Category Archives: Foodie Goodie

A funny thing happened on the way from the Farmer’s Market

Over the weekend, Neil and I headed to the Summertown Farmer’s Market. Partly to check out what was on offer, and partly to partake in a (delicious!) pulled pork sandwich from Shredded Meat Co. who are setting up shop there each weekend this summer.

summertown farmers market

The market was lovely, and most businesses along the strip where it’s set up looked like they were doing a roaring trade, encouraging visiting marketgoers to pop through their doors as well.

All except one: The Dew Drop Inn.

And, as we soon discovered, for good reason.

We thought, you know what goes really well with a BBQ sandwich? A cold beer. So over to the pub’s patio we went.

The way the street is set up, there is a big plaza-style pavement, and the pub’s front garden space extends through it, all the way to the street. There’s probably seating for about 50 people out there. You actually need to walk through the garden if you want to cross the pavement frontage. The market was set up down the pavement on both sides.

While there are over a dozen food vendors at the market, many selling takeaway meals, there aren’t any beverage vendors. Anyone who wants to have a market lunch and fancies a drink with it needs to go into one of the grocery stores along the block to pick something up.

Or (as we did) go into the pub and purchase a couple pints.

Except, instead of capitalising on this opportunity to gain some customers and sell some drinks, we got a surly publican chasing us off their entirely deserted patio, for having ‘outside food.’

Fair point, you say, the pub serves food. If you want to use their tables, you should purchase their food. And if that’s the attitude one wants to take take, in a world of black and white, and curmudgeonry, sure. Point made.

But, in a world where pubs are generally struggling, and where most business people (I would think?) would welcome an increase in traffic, and a chance to make a good impression to generate repeat business on non-market days, perhaps some out-of-the-box thinking could help?

Were it my (nearly completely empty, inside and out) pub, I’d see the market as a huge potential. I’ve got the only reasonable seating area for market-goers, and I’m the only one, aside from the grocery stores, selling drinks.

I’d grab some colourful bunting, and section off a few of the tables that market-goers need to walk directly through, to be used for those who purchase food at the market and drinks from my pub. You can’t just park there with a random picnic, but market food +my drinks = ok. The only way market-goers are going to get a table to eat at, is going to be by buying drinks from me. The market vendors and I both win!

But what of the pub food, you ask? Two separate groups of customers. There was not one ounce of crossover between the food available at the market, and the pub’s menu. And I’m pretty confident that someone who’s heading for a farmer’s market lunch isn’t going to be suddenly swayed into having a Sunday roast.

In fact, a really enterprising publican might work with the market organisers to specifically advertise some complimentary snacks to go along with the market food. Maybe a jacket potato to go with the huge Paella that the fishmonger is cooking up? Or a side of chips for with your pulled pork sandwich?

But hey, I suppose that if your idea of a good time in pub ownership is to take a protectionist stance and enjoy chasing ‘rule-breakers’ off your property, that’s your prerogative.

But it’s also mine to decide not to return to the Dew Drop (where I have previously enjoyed both drinks and Sunday lunch), and take my dollars to a pub that’s more interested in generating some goodwill, both in the community, and with its current and potential patrons.

Cooking, Presence and Cock Sauce

Last month Neil and I went out to see Chef Michael Smith talk about life, food and his latest book: Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen.

Cock Sauce, Lower Right

We’ve both followed the Canadian chef since the days of his Chef at Large show, and on this (now rare) night we were actually out without Isaac, his message was poignant: presence, family, cooking, and tradition.

Chef Smith spoke briefly about how he’s noticing the decline in cooking and eating together, and how that coincided with his harried jet-setting lifestyle and the end of his own marriage because he wasn’t present with his family.

And as he shared one of the recipes from his new book with everyone – Shrimp Rice Paper Rolls with Ginger Peanut Sauce and Cilantro – he talked about sharing meals, cooking together, letting go of the need for perfection (Just Say No to Food Porn!) and the importance of building a tradition of presence with your family.

And then he splashed me with his cock sauce.

In all seriousness though, it’s so easy (especially with a tiny human around) to lose track of time and push off things like cooking and eating together as life gets busy. One of the big things Neil and I cherish from our own childhoods and want to share with Isaac is a tradition of family meals most nights.

And now that Isaac’s well on his way to eating just about everything we do (new dinner prep question: will it blend?), insisting we share whatever we’ve got on our plates, cooking and eating as a family have taken on a new significance.

Everyone in attendance that evening went home with a copy of the chef’s latest book, and in the spirit of cooking and sharing, here’s my favourite recipe from it so far: Bacon Beans with Baby Spinach.

