Sunday, January 31, 2010
Sunday. A great day for sleeping in, watching movies, doing the laundry or hitting a coffee shop. Also a great day for brunch. I met up with an old family friend today at Fraser Cafe. I'd heard some buzz about the chefs there (the brothers Fraser-- Simon and Ross) and the idea of brunching at a restaurant committed to seasonal cuisine is always a good one in my opinion. After sipping some peppermint tea, I decided on the eggs benedict.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive what I considered to be a generous portion of food for the price. So often I find the price reflects the quality of the ingredients, but sometimes the quantity suffers. This time quality met quantity. The addition of a salad with a lovely dressing was a refreshing surprise, given that I did choose one of the more decadent brunch dishes.
My friend chose the cheeseburger which was chock full of goodies including bacon and grainy mustard, and I heard only favourable reviews from her side of the table. After we were finished with our gluttony, we made the daring choice of ordering dessert, hoping and praying our stomachs could make room for some sweet treats. We couldn't resist the idea of homemade donuts and I had to order a coffee to complete the traditional pairing of coffee and donuts that we've all come to know and love, especially here in Canada -- don't deny it, you know the stereotype is true! Served with vanilla ice cream, these donuts were the perfect way to complete our brunch. What's a good brunch without comfort food, after all?
Fraser Cafe was a cute place to brunch with friendly service, fresh and kitschy design and great food. We got a kick out of the wine list, which was clothed in a retro microwave cookbook; and the billfold, presented in the form of a seed packet.
The only thing cuter than that was the food-related graffiti in the bathroom, artfully drawn directly onto the tiles with a Sharpie, I presume. Unique and cozy in a neighbourhood kind of way, Fraser Cafe definitely makes my list of favourites so far in my new city. I'll definitely be back, maybe next time for dinner so I can watch the Fraser brothers in in action. Happy Sunday, everyone!
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Now you may be wondering, what do women do at a wine club? Come on, they just drink, right? Of course, we all enjoyed our wine, but it was also a chance to learn, educate, discuss and share. With varying degrees of wine knowledge and tasting experience, the group was a lively bunch with lots of questions, comments and opinions to share with each other and the two women who planned the evening. It was a chance for me to glimpse others' wine experiences and truly understand that everyone does have a different palate and often a different opinion of any given wine.
We tasted 8 wines in total, 2 whites and 6 reds, all from Mendoza, Argentina. Tasting sheets were made up and provided, with blank spaces for notes on the appearance, nose, palate and overall rating of each wine. All of the wines were procured from the Vintages section of the LCBO, and ranged in price from $14-$40 per bottle.
I was at once impressed and disappointed with my own wine knowledge -- I realized I need to brush up on what I learned at George Brown, or else attend more tastings! There really is something to be said for attending wine tastings and really training your palate. However, I do feel that the dare I say "academic" side of wine should definitely not be ignored! How will I be able to identify wines in a blind tasting if I don't remember that certain reds smell like violets because of where their grapes are grown? I did surprise myself with the number of typical Malbec characteristics I picked out and could remember from my previous wine courses.
The top 2 wines I enjoyed were:
2007 Catena Malbec (V) -- Although we opened it a couple of years too early according to the tasting notes, this wine had a really nice aroma and I found it well-balanced. Notes of cassis, black cherry, leather and wood, it was a layered, earthy and smooth tasting wine.
2008 Alamos Torrontes -- Argentina's most famous white grape, the Torrontes was lovely and floral with a crisp acidity. Fragrances of honeysuckle and white flowers made it a gorgeous smelling white, but when sipped it was crisp and refreshing.
The ladies were able to get the tasting notes from Jay Miller at www.erobertparker.com and I found one of these descriptions wildly entertaining and very puzzling! The wine was Vino Alicia, a 2006 Malbec made by a female winemaker at a Boutique Winery in Mendoza. The tasting note was as follows:
The 2006 Malbec was aged for 16 months in new French oak. The nose reveals pain grille, Asian spices, cassis, black currants and black cherry leading to an opulent Malbec with layered fruit, serious depth and concentration, enough structure to evolve for 4-6 years and a 45-second finish. Enjoy it from 2011-2026.
