Thursday, February 25, 2010

Who doesn't love birthday cake? I love looking at birthday cakes, and I love ice cream cake, but I'm just not a big cake person. They just always look so much better than they taste, in my own experience anyway. I guess you could say I'm more of a pie lover. Anything that has a big scoop of ice cream alongside it is more my style. My birthday's around the corner and I've been trying to find some less-sugary desserts I could enjoy, but that doesn't mean I can't still appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted birthday cake, right? Thus: the cakes, for your viewing pleasure.

minimalist deliciousness

splendidly ornate

flower power

Or, you could always wear your cake instead of eating it:

Also, who can forget Charm City Cakes when mentioning artful, gorgeous cakes? Duff and his crew can really craft some fine pieces of edible art.

Cakes can really be made into anything these days! While searching for photos I saw a lot of Twilight cakes and Apple cakes:

I'm sure I'll cheat a little on the big day and get into that ice can I resist? Wish we had a Greg's here in Ottawa...
*Photos of cakes all via Flickr users: kimkeough, QuintanaRoo, army.arch, Loretta_Red, laurinapastina and superlinds.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Savana Cafe

Irie: to be at total peace with your current state of being. The way you feel when you have no worries.

This past weekend I shared a great dinner with friends and family at Savana Cafe and thought I'd share my overall thoughts with you.

This is the type of restaurant I've been looking for in Ottawa in a lot of ways. Since moving here from Toronto, I was missing those hidden gems that I found there, that often took years to discover. Since I've been here I've had some pretty great restaurant experiences, but often they were lacking that cozy, neighbourhood charm that a smaller restaurant can provide.

Savana is colourful and comfortable and the service is warm and friendly. This is definitely a great spot for a casual dinner or an unintimidating first date. Fun and relaxed, they even splash a little cranberry into your icewater as a friendly hello.

The food is described on their website as fusion, and the Chef represents influences from the Carribbean and Southeast Asia on his plates. After glimpsing the drink menu I was excited to try their island-inspired cocktails, but once I saw that they had Sangria, my decision was made. Savana Savvy Sangria, made with Alize Rose liqueur, white sparkling wine, guava juice and fresh mint was the perfect choice.

Two of my dinner guests had the vegetable green curry, and they agreed it was the best curry they've had in a while. I chose the jerk chicken and it was extremely tasty, roasted slowly in butter and thyme and accompanied by rice and peas, steamed greens and the most delicious deep fried plantains.

So if you're considering a casual dinner out or are in the mood for a little island flavour, I would definitely recomment Savana Cafe. You know when you go on a trip and you stay at a charming bed and breakfast instead of a hotel? Savana Cafe is a lot like that -- just like home, where everything is definitely irie.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Real Vanilla Extract: An Experiment

This weekend I received a unique and delicious early birthday gift -- organic bourbon vanilla beans! I always try to eat mostly locally, but when exotics are needed, it is great if they are organic. These vanilla beans were purchased lovingly for me from The Spice Trader on Queen West in Toronto, and they came with this handy information printed on the package:

Bourbon beans come from the Vanilla Planifolia orchid. These sumptuous beans are cultivated in Papua New Guinea and are cured using the natural sun dried process, which takes 3 to 6 months. They have a creamy, mellow, sweet flavour and are full of vanillin. They are used when you want a lingering vanilla flavour finish!

With the direction of my gift-giver (who also happens to be a fabulous from-scratch cook and baker) I will be making my own vanilla extract by using the following method:

Find yourself some vanilla beans, and one 13 oz. bottle of vodka, preferably Absolut.

Split the vanilla beans down the middle with a knife, making sure to leave the tops still connected.

It will look like this when you are finished.

Place the vanilla beans into the bottle of vodka.

Close the cap tightly and store the bottle in a cool, dark place for 8 weeks.

To be continued! In the time it takes for the vanilla and vodka to make magic, I hope to learn more about vanilla beans and the different types, different methods for at-home vanilla extract, and the truth about what is in artificial vanilla extract and how it differs from real vanilla extract. If you have any information on any of the above, please comment and share your knowledge, it is always welcome.