As a general rule, I don’t like beans, and this dish is a HUGE exception. It’s creamy, delicious, blends (Isaac also gave it two tiny thumbs up), and the only change I’d make is to go ahead and double it right away. You’ll want more.

Ingredients:
8 ounces (250g) of the best bacon you can get
1 large onion, diced
4 sliced garlic cloves
1 cup (250mL) white beans, soaked overnight, drained
1 tsp (5mL) any vinegar (we used Apple Cider vinegar)
1 lb (500g) baby spinach
Salt & Pepper to taste

Slice the bacon crosswise and toss into a large sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until it’s released all its fat and is brown and crispy. Add the onions & garlic and sautee until they soften. Add the beans and enough water to barely cover them. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes. Finish by adding in the vinegar and spinach and stirring until the spinach is just wilted. Salt & Pepper to taste. Devour.

Slow-Cooker Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Honey Drizzle

My lands it has been practically a lifetime since I shared something non-baby-centric on this blog.

No longer!

I am finally finding time to cook again, and this particular recipe is an awfully good one for summer. We love carrot cake ’round these parts, but it’s been a bit too warm to turn on the oven, so baked goods have been put on the proverbial back-burner.

The genius of this recipe is that you make it in the crock pot!

It’s also, for those who care about such things, a clean recipe, so you can pretend it’s healthy. I mean, carrot cake? clean? it’s practically a serving of vegetables! This also means it’s not as sweet as carrot cakes you may be accustomed to, and the cream cheese honey drizzle is nice, but it’s no cream cheese icing. But sometimes that’s nice if you’ve been overdosing on over-sweet berries and ice cream all summer.

Slow Cooker Carrot Cake. Verdict: WIN

Slow-Cooker Carrot Cake
(adapted from The Best of Clean Eating)
*note – this recipe is for a 4-6qt slow cooker. If you have one of those gigantic army-sized vessels, use a smaller cake pan inside the crock pot insert.

Ingredients:
Olive oil cooking spray
1 1/4 cups all-purpose whole wheat flour
1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup unsweetened sultana raisins
1 large egg white
1 tsp flasxeed, ground, mixed with 2 tsp water
1/2 cup raw organic honey
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup peeled, shredded carrot, tightly packed

Cut parchment to fit bottom and sides of the sides and bottom of your crock-pot insert. Spray insert with cooking spray and line with the parchment.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, coconut, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in raisins.

In a separate bowl, combine egg while and flax-water mixture and whisk until bubbles form. Add honey, applesauce, yogurt, oil and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Stir in dry ingredients until just mixed. Fold in carrot and pour mixture into prepared stoneware dish.

Cover entire top of slow-cooker with three layers of paper towel and secure with lid (this catches droplets and ensures the cake doesn’t get soggy).

Bake for 2-2.5 hours on low or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature with cream cheese honey drizzle and toasted walnuts if you’re into that.

Cream Cheese Honey Drizzle

Ingredients:
1/4 cup low-fat plain cream cheese
1 tbsp raw organic honey
1 lemon, zested and juiced

in a small bowl, heat cream cheese on high in microwave until slightly warm, about 10-15 seconds. Remove from microwave and use a rubber spatula to stir honey into cream cheese until smooth. Add a pinch of the lemon zest and 2 tsp of the juice and continue to stir. Slowly add two tablespoons water until mixture is consistency of thick cream. Continue to add lemon zest and juice to taste.

Alinea

Do you have a life list? Mine’s not formally written down anywhere (self, get on that!), but I do have a mental list of things I want to do someday.

And I got to check off a long-standing item on our trip to Chicago last September. Dine at Alinea.

I first learned about the restaurant shortly after Neil and I got together over five years ago. I was still in my formative food-enthusiast years, and the passion of Chef Achatz combined with amazing innovations in molecular gastronomy really stuck with me.

I’ve been following the chef, the restaurant, and more recently the Alinea at Home blog ever since.

So it was an incredible treat to finally dine there.

For those not familiar with Alinea it’s part gastronomic adventure, part theatrical experience, all totally delightful. The word “meal” doesn’t adequately capture it.

Walking into Alinea is reminiscent of that scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where the room is getting smaller as you go deeper inside. It sets the perfect stage for an evening where you should expect the unexpected, and nothing is quite as it seems.

alinea, chicago (july 2010)

At the beginning of the meal, two rice paper “flags” were set in the middle of the table. A centrepiece that would be used later in the meal (but how?).

