Month: September 2012

Toronto, TIFF and the Red Sox

I visit Toronto three or four times a year, mostly when my beloved Red Sox are in town. This time around, we took in a couple games, went to TIFF, did some shopping, eating and spent time with family. Having taken pics aplenty, I thought I’d change things up and subject you to a photo collage from my T.O. getaway. Hope it’s not too painful!

TIFF Bell Lightbox
Best Screenplay and Best Picture Oscars for “Crash” on display at TIFF
Waiting among the masses to get into the theatre
Under the Winter Garden Theatre lights
My ticket for “Song for Marion”
Choice balcony seats
“Song for Marion” star Christopher Eccleston speaks at TIFF
The roof is open
The view from the cheap seats
The view from our seats
Yum! Popcorn
Doh! Dropped popcorn on the floor
The CN Tower looms above
Waiting in line to buy terrible food at the concessions stands. No Fenway Franks or Boston Chowdah in sight.
Homemade chowdah made with love by family member.
What more can a guy ask for? Makes me not miss Boston so much.
Chowing down on a Hero Burger at the Sherway Gardens food court
A burrito fit for a king
A half eaten burrito
Mmm steak tacos
Late night salmon at Shoeless Joe’s. Not bad.
Roberto Luongo’s Jersey hangs at Shoeless Joe’s.

I am Thomas Keller (or at least I like to pretend that I am)

Once a year I like to feign that I am a real chef. Maybe Thomas Keller or possibly David Chang or perhaps even Daniel Humm. I spend a solitary night in this make believe world channeling their talent and artistry. Although I unabashedly admit that I do possess one minor ability. I have no fear in the kitchen. I am absent of any anxiety or worry of failing. While other areas of my life leave me hiding under the covers, I see the kitchen ripe for trial and experimentation. Not certain why I exude such culinary confidence but I don’t question it much. No thinking allowed, just doing. So with the help of some cookbooks to guide me and some close friends to come along for the ride, I attempt an annual fancy dinner party with the goal of honouring some of the great chefs and restaurants of our time.

First up, Duck Confit Croustades. This dish is from the Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook. A baguette smeared with dijon, topped with duck confit, fleur de sel, olive oil and parsley. Simple and delicious.

Croustades with duck confit

The next course was foie gras with a maple balsamic reduction. This recipe is by Daniel LaGarde, Chef
Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu. Foie gras (with black truffles) set on sautéed apples, strawberries, shallots and basil and served with a maple balsamic reduction. This was my favourite dish of the night.

Seared foie gras with black truffles and maple balsamic reduction

The third course was from the Eleven Madison Park cookbook. This restaurant currently sits at #10 on Restaurant Magazine’s list of best restaurants in the world. The recipe of Beet Salad with Chèvre Frais and Caraway was by far the most challenging dish of the night. It took a while to bring together the roasted beets, the goat cheese mousse, the caraway tuiles, the beet raspberry vinaigrette and the rye crumble, but it was certainly well worth the effort as my guests raved about this creation. The variety of textures and tastes made this dish unique and memorable.

Beet salad with chèvre frais and caraway
A side view of the beet salad

My second favourite chef of all time is Thomas Keller, he of French Laundry and Per Se fame (Julia Child is my favourite). I’ve turned to the The French Laundry Cookbook on numerous occasions and it has never let me down. For the the main course, the recipe I chose was the Butter-Poached Lobster with Creamy Lobster Broth and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo. Some of the interesting features of this recipe included the lobster broth (made form scratch), the beurre monté (emulsified butter), the coral oil (canola oil infused with lobster roe) and the parmesan crisp (mine were a bit oversized but I have trouble resisting their appeal). I do hope that I was able to bring some French Laundry justice to this dish. My guests were rather pleased with the results.

Butter-poached lobster with creamy lobster broth and mascarpone-enriched orzo
A top view of the lobster

Dessert is my favourite part of the meal to eat but my least favourite to cook. Finding something to complement such a rich repast was not easy. I went with a recipe from LCBO’s Food & Drink magazine, Coconut Lime Mousse with Berries. It was a good counterpart to the other dishes and a bang-up way to end the meal.

Food & Drink’s Coconut Lime Mousse with Berries

Another year passes, another fancy dinner party is now under my belt. I am forever grateful to have friends that endure my culinary experiments. It could all go horribly wrong and yet they are forever willing to weather the gastronomic storm with me. The great chefs of our time are my inspiration. But the people in my life are truly what drive me to do better and be better.

Why you should always spiral-cut your wiener (a.k.a BBQ #6)

I have a buddy that’s the coolest guy around. He’s also hilarious and extra kind. He and his wife both. And my buddy just happens to be a pro with the BBQ. You see, he owns a Weber so you know he’s serious. I am lucky enough to score an invite now and again to partake in his grilling extravaganzas. Yes, I am blessed.

Quite originally, he spiral-cuts the hot dogs. You heard me. Check out this video. The spiral-cut improves the wiener-eating experience by increasing the surface area of the frankfurter, thus resulting in a better grilled wiener and an extra tasty hot dog.

My hands are a bit shaky so the image below appears blurry. But there’s no mistaking that the hot dog was delicious.

The burgers looked like steaks on the grill and were juicy and delectable. The salad and the corn was just the right touch to finish off this meal. My friends really take care of me when I come over. I was stuffed. Oh, and if you haven’t already noticed, I like ketchup.

It’s late September and this might be the end of BBQ season for me. Unless I get a few more invites. Here’s hoping!

{Guest Blog} Stuffed Banana Peppers. Why Not?

I seem to be surrounded with people who are obsessed with food. Everywhere I go that’s pretty much what folks want to talk about. For a while now my friends and family have hinted around about getting in on the blogging action. So why not let them? Here is a guest post courtesy of my friend Ebie. Enjoy!