I'm not sure about you, but that's the first time I've ever heard of a wine with notes of Asian spices! The grilled bread is a bit over the top but I guess if it had a toasty quality I could be on board with that descriptor, although I didn't detect that myself, not saying it wasn't there, just undetected by me. The best part is the 45 second finish -- is this guy really timing the finish of his wine? Smell, swirl, sip...ok now hit that timer! Aaannndddd, it's gone from the taste buds. Stop time! Maybe I'm just too much of a novice to know about timed finishes or Asian spiced wines, but these things definitely took me by surprise.
In the end, wines were sipped, conversations were sparked and we all went home with a bit more knowledge about ourselves and the wines we tasted. Thanks to Cindy & Marcy for inviting me to this interesting evening!
Monday, January 25, 2010
Major sponsors such as McDonald's and Coca Cola just don't make sense to me when promoting sport. In order to compete well, our athletes must be fueled with healthy food, not fast food and soda, laden in fat and sugar. I often wonder what percentage of the sponsored athlete's diet includes food or drink from their major sponsor. If it was fast-food heavy, I would hazard to guess that their performance might not be at its peak. When I say healthy food, I am talking about "real food" according to the likes of Michael Pollan. Locally grown, organic when possible, grown in the ground or raised naturally.
It is my Olympic Dream to see athletes shooting TV commercials for their future sponsors: farmers. Imagine a speedskater from Calgary, standing in an Alberta farmer's field with the farmer himself. She would talk about how the farmer's grass-fed beef gives her energy, the vegetables help her body stay healthy and the dairy and grains sustain her for many hours of practice.
This is an issue of money, as these corporate giants have the funds to support our athletes, so the athletes need to do their part and promote the sponsor. I just wish the system worked differently and provided a more honest message. Kids today might see these ads and think that a fast food breakfast sandwich will help them be a better hockey player, or a plate of fries will help them improve their snowboarding skills. The impact might not be this direct in the child's thinking, but what I mean is, they will think that fast food is a part of an athlete's lifestyle, which is something I just don't understand. In order to achieve top levels in sport, the body must be fed and nourished with healthy food. I don't have any studies to quote to support this, but I will take a chance that this statement is obvious common knowledge. McDonald's has been known to aim their marketing at children and I fear that this type of ad campaign will provide mixed messages. Kids today will be even more confused about the food they eat and how it relates to their well-being through advertisements such as these.
I also dream that the Olympic Village will offer more healthy choices to athletes while they're at the games. Now, I have never been to the Olympic Village, nor do I have a list of their vendors, however I am going by what I have learned from athletes' own words. For example, I'll never forget seeing Michael Phelps interviewed on late night TV, talking about eating McDonald's in the Olympic Village in Beijing. Now, one might argue that obviously this food didn't affect his performance as he literally blew his competition out of the water; however, it is the principle I am discussing. Perhaps Michael Phelps burned off the calories quickly because of the sheer amount of muscle mass he possesses, I don't know -- I do not claim to be an expert on how fast food affects an athlete's body. I do know a bit about how fast food affects an average person's body -- I think we all do -- and I can't see it having any value to the athlete and their performance.
If we support our local farmers and food producers, perhaps someday this dream of a partnership between elite athletes and local farmers might become a reality. I know this is a big dream, but I think if we all choose consciously, we can affect change and start seeing different ads for Olympic Games in the future. After all, ask any Olympian and they might agree: you have to dream big to achieve your goals.