Alinea

We’d see them used five courses in, for the Pork belly: curry, cucumber, lime.

Alinea

Part of the fun of a meal at Alinea is being “in on the joke” with your fellow diners, watching the faces of those who’ve already experienced one course giggle at your surprise, then doing the same with patrons who arrived after you did, as they experience an unexpected dish.

Everything is put together so thoughtfully, incorporating various senses, like sight as in the dish below, “Reflection of Elysian Farms” which is a landscape on a plate, reflecting the farm property using primarily lamb and corn preparations.

IMG_0050

Texture was another popular tactic: shrimp two ways – one as a crisp fried stick of Yuba, the other using the same flavours on a piece of sugar cane, to be chewed and discarded once the flavour was gone like a stick of gum.

DSC_5301_pt

My absolute favourite, in terms of taste and smell, was the Pheasant. Skewered on a tiny oak branch with the leaves smouldering, it instantly took me to a warm house with a wood fire burning in the fall.

Alinea: Pheasant, Green Grape, Burning Leaves

And one of the highlights: dessert, served on the table. A silicon sheet is rolled out, and one of the chefs actually comes out and creates an edible work of art in the centre of the table, baking on little custard rounds with a torch and splashing sauces and crumbles artfully around the centrepiece: a frozen, light-as-air mousse that gets softer and more decadent as it slowly warms to room temperature.

IMG_6243

IMG_6273

I tried to scan the souvenir copy of the menu we received after our meal, but my scanner is terrible, so I’ve reprinted our menu below.

None of the pictures I used are mine, I was more concerned with eating than snapping (and gave up trying to get cameraphone photos after about four courses), but you can get an impression of what we had by searching flickr for pictures of any of the dishes.

Alinea was hands down the most delicious and most unique meal I’ve ever had. If you’re into food, really into food, you should make a point of going. It’s one of the few food experiences I’ve had that totally lives up to the hype. I hope I’m fortunate enough to go back someday.

Menu: September 26, 2010

LEMON: don cesar pisco, cane juice, frozen and chewy
CUCUMBER: plymouth gin, rose, mint
CHERRY: buffalo trace, carpano antica, maraschino

STEELHEAD ROE: coconut, licorice, pineapple

YUBA: shrimp, miso, togarashi
CHAO TOM: sugar cane, shrimp, mint

TOMATOES: eight complimentary flavors

DISTILLATION of thai flavors
PORK BELLY: curry, cucumber, lime

KING CRAB: plum, lilac, fennel

PHEASANT: green grape, walnut, burning leaves

LAMB: reflection of elysian fields farm

HOT POTATO: cold potatao, black truffle, butter

TOURNEDO: a la persane

BLACK TRUFFLE: explosion, romaine, parmesan

BACON: butterscotch, apple, thyme

LEMON SODA: one bite

TRANSPARENCY: of raspberry, yogurt
BUBBLE GUM: long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche

EARL GREY: lemon, pine nut, caramelized white chocolate

CHOCOLATE: apricot, honey, peanut

The Campfire Grill Doesn’t Want Me to Visit

UPDATE! Inger McCrae, half the equation of the Campfire Grill Smokin’ BBQ commented on this post mere hours after it went up, and gave us excellent directions, and even better BBQ! Full review coming tomorrow, but you should seriously go. It’s awesome.

Neil and I loves us some good, good BBQ.

I won’t go so far as to call it an obsession, but we are certainly avid connoisseurs and enjoy our smoked meat. A lot.

So when I found out about the Campfire Grill Smokin’ BBQ Joint in Squamish shortly before we were planning to head up to Whistler, hot on the heels of a terribly disappointing visit to a new BBQ place in town, we were pretty excited to stop in.

Too bad the folks at the Campfire Grill don’t seem interested in having us stop by.

I dutifully copied the URL of the place, along with their address, into my phone.

Once we made it to Squamish, having followed the directions on Google Maps, it became obvious that Google Maps has no idea where this place actually is.

We aren’t familiar with Squamish at all (only ever pausing there for coffee or gas), and it’s dark and pouring rain at this point, so I went to pull up the website.

FUCKING FLASH! MOTHERFUCKERS!

So of course it wouldn’t load on my phone.

I googled the restaurant again in one last-ditch effort to figure out how to get there, and came up with their phone number. Which I called. And got a message that they don’t answer the phone during business hours, but leave a message if I want a call back the next day.

So Google doesn’t know where the Campfire Grill Smokin’ BBQ Joint actually is.

And the proprietors seem to actively want to discourage people who don’t already know where they are, and might find them while on the road, from actually ever arriving.

