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 d├ęcor 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
888-673-5537

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