If anyone has any information on current initiatives that are going on to help create this change, please comment below and let me know! I don't claim to be fully and completely educated on some of the topics I write about -- I can only say that I am a concerned citizen who is always learning and I merely had a strong reaction to these commercials.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
The other day I got my Greentainer in the mail from TakeOutWithOut -- they were running a contest, and I was one of the lucky recipients. What's a greentainer, you ask? Well, it's essentially like tupperware, but it's made of stainless steel and it has two sections so you can store different foods without mixing them. They have a few different sizes and some other products, but for now I will be using the large greentainer.
A greentainer doesn't just take the place of tupperware, it is also an essential tool when going out for dinner, buying your lunch or even grabbing a bagel. Instead of taking that waxy bagel bag, styrofoam or plastic to-go container, why not bring your greentainer along and have them fill it up? Whether you're getting takeout or just can't finish your meal, the greentainer will help reduce waste that the cafe or restaurant might have used instead. The greentainer is even a better alternative to biodegradable or recyclable takeout containers. You just wash it and reuse. This is where TakeOutWithOut comes in. Their philosophy is:
- Refuse Unnecessary Stuff
- Retake Your Own Reusables
- Reconsider Your Own Habits
Whether you use traditional tupperware or a greentainer, it still helps the environment to bring your own reusable container for takeout foods and "doggie bags". So let's all take the reusable coffee mug to the next level, and carry a greentainer in our purses, our cars, our bags, wherever we go. You can even take it further by bringing reusable cutlery and glass straws. I've also heard of some people bringing their own stainless steel wine glasses to events! Now there's an idea...
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
2009 was the year After the Harvest was born, and I could not be more grateful for the stories, the people and the ideas that it has brought into my life. I can only hope that in 2010 I continue to uncover the stories behind the flavours, and connect with more food and wine lovers from all over this amazing world.
Please enjoy my top 10 highlights of 2009 (in no particular order)
#1: Photographer Edward Pond of Earth to Table fame
#2: One of my favourite stories to date, an urban farmer doing his thing
#3: Chef Stephen Vardy -- Chef Vardy has since decided to go back to the East Coast, but at the time this was a popular interview!
#4: Feasting in a Field -- one of my favourite food events
#5: Beautiful songstresses taking the time to chat about food
#6: Food Jammers!
#7: A man in the wild
#8: After the Harvest custom artwork!
#9: Tealicious T.O. visit
#10: Sharing my food fiction
So, please enjoy these posts and feel free to share your thoughts on them in the comments section! More to come in 2010! My gratitude goes out to all who read After the Harvest!
Monday, January 18, 2010
Alex preps some halibut
During my time at Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, I was fortunate to learn a lot about food, work with some amazing chefs and get inspired by the local food movement. One of my fellow JK team members at the time, Chef Alex Johnston, was also very inspired by the local food movement -- so much so that he has since started his own business specializing in local, regional cuisine. Alex's passion for food began at a young age and it has continued to grow with every step in his life and career. His latest venture is Provenance Regional Cuisine, a grocery home delivery service that is focused on fresh, regional food.
braised pheasant, packed and ready to be delivered
Growing up in the Kensington Market area of Toronto, Alex had fantastic food memories from a young age, in large part due to his mother who cooked everything from scratch. As a child, he often took in the vibrant food scene of Kensington Market, visiting cheese shops and getting the free samples of cheese, tasting olives and cured meats. This experience really helped shape his culinary point of view later in life, but it would be a while before Alex realized his desire to become a Chef.
At first his professional life led him into the dot.com industry, but after 9/11, everything changed. The economic landscape was affecting many industries, and people were wondering what to do next. For Alex, the decision became clear; he was feeling the lure of the kitchen. Culinary school soon followed, and then Alex decided to live and work in France for a year. With the large food markets and the seasonal, regional focus there, Alex was inspired. "I became 'tuned in' to food, especially the idea of local food."