According to the reviews on Urban Diner, people who are clearly a) in the know or b) better at finding things than I am seem to like it a lot.

Too bad I feel like I’ll never find out.

Got Milk?

A lot of locals are (rightfully) all worked up this week over news that a dog-sledding operation in Whistler had one of their employees shoot 100 dogs, because business was too slow to need all the animals.

Out of the buzz from this story has come a dialogue about why we’re outraged by how these dogs were treated, but still okay with factory farming operations that mistreat orders of magnitude more animals each year in the name of dinner.

Arguments from many sides have come up, including one from people in agriculture who recognize that food animals can’t be killed in the traumatic manner these dogs were, because it would ruin the meat. Which is true. McDonald’s wouldn’t have spent millions working with Temple Grandin to re-engineer their supply-chain if it weren’t good for the bottom line.

A frightened cow, pig or chicken is one with adrenaline coursing through its blood, which makes the meat bitter. Which is unacceptable, especially considering how heavily engineered current food breeds are to mild (some say flavourless) meat.

In truth, these dogs were treated much more like the male offspring of dairy animals, than food animals.

A basic lesson in biology for those who think milk comes from jugs at the supermarket: In order to give a quantity of quality milk, dairy animals (much like their human equivalents) must give birth. And because we haven’t figured out how to breed 95% female offspring in any mammal, about 50% of those offspring are male.

The luckiest males come from hearty breeding stock and are kept around for a few years to mature and breed. The next luckiest are killed humanely at birth or turned into ethically-raised veal. Unlucky boys are kept in unsuitable veal pens and fattened up for a few months before being dispatched, and a huge amount are drowned or bludgeoned to death immediately after birth.

Penelope Trunk recently got herself a couple of free goat kids exactly because of this.

This is another unfortunate side-effect of purpose-breeding ruminants: dairy animals have terrible yield for meat, and meat animals don’t give the quality or quantity of milk to make them worth keeping for dairy use.

These dogs suffered the same fate as those dairy boys. They had become a financial liability (feeding, housing, heath) to a business when they weren’t able to generate revenue. In theory, I don’t actually have a problem with the dog cull. But I have a BIG problem with the apparent lack of effort taken to re-home these dogs (a much easier task with a husky than a holstein), and then the inhumane way they were killed.

Bottom line: when animals are also assets, things get messy. And when we start thinking of them as machines rather than mammals it’s all too easy to do the wrong thing. It’s also clear that being so far separated from the source of our food makes it much easier to turn a blind eye and allow the “wrong thing” to continue.

Any time we interact with animals, from a food or tourist perspective, we owe it to them to ensure their working conditions are at least as humane as we’d demand for any sentient creature: free from threat, disease, undue stress and danger.

And if you consume dairy, you are not saving any cute baby cows by taking an ethical stand against veal.

Bananarama

As I was making dinner with my brother & sister-in-law the other night, it occurred to me I haven’t shared anything foodie here in a little while. And this, my friends, is a good ‘un!

When we did our cooking classes in Thailand, one of the dishes we learned was a steamed banana cake. It is deceptively easy, completely delicious and will satisfy pretty much any food allergy/sensitivity out there: it’s vegan-friendly, dairy-free, nut-free and gluten-free. Unless you don’t do coconut. If that’s the case I can’t help you. But otherwise, read on!

Steamed Banana Pudding

The ingredient list is pretty short:

5 large bananas, mashed
1 c rice flour
1/4 c tapioca flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c thick coconut milk
3 c unsweetened dessicated coconut, soaked in water for 10 minutes & drained

And the instructions couldn’t be simpler: reserve 1 c of the coconut, and mix everything together.

You can pour it into tiny bowls, ramekins, or banana-leaf boats if you’re feeling fancy. I generally pour it into a big casserole dish.

Top with the remaining coconut, and steam or bake at 360 F for 30 minutes.

If you don’t do bananas (I know one person who doesn’t like them, and another who’s allergic) I’ve also made this with canned peaches or super-ripe mango. Any fruit that will mash up and also taste good with coconut works here.

If you’re feeling hesitant because of the amount of sugar, you could probably cut it down to as little as 3/4 cup – this dish is super sweet – but don’t omit it entirely. It would probably also work with sugar substitutes, though they’re made of nasty chemicals, so I can’t recommend them. If you were considering using something like agave nectar rather than refined sugar, I’d try adding an extra tablespoon of each of the flours, to make sure it sets up properly.

This recipe makes 8 generous servings, and is excellent for breakfast the next day.

Enjoy!