Have an absolutely sweet week,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Earth to Table visits the urban element!


Last week I had the chance to meet with Chefs Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann, the authors of Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm. You may remember this book from my earlier post highlighting its photographer, Edward Pond.

Jeff and Bettina were in town to promote their book, and to put on a private dinner for 20 people at the urban element here in Ottawa. The following is the result of our chat about seasonal cooking in winter, the menu they were preparing and their future Earth to Table plans:

After the Harvest (ATH): Can you describe your book for those who are not familiar with it?

Jeff Crump: The book is called Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm. It's basically a year's relationship between a restaurant and a farm -- our restaurant, and the farm is called ManoRun Organic Farm, just outside of Hamilton. It's a year where Bettina and I tried to discover where our food came from. We worked on the farm -- planted, harvested and cooked the food.

braised short ribs with apple parsnip puree

ATH: What are you doing here at the urban element?

Bettina Schormann: Tonight we're cooking a dinner for a group of 20 people. The menu is going to be charcuterie, which we made at the restaurant (it's one of the things that we do fairly regularly); also sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter and fried sage. We're also doing braised short ribs with apple parsnip puree, and then sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

gorgeous sticky toffee pudding

ATH: Do you find it difficult to cook seasonally in the winter months?

Bettina: We try to embrace the winter and not see it as a wasteland. We acknowledge the fact that you have to be a little bit more creative. Jeff always talks about changing your cooking methods and getting pieces of meat that cook a little bit longer. Root vegetables are your staple but you can cook them in different ways, for example the apple parsnip puree.

Jeff: Wintertime is a time for us to actually cook. In the summer and the spring, it's really light salads and grilling -- the food is so fresh and ripe then that you really don't want to do too much to it. In the winter we want to make braises and soups, stews and purees. Actually, I look forward to the winter so that we can apply skill to the food that we have and cook some very interesting food. I love the wintertime. It's right around March and April where we sort of enter "root vegetable hell".

Bettina: We get a little itchy waiting for the first signs of spring. But that happens in the summer too, you can have too much of one ingredient.

ATH: What's next for you after the book tour?

Jeff: We're opening a bakery right now -- we're working on construction, design and menu planning, so that's going to be Bettina's bakery. This is actually going to be the second Earth to Table project, the bakery is going to be called Earth to Table: Bread Bar, so it's an extension of the book.

Bettina: One of our plans is to make everything on site and engage our other two restaurants, The Ancaster Old Mill and Spencer's at the Waterfront, so we'll be able to supply them with finished products: breads and pizza dough to start, and then we hope to turn it into a commissary kitchen for the other locations. We feel that's very important. We're not buying anything in anymore, we're going to be making everything on site.

I can almost smell the bread baking now -- and I have to admit, I'm starting to warm up to winter cooking a bit more after this chat! Many thanks to Jeff and Bettina for their time, as well as Carley from the urban element.
*Food photos courtesy of the urban element, Earth to Table book photo courtesy of Edward Pond, Chef photos via Earth to Table

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Make Jamie's Wish a Reality

Recently Jamie Oliver gave his prize winning TED Talk, in which he shared his wish:

"I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

For those of you not familiar with TED, don't waste another second and please go to their website! TED talks are a new wave of education and enlightenment through one of the oldest methods: speech. Their slogan is: "Ideas Worth Spreading". Next time you find yourself surfing channels on the TV, turn it off and turn on TED.

Back to Jamie Oliver, the loveably self-depricating English chap who truly cares about food, and the impact it has on our lives. In his speech, Jamie said:

"I profoundly believe that the power of food has a primal place in our homes that binds us to the best bits of life."

That quote has stuck with me because it embodies everything I've been trying to say in many ways through After the Harvest, although I haven't been able to word it so well and with so much power. Food connects us all, and in a lot of ways, we truly are what we eat. I have such respect for Jamie and his message.