marinating the duck confit
After returning to Canada and working for Chef Jamie Kennedy for five years, Alex decided to begin his own culinary venture with Provenance Regional Cuisine. While he was working at JK, he met some great food producers and really enjoyed that aspect of the job. In his own venture, Alex decided he wanted to focus on local food, and to help make it easier for people to eat locally and sustainably without disrupting their busy schedules or breaking the bank. "I thought to myself, 'There’s got to be a way to get this food to more people, and at a better price'", so he decided on a grocery to home system, and thus, Provenance Regional Cuisine was born.
ham hock braise ingredients
A Quick look at Provenance Regional Cuisine:
Provenance means the origin of something
Regional is the next step in Canadian food culture. We are beginning to identify certain regions and know them for their food, much like the French appellation system. For example: Perth County pork, Quebec cheese, Niagara peaches, and so on.
Cuisine, not catering. The PRC model is a retail delivery service, much like the idea of a CSA.
How it all works: There is a menu of 3 dishes per week, and customers prepay for 4 week periods. Some examples from the current menu include: Ontario Harvest Venison Ragout with Pancetta and Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Sustainable Fish Soup with Saffron, Organic Fennel and Leek, and Cumbrae Farms Beef Round Medallions wrapped in Cured Pork Belly.
The Fresh Factor -- He can have fish that was caught on Wednesday on the table on Thursday.
Sustainability and Culinary Technique -- He uses the entire animal and butchers everything himself.
Community -- Since it's a subscription model, there's a dialogue that exists between himself and the customers, which brings added value to their experience.
filleting the halibut
A Brief Q & A with Chef Alex Johnston:
After the Harvest (ATH): What made you want to focus on local, sustainable food?
Chef Alex Johnston (AJ): I wanted to give a true identity to what people were actually growing here, as opposed to the multicultural cuisine that Toronto has been known for, which is great, but fresh ingredients start here in Ontario. I wanted to rediscover the heritage of Ontario food. If people are conscious about where their food is coming from, we’ve come a long way.
ATH: What inspires you to stay creative and passionate about cooking?
AJ: I am inspired by the craft of cooking; the technique. I prepare everything from scratch and I love working with my hands. I'm inspired by the food producers, the land, the farms, the seasons and wild foods. I was also inspired by Chef Jamie Kennedy because he really believes in the local food movement and has put it first on countless occasions.
crepinettes in caul fat, caul fat above
It seems it's not just local food that inspires Chef Alex, it's the powerful feeling that comes from sharing his food with others: "When I bring [my customers] food, I feel like Santa Claus!” Alex's passion is clearly evident and I'm sure it will spread like wildfire throughout Toronto. If you're not in Toronto, why not seek out other CSAs or local food Chefs in your area! Let's help progress our Canadian food culture by supporting local producers and creating that regional identity.
*All photos provided by Chef Alex Johnston
Friday, January 15, 2010
I started with the closest thing I had to a sieve: my 1970s style bright yellow strainer. First insert a coffee filter into the strainer, then rest it on top of a deep vessel of some sort (oddly enough, my Hoegaarden glass was the perfect choice).
Next, pour the yogurt into the coffee filter. Cover with plastic wrap (I really could have used a tea towel for a more eco-friendly solution, but old habits die hard!)Put the yogurt into the fridge overnight.
In the morning, you will see that the whey from the yogurt has collected in the bottom of the glass. Put this aside in case you need to thin out the yogurt when mixing.
Grab a bowl and flip the coffee filter over to release the yogurt. Add fresh preserves or fruit puree (I pureed my thawed frozen raspberries).
Whisk together until mixed. Then add some honey for sweetness.
Since I was lacking Bruce's delicious granola and toasted hazelnuts, I had to make due with Fibre One Honey Clusters, but it was still tasty!
Serve it up with some fresh coffee and voila -- a delicious breakfast! Have a good weekend, everyone!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Today's snack is a little ditty I wrote in my university days -- it's part of a group of character sketches I put together in my own attempt to have a Carrie Bradshaw moment. I hope you enjoy this little bit of fun -- and it does, (as many of them do), reference some sort of food or beverage -- what else is new?