Well, this was unexpected. As I watched much of my veggie garden turn crispy during our drought this summer, only the pepper plants didn’t succumb. In fact, they thrived. Who knew those spindly stems and delicate leaves were such hot weather warriors?
So now what to do with this single crop bounty? Yeah, yeah, I know. Freeze them, can them for winter—I’ll do that too.  But incorporating “just picked yummy goodness” into meals this time of year is the point of little backyard gardens. Besides, the plants worked so hard that I felt I owed the pepper-plenty some starring roles, and yet another pepper-based salad just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
I decided a main course of stuffed peppers would give them the distinction they deserved. Never mind that recipes for stuffed peppers normally call for sturdy Bell peppers, it was time to improvise. These smaller, thin-skinned rebels don’t stand up obediently for stuffing and cooking, so a little creativity was in order.
Seeding the skinny peppers needed some deft coaxing, but their more subtle flavour was worth the effort.
The faster and easier part was preparing the stuffing. No, I didn’t actually measure anything. I used some ground beef, onions, garlic, rice, seasoning and an egg for binding so all the ingredients would be compelled to feel the love.
I soon discovered it was a good idea to snip the pointy ends to prevent the peppers from splitting like little balloons as I stuffed them. A dab in flour helped to keep the stuffing from escaping during cooking.
Three cans of cubed tomatoes, processed until smooth, were just enough to cover the peppers comfortably while they simmered for about an hour.
Starring role this time around?  I think “yes.”

Very Merry Dairy

When I was seven years old the sound of an ice cream truck used to stop me dead in my tracks. The melodic chimes would send my pals and I into a mad frenzy, scurrying to find some money, any money, that would allow us to partake in this summer ritual. Many years later, not much has changed. My iPhone rings out with a tweet from The Merry Dairy ice cream truck signalling its arrival. The promise of ice cream still elicits the same sweaty palms, increased heart rate and mad dash to find cash.

Merry Dairy doesn’t serve run-of-the-mill ice cream. It dishes out frozen custard. According to its website, frozen custard was invented in Coney Island, New York in the 1920s. Today frozen custard is available throughout the US, but is almost unknown in Canada. Thankfully, The Merry Dairy is bringing this delicious ice cream to the Ottawa masses. Made fresh daily, hand scooped and sold from a truck, its uniqueness comes both from the quality of ingredients (cream, sugar and pasteurized egg yolk) and the machine that makes it.

I can attest to its deliciousness. The menu is simple. Chocolate or vanilla custard served up in a cone or a cup and topped (for a little bit extra coin) with your choice of toppings (chocolate, caramel, strawberry or raspberry sauce, Oreo crumbs, dutch chocolate or rainbow sprinkles). I chose the chocolate custard and xnayed the toppings. I promise to be a little bit more adventurous next time up but I wanted to savour the full flavour of the custard without any distractions, however tasty.
Part of the fun and excitement of Merry Dairy is that it’s a moving target. Here today, gone a little later today and not to reappear for a week or so. An easy way to keep track of the truck is to follow it on Twitter. Check out the upcoming schedule to learn when the truck will be in your neck of the woods. I don’t have any inside deets but I can’t imagine that Merry Dairy will be with us for much longer. As summer turns to fall and fall turns into frozen tundra, I would suggest that it’s best to catch The MD while you can. Carpe Diem and  get your frozen custard. The 7-year-old in you won’t regret it.

Lunch at Allium signals the end of "Birthday Month"

My boss and a few colleagues took me out for my birthday lunch. I chose Allium Restaurant because of its proximity to work and also because I enjoy it there.

Allium’s mix of Canadian cuisine and classic French techniques often lands it on various top 10 lists of best restaurants in the city. The menu changes on the first Thursday of every month and often includes your choice of duck, foie gras, salmon, steak, sandwiches and pastas.

I had the Mushroom Tagliatelle which was both tasty and filing. If I have one critique for Allium is that its portions are generally on the smallish side. Not this time. My plate contained a hearty portion of ragù which left me quite satisfied.

Mushroom Tagliatelle brought together slow roasted pork shoulder, tomato confit, bacon,
mushrooms, roasted garlic, chili and eggplant.

The rest of my party had the Club Sandwich. I received a chorus of approving nods when I inquired about how they liked their meal.

Club sandwich and potato salad

Allium is refined yet approachable. It carefully and quite adroitly straddles the line between casual and fine dinning. The menu offers regional and farm-to-table ingredients spun in interesting combinations like the Duck Fat Fried Eggplant with chili and garlic or the Scallop Salad that combines blueberries, nectarines, oranges, pickled red onion, spiced peanuts with a cilantro-parsley dressing.

I highly recommend Allium for anyone looking for bistro fare done right. It is located at 87 Holland Avenue in Ottawa.

I’m glad that I got to finish off my birthday month at Allium. It’s been a quite enjoyable to spend time with the cool people in my life. I’m a very lucky dude indeed. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Allium on Urbanspoon

America the Beautiful

America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is also the place where you can get the best junk food. Chicken in a Biskit crackers? Easy Cheese? Cocoa Pebbles Treats? Cheeze-It Scrabble crackers? All brilliant.

I hadn’t been to the US since May and I was jonesing for a visit. A cross-border day trip to Watertown, NY (the nearest border town with some decent shopping) was in order. We picked up some new clothes, some grocery items and we ate at the Ponderosa Steakhouse. Good times!

Some of my favourite buffet items: Mac ‘n cheese, mash potaotes and gravy and various fried items.
More fried goodness: Shrimp and haddock.
Just a tip. If you order a large drink at Ponderosa, you might be maxing out the capacity of your bladder.
The results of a successful day.