Chef Jamie then goes on to talk about kids and their disconnection from food, so much so that they cannot even identify common fruits and vegetables. "If the kids don't know what stuff is, then they will never eat it", he says, and I agree that food education does need to be a part of our school systems. This is an aspect of Jamie's wish that I'd like to help with, and I'm formulating ideas as you read this! I'll keep you posted on my progress in the future.

As he goes on to declare his wish, Jamie admits he recently thought to himself, "If I had a magic wand, what would I do?", and shortly after this question was posed, TED came calling. Now that's an example of someone asking God, The Universe, whoever/whatever he or she believes in for what he/she truly wants, and being rewarded. His wish will require a community of people all over the world to come together to make it a reality, but I believe we can do it. Jamie said himself, "every one of your individual efforts makes a difference", and I truly believe that statement, whether we're talking about a food revolution, or some other sort of social change in the world. Composting, recycling, Haiti relief efforts. Name your cause, when individuals have worked together with that cause in mind, change has been made and continues to be made.

Before I go off on an even larger tangent, I will let you take in Jamie's TED Talk yourself. Enjoy it, and answer this question: If you had a magic wand, what would YOU do?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

100th Post Celebrations!

This is my 100th Post! I just want to thank everyone for reading and please don't hesitate to keep commenting on posts that interest you! As you can see to your left, I have started doing a monthly poll, asking you some questions: what you like about After the Harvest and perhaps what you'd like to see more of in the future.

So, I hope you'll raise a glass with me and celebrate 100 posts! I look forward to many more and I hope you'll join me on the journey :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What I'm Watching: Food Inc.

I considered writing a long, insightful post about this film, but I think the most important thing I can say about it is: PLEASE SEE IT. This truly is the time for all of us to start changing how we eat. Like the film says, we have a chance to vote 3 times a day: at breakfast, lunch and dinner. For those of you who aren't really into documentaries, I still urge you to give this one a try. Narrated mostly by the extremely articulate Michael Pollan, and Fast Food Nation's passionate author Eric Schlosser, Food Inc. is one of the most important documentaries of our time. I believe that with fearless leaders such as Pollan and Schlosser, we can affect change in the food industry. Are you in? Start your own little food revolution by renting Food Inc.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What I'm Watching: Waitress

Spanish Dancer Pie. Lonely Chicago Pie. Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie. If these sound good to you, you need to go and rent the movie Waitress. It's what's known as a "dramedy" and it mixes humour, heartache and scrumptious pies to create one big batch of creativity and human emotion.

The film stars a post-Felicity Keri Russell, who handles the raw emotions of the role almost as well as the southern drawl she had to master. She is completely believable as Jenna, the damaged waitress who is known for her delicious and unique pies.

I won't share the entire story of the film so that you can watch it yourself, however I will say that if only for the pies alone, you should see this film. Pies like Marshmallow Mermaid Pie, Naughty Pumpkin Pie and Fallin' in Love Chocolate Mousse Pie. Now tell me those don't sound delicious and intriguing.

The visionary director of the film is the late Adrienne Shelly, who created a world inside a pie diner punctuated by gorgeous, colourful pies, retro uniforms and quick one liners. Oh, the pies. This is truly "food porn" at its best.

I don't even have a sweet tooth, and this film made me want to get in the kitchen and bake a pie. Stay tuned for a pie-making post in the next month or so, as I'm going to be asking my 90 year old grandmother for a lesson in pie-making from scratch. This post also goes out to my brother in law, who never met a pie he didn't like. So clink those forks together and dig in, it's pie eatin' time!
*Photos via Flickr: musicpb, sonicwalker, Timothy Gerdes

Saturday, February 6, 2010

5 Questions with Anna Olson

She's not just a pretty face who can bake a mean pie. Anna Olson is a TV personality, a cookbook author, an acclaimed Pastry Chef, a champion of local food and an entrepreneur. She currently hosts Fresh with Anna Olson on Food Network Canada, a show that allows her to come up with unique recipes inspired by local, seasonal food. Based in the Niagara area, Anna also shares ownership of Olson Foods & Bakery with her husband, Chef Michael Olson. Amid recipe testing, guesting on CityLine and running with the Olympic torch, Anna made time to answer 5 Questions for After the Harvest:

After the Harvest (ATH): What ingredients are currently inspiring you for new recipes?