One day, while sipping a double Americano in an overly-trendy coffee shop on campus, I spotted Marcus. He was sitting in the corner, clad in black and denim blue, immersed in his writing and probably on his 5th cup of black coffee. He was one of those guys who drank lots of coffee during the day and chose cheap beer or a stiff shot of whiskey at night. He was constantly reading, writing, playing music or breaking girls' hearts. He took himself way too seriously, no doubt idolized Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac and was the only person in English class able to actually make informed statements on The Wasteland. Never at a loss for a cigarette or a poetic word for an eager college girl, Marcus knew how to work that bad boy image, so it didn’t surprise me when he showed up at the campus Halloween event dressed as James Dean. I never really did get to know Marcus that well, but I suppose the mysterious musician from your college days is supposed to remain just that: a mystery.
*photo via dogmilque on Flickr
Monday, January 11, 2010
We see it everywhere these days, from dishes bearing farmers' names to the Savour Ottawa stamp on the menu. From the Chef and Farmer themed dinners going on all across North America, to our television screen, with Chef Lynn Crawford being the newest to have a show that brings her back to the farm.
A lighthearted clip from Lynn's new show
Everyone is going far and wide to find the story behind the food, including myself.
I experienced this added value to my meal this past weekend at Play Food & Wine. While my guest and I enjoyed the fabulous food, we were not only served by the charming, well-educated staff; the service went above and beyond just as our meal was wrapping up. While discussing our cheese selections with the Sommelier, we started talking about raw milk cheese and were unclear on some details surrounding the raw milk debate. Before the dessert wine had vanished from our taste buds, he was back with more information for us to digest and take home. We all learned more about raw milk cheese in Canada and the laws that govern cheese with respect to pasteurization.
It is inspiring when you see the passion that some people in the food and drink industry have for their work, and this experience helps prove that point. This kind of dialogue is something that continues to add meaning to our dining experiences. Those of us who work in this industry thrive on these experiences, where the customer is engaged and we can discuss stories, issues and even the odd anecdote surrounding a dish, a wine or an ingredient.
As we continue to learn and grow in our journey with food, one thing remains true: every time you sit down to eat, it is more than just a taste experience. You are welcomed, you are informed and you are valued. Whether it is at a restaurant or around the family dinner table, each meal should be savoured, understood and shared.
Here's to more engaging experiences!
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Now that the holidays are over, I am sure many of us are just now starting to enjoy some of the fabulous gifts we received from loved ones. This year I was lucky enough to receive many interesting wine-themed gifts, one of them being a beautiful coat rack made by the talented artist Cathy Davison of Wineplanks. Who knew coat racks could be beautiful?
This one is made from a recycled oak barrel and embellished with antique silverware. Cathy uses barrels sourced from Canadian wineries and she also makes trays, platters and candleholders. What food and wine related gifts did you get for Christmas?
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Since moving to this fine city of Ottawa, I’ve been frequenting the various grocery stores and gourmet shops in my neighbourhood. I’ve found the usual chain grocers, independent gourmet stores and specialty shops and although I’ve yet to explore them all, the search so far has been fun and, shall I say, fruitful.
After a few trips to the big chain stores, I was really hoping to find a small grocer where the produce was fresher and there were more healthy options and organic products. Lo and behold, I found The Herb and Spice Shop. I have yet to fully explore this store, but on my most recent trip I was not only met by friendly staff, but I was also greeted by a variety of organic products and fabulous fruit and vegetables!
A family business owned and operated since 1973, The Herb & Spice Shop seems to have struck a balance between local and organic, and delicious and exotic. As I strolled through the aisles, carefully dodging the yuppie couples and health-conscious shoppers, I felt a bit like I was in a Whole Foods, with the socially-conscious brands and pretty produce. Might this have been what the early Whole Foods Market stores looked like before they mushroomed into the corporate giants they are today?
