day Beef Bourgogne I made in my little kitchen in Paris. It was so amazingly delicious that I made it again when I got home. At home, it was horrible! The second attempt was better, but not even close yet. A perfect beef Bourgogne, I’ve learned is about the quality of the ingredients as much as it is the recipe.

So I searched for the best ingredients I could find. I discovered the best beef from my local butcher, hung to perfection - it’s only $4.99 a pound, how can you not go for quality at that price! The second time I made it, it was much better than the first but simply not quite right yet. So learning from the beef, I went further.

The butcher in Paris recommended a bit of cheek in my Bourgogne and it was marvelous. So my local butcher got me cheek. Instead of regular, off the shelf flour, I had some stone ground all natural flour from Morningstar Mill in Thorold. I found little pearl onions at the market and went back to using regular white button mushrooms.

I’m not sure what the key ingredient was by OMG the Bourgogne was as spectacular as what I made in Paris! Perfecto! The sauce was sinfully rich, smooth as silk and elegantly full of flavour. The meat melted in hearty flavours while the little pearl onions creamed on the palate like silk. Aughhh, finally a dish to swoon over.

The entire experience reminded me of a time when a beautiful kitchen store graciously volunteered to make a dish out of my cookbook during my book signing. It was the Pesto Pan Chicken, a delicious and easy one skillet meal. When I arrived, they shared some concerns so I took a look. It looked so horrible I didn’t want to taste it. I suspected they added too much liquid because the entire dish was swimming. I saw no brown searing marks on the chicken either. Now I know that the chicken was injected with water that was released when cooked. The cook at the time didn’t know enough to drain the skillet of the chicken juices. You see, when you brown meat, it acquires delicious flavours, when you boil meat, it becomes bland and tough. When I made the recipe, I used chicken from the butcher so my recipe turned out very yummy.

So here’s my lesson for 2012. Buy the best ingredients you can from people who are experts in what they do. Second guess all recipe ingredients and make sure they’re the best you can buy. If you don’t, you're leaving yourself vulnerable. I'm raising my fork full of Bourgogne to toast the best quality Ontario ingredients!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Beef Bourgogne, a second attempt

Good food is worth great effort and that’s why I’m attempting Julia Child’s Beef Bourgogne twice in one week. I made it on Christmas Day in Paris with all the best ingredients I could find. It was so spectacular I just had to make it again when I was home. Unfortunately, the stewing beef I purchased at a grocery store was a disaster, but then you know that from my previous blog.

So I went to probably the best butcher in Niagara; Lakeshore Meats. Scott the butcher was sympathetic to my woes and explained why his meat will give me the results I wanted. He further ages the already aged beef, he buys from trusted sources and his meat is free from anything nasty you just wouldn’t want to eat. “Better quality meat will give you a better quality result,” he said.

So for exactly the same price ($4.99 a pound) I bought a pound of Lakeshore Meats stewing beef and a slab of pork belly. I wasn’t quite done yet, as I didn’t have the right sized pot nor did I have a sieve large enough to do the job easily.

I shopped some retail stores in Niagara but couldn’t really find what I needed. Then I remembered the restaurant supply store in Niagara Falls. I bought an exciting sieve and the perfect size Paderno pot (btw, restaurant supply stores are the perfect place to shop for everything you’ll ever need for your kitchen. There are 2 in Niagara, they’ll save you money and they’re delicious places to dig around in).

Equipped with the right tools and better quality ingredients, I made another Beef Bourgogne. I cut up the pork belly into what Julia calls Lardoons. In Paris, they sold lardoons; it was a package of pork belly already cut up.

I dried each piece of stewing meat with paper towels and got the pot to almost smoking hot. I dropped a few pieces of meat into the pot and they began to brown quickly. I turned them over and over making sure all sides were browned and like magic – no water appeared! I browned the entire pound of stewing beef with great success. Things were looking up!

Funny thing happened. I had far too much liquid so I removed 2 cups from the pot before it went into the oven. Perhaps I had more than a pound of stewing beef last time (?), hmmmm. I kept it aside just in case I needed it later. The stew simmered in the oven for 3 hours and I finished it off just as Julia wanted without the need for more sauce.

The result was amazing! The meat was tender and luscious! The meat in the previous attempt fell apart with a bit of fork pressure but I wouldn’t say it was tender because it was still stringy and the strings were chewy. This beef was actually tender, juicy and had more flavour – ok, so better ingredients make a world of difference.

What I couldn’t do was to get the sauce as velvety and luscious as my sauce in Paris. Perhaps it’s the flour. Augh, why did I leave the rest of the flour in the apartment in Paris?

While at Lakeshore Meats I asked Scott about adding cheek to Beef Bourgogne and he agreed, a bit of beef cheek make a huge difference in stews – so why is this a butchers secret! No one in Niagara carries cheek, but he was nice enough to order some for me. Yea, you guessed it, a third attempt at Julia’s Beef Bourgogne is just a week away – stay tuned. I’ll get this right yet!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Julia Child's Beef Bourgogne

Time in Paris was magical. My most memorable times were shopping for our Christmas tree, Christmas Eve midnight mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, our walk back to the apartment along the Seine and Christmas day dinner – I made Beef Bourgogne from Julia Childs cookbook.

I have to say that Julia Child was not afraid of spending too much time in the kitchen. By the time I managed to do all the steps she recommended, dinner was on the table by 8 pm (I started at 10 that morning!). Of course, it always takes longer to make a dish the first time, that’s why I had to make it again.

We’re now back home in Niagara and deep into the madness that is our daily lives. I picked up some stewing beef (and braising ribs - I can't resist, they're delicious!) and the rest of the ingredients at the supermarket and set to work. After I’d finished with the bacon, I began to dry the beef. I set a piece in the hot oil and it began to spit and sputter as it should. I put in another piece, another and another. Soon I had 8 pieces of stewing beef in the skillet when I noticed there was a lot more liquid in the skillet than I’d started with.

My meat was not browning, it was now boiling. I removed the beef and dried it one more time, pressing down firmly to catch the liquid that was now oozing from each piece. I drained the skillet and returned the meat. It began to brown quickly. Good, dry beef, I’ve discovered, browns in seconds.

I did have to wipe out the skillet after I’d browned the 8 pieces because a bit more water came out, but not enough to warrant another drying. I continued to dry the beef, sear it, remove it, dry it again and finish the browning process – some pieces had to be dried 3 times, but most only 2.

So why is it that our Canadian beef has so much water in it? Is it injected to add weight as one customer claimed? Is it not aged long enough? Is it the type of cattle? I don’t know the answer to this but I will soon.

The meal was absolutely delicious! It was far from the rich, velvety, smooth, beefy, ambrosia meal I’d made in Paris with my French ingredients, but it was still very good. The difference was that of a fine, aged red wine at its peak of perfection compared to a quaffable house wine – both are good, but still noticeably different.

We enjoyed our Beef Bourgogne, the meat was more than fork tender – it succumbed to pressure so easily and readily, but interestingly, the tiny little juicy shreds of beef that fell apart were noticeably chewy; a bit unlike the sweet, velvety tender texture of the Parisian meat.

Julia Child’s Beef Bourgogne is so spectacular, so delicious, so amazing that I think everyone should experience it at least once in their lifetime. I would delightfully spend hours in the kitchen if my food tasted this good every time! Besides the seductive flavours, it’s been a lesson in quality of ingredients, and I’m learning about judging quality. This week I’ll make her Beef Bourgogne again, but I’ll go to a butcher shop and chat with him about the beef before I buy. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know what he says.