Anna Olson (AO): I am such a seasonally motivated cook, so I am looking at hearty, wintry ingredients – I’m making borscht for dinner (but I’ll document it, as I don’t have a borscht recipe in print yet) and I’ll probably make a fresh bread to serve with it (a hearty Scandinavian rye). The challenge with actual recipe development is that sometimes you have to work out of season – I am now being asked to write recipes for summer and fall, but it’s hard to find a tasty (or affordable) peach or a ripe tomato!

I’m also deep into some new baking recipes, and playing with different grains and flours – spelt, coconut flour, chickpea flour etc.

ATH: What is your earliest food memory?

AO: I think my first food memory might be of birthday cupcakes, each topped with a plastic ballerina (but this might be triggered more from childhood photos than an actual memory). I do remember, though, watching Jiffy Pop popcorn being made on the stove, and being fascinated by the giant foil dome rising (I have always had a weakness for popcorn, extra butter please!)

ATH: I noticed that you have an upcoming trip planned for France -- can you tell us more about that?

AO: Believe it or not, I have never been to the south of France. This culinary exploration will find us (a nice intimate group) perusing the farmers’ market, doing cooking classes and eating, Eating, EATING up all that Provence and Paris has to offer. It’s a ladies’ trip (sorry, boys – we’ll catch you on the next one), and it’s a great opportunity to travel with friends or family - I hope to bring my Mom with me. I think a ladies’ trip will make us less inhibited to be ourselves – laugh like crazy, shop whenever we want and just feel untethered.

ATH: What is one of your favourite food and drink pairings?

AO: I am a nut for Rieslings and Pinot Gris – wines typical of Alsace and are also exceptionally made here in the Niagara region. I find these crisp, un-oaked styles make for some fantastic pairings in unexpected ways – they match with light dishes like grilled fish served with citrus, but one of my favourites is a simple onion, bacon and sour cream tart – YUM!

ATH: It must be fun for you to be married to someone as passionate about food as you are. What do you and your husband usually cook for each other at home? Do you collaborate on dishes?

AO: It’s rare to find a moment when Michael & I aren't talking about food – it is truly a consuming passion for us. We are definitely cooperative cooks, not competitive and we get creative in the kitchen all the time – we help spur each other on with thoughts and ideas, but we also know how to laugh and not take things so seriously – some of the best recipes happen by accident.

ATH: In the Niagara area there must be so much opportunity for locally grown ingredients -- can you tell us about a memorable experience you had while visiting a farm or interacting with local farmers or producers?

AO: I've been very fortunate that taping Fresh has allowed me to share my connections and relationships with growers and producers with the world. I do remember one occasion (not part of the TV series) stopping by our local butchers, Hommer’s, to pick something up for dinner on our way back from a luncheon. I was quite dressed up, but Hommer was so excited to show us some new prime sides of beef he just got in, that he had to tour us through his meat locker. I was happy to get a first-hand look at what sets a prime grade from a AAA, but there I was in a pretty yellow coat dodging sides of beef in the fridge as we were getting our lesson!

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the life of Anna Olson, Canada's culinary girl next door who has a clear passion for fresh, seasonal ingredients! Check Food Network Canada for the next episode of Fresh, or join Anna on her website for more information about when and where you can catch her next. Many thanks, Anna for your time and for sharing your knowledge and passion with us!

*All photos provided by Anna Olson, courtesy of "Fresh with Anna Olson" Cookbook, Whitecap Publishing 2009.
*5 Questions became 6 this time! So much to chat about...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Foodie Funnies

Food isn't just good for the tastebuds, it's good for the soul...and the funnybone! I thought I'd share some of my favourite videos about food that never fail to make me laugh :) I hope these videos put a smile on your face and maybe even inspire you to get into the kitchen! What are some of your favourite funny food moments?