Even though it’s a small store, they don’t skimp on variety. Yes, there are a lot of non-local products, but at least they provide detailed labels so shoppers can make informed choices. I love that you can buy organic dairy, free range farm-fresh eggs, local produce, Rideau rye bread and dragonfruit all in the same place!
The aisles are also stocked with all kinds of gourmet, organic and specialty products – everything from salsas and salad dressings to olive oils and fair trade coffee.
I was impressed to see so many different types of honey, where you can usually only get one or two brands in the conventional grocery stores. They even have a small bulk section and a special spice area.
I look forward to returning to the Herb and Spice and continuing to try more of their fresh food and organic products. Thanks to the staff for allowing me to snap photos! Remember to support your local grocer :)
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Have you looked outside recently? Many areas of North America have been experiencing extremely cold temperatures and copious amounts of snow. You know what that means: It's comfort food time! In lieu of actually visiting the Mediterranean, I thought I'd bring a taste to you. So from my kitchen to yours: Mediterranean Chicken Linguine.
This dish has been with me for a while now, and although it's not rocket science, it is an easy dish to prepare that definitely allows for substitutions. I usually make a large amount so I can have leftovers the next day, and sometimes even the next night as well. Second day pasta isn't ideal, but it is very helpful on a busy day and tastes just as good cold as a pasta salad.
I start by sweating some onions and garlic in olive oil. I then add the chicken and allow it to brown before adding in the rest of the ingredients. You can use any vegetable that you deem "Mediterranean", but this time I went with what I had on hand:
- Kalamata olives
Ideally I love using roma tomatoes as well as sundried tomatoes and green olives, but like I said, it is still tasty with a different mix of ingredients. Throw in a pat or two of butter for a richer taste, and a splash of white wine.
Cook until the firmest veggies are semi-soft and the spinach is wilted (add it last).
Then add the linguine and toss. You can also add artichokes, prosciutto, peppers or different varieties of mushrooms -- the list is endless. So tuck that napkin into your shirt and mangia! This would go well with a Pinot Grigio.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Well, I did it. I finally caved and watched Julie & Julia. I was hesitant for so long because everyone was always saying, "You're a food blogger? You HAVE to see Julie & Julia!"
Being a Nora Ephron film, I expected it to be heartwarming and romantic, which it was. I guess you could say it was everything I expected it to be: cute, amusing and autobiographical. I enjoyed learning more about Julia Child's life through Meryl Streep's portrayal and the food in the film looked absolutely scrumptious.
I wasn't blown away, but I will say that Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci were fantastic. The next best things in the film were the food, of course, and the costumes and European backdrop. It made me want to go to France even more!
During the Julie scenes, I found myself waiting for the story to go back to Julia. Don't get me wrong, I did relate to the Julie character a bit, and I did fantasize about having my own rooftop dinner parties, but I was just left wanting more. I'm not sure if this is a comment on Amy Adams versus Meryl Streep or if the vintage, European storyline was a bit more enticing. Perhaps it was the fact that Julia Child seemed to have more depth and a more unique character which was intriguing. Either way, Meryl Streep's performance was subtle and powerful at the same time, making me want to walk through the French markets with Julia, buying bread, fish and of course, butter for my next recipe.
In the end, I enjoyed the film and it did inspire me to want to cook more French food (especially the duck)! So voila, Julia -- you did your job of inspiring North Americans to want to learn how to cook like the French. Bon Appetit!
Sunday, January 3, 2010
We ushered in the new year with a roast lamb, surrounded by fingerling potatoes, carrots and shallots. It was succulent and comforting all at once. The meal made me want to jump back in time to those pot roast days, tie up my apron and call everyone to the table. Where did the pot roast go, anyhow? I think we should bring it back. One pot meals should be all the rage in our maniacally busy, overstressed lives. This year I vow to make more pot roasts. I'll live like the women of Mad Men for a while, minus the cigarettes and the passive aggressive drama, that is...