Monday, November 14, 2011
Tonight the executive chef of East & Main Bistro of Wellington, Ontario in Prince Edward County is competing in the regional Gold Medal Plates competition in Ottawa. Lili Sullivan has been the chef at East & Main since 2009.
My first experience with this place occurred when we took a weekend vacation to the County at the beginning of June this year. But the closest we came to eating Lili Sullivan's fine foods was a box lunch on a farm tour as part of the Great Canadian Cheese Festival. Though it wasn't any old box lunch by my way of thinking. I loved every bit of the vegetarian sandwich wrap, salad, to-die-for brownie and extra fixings.
A few months before I read through Ron Eade's Omnivore's Ottawa blog that Chef Sullivan was going to be participating in Gold Medal Plates come November.
A great box lunch doesn't necessarily give you great insight into whether someone can capture the GMP crown. I needed an excuse to return and sit in for a fuller East & Main experience.
That chance came last month when returning to Ottawa from an out of town trip. Not a lover of the steady hard pavement of the 401 with its unpredictable truck traffic, I meandered off the highway past Brighton to take in the County. And with luck, catch lunch at East & Main. Fall had set in and the drive down Highway 33 was beautiful. The Loyalist Parkway curves by Lake Ontario just before it heads into Wellington. I arrived remarkably rested.
Owners Kimberly Humby and David O'Connor understood the clientele that would enjoy their bistro when they opened two years ago. As I sat down for lunch, my keen people watching instincts told me that I was surrounded by locals, regular visitors and tourists alike. And of course, the very food focused curious, like me. This is a destination place.
The interior is welcoming. Upscale touches to the finishings but still a cozy feel. In one of the bay windows they have placed a dining room table that can comfortably seat 6. On this day, it was occupied by four well-dressed ladies that, by my estimation, made this outing a regular event. In the other bay, were smaller groupings of tables to make room for a full wall buffet of their homemade preserves.
The menu offered 4 appetizers - soup, salad, trio of tapenades & pita crisps, and a pâté plate. There were also 6 sandwich choices ranging from $10 to $14. They came with your choice of soup, salad or frites. The 4 mains ranged from $12 - $13. Pasta, stew, quiche and a composed salad.
For my sandwich I went with one of the new offerings on the menu. Lobster and shrimp roll with smoked tomato tartar sauce on mini pastry house rolls from Pastry House in Picton. (The same bakery that supplies The Buddha Dog their great rolls.) Pastry House rolls are some of the best I have ever tasted. They risked stealing the show; however, the seafood filling was superb. Not to mention a handsome portion. I chose to have it with the soup du jour, leek and asparagus. I loved the creamy, silky texture and full flavour but I am not a gal who goes in for big croutons. I would have enjoyed a garnish with a bit more of a dressy look. My sandwich plate rang in at $14.
I was likely full enough after the sandwich and shouldn't have considered dessert, knowing that I had a sedentary 3 hour drive ahead of me. But the menu beckoned.
I passed on the Mexican chocolate cake, crème brûlée, honey panna cotta and lemon curd tart. Instead, I chose the fresh berry shortcake: cardamom pound cake with macerated berries and cream. ($8.00) Being a Dane, cardamom is a much loved spice in baking. The cake had the balance of denseness needed to stand up to the juicy berries without being too heavy. Another hit.
I had a hard time leaving. It is a place you settle into and feel the comfort of home. Before I paid my bill I wondered to the wall of preserves to check out their creations. Owner, Kimberly Humby was restocking the shelves. She enticed me with the laborious love that goes into the Slow-Baked Applewood Smoked Tomato Paste (125 mL jar for $5.95) and the Ploughman's Branston Pickle (250 mL jar for $5.95).
Having just put away so many jars of tomato creations myself, I had to know every detail of the Tomato Paste. She indulged me. Considering all the work, I was starting to feel like $5.95 was a bit of a steal for that wee jar.
Kimberly shared with me that their preserves are made with vegetables from their own garden and also from farms nearby in the County - Laundry Farms on County Road 1, Hagerman's Farm between Bloomfield and Picton on the Loyalist Parkway, and Vicki's Veggies on Morrison Point Road, near Milford.
Ottawa Magazine recently did an interview with Lili Sullivan before the GMP competition. The week before, The Ottawa Citizen had an article entitled "Five Worth The Drive" focused on destinations for wine tasting. East & Main Bistro was included. It appears the word is getting out.
The food, wine and beautiful countryside make Prince Edward County a vacation retreat from the big city. There are so many great places to eat in the County, it is hard to cover them all in a weekend. If you can work East & Main Bistro into your itinerary, you won't be disappointed.
East & Main Bistro
270 Main Street
Facebook: East & Main
Thurs to Mon: 12 - 2:30pm; 5:30 - 9 pm
Tues and Wed: CLOSED
Succulent homemade stew tucked in the freezer in individual portions can save the day when life becomes too hectic.
Have you ever had that experience where you feel like you are living in a blender? Your time is not your own. You are juggling many responsibilities, not to mention the odd unplanned crisis or two. On top of that, you may be trying to make 3 healthy meals a day for yourself and your family.
Our lives have had an unpredictable rhythm to them this year. Nothing gets me feeling more defeated than eating fast food, takeout, or dinner from a can out of some sense of coping. I just can't do it. Give me toast, a glass of water and send me to bed hungry.
As I like to tell my family, based on our packed freezer, we are now ready for Armageddon. Well, except if the power goes out.
When I catch a moment and find a great deal on groceries, I have been jumping at the chance to put some great treats into the freezer that will reheat well and reheat quickly. I package in single servings, ready for any size group, which of late is often just one.
Recently, while reading Ron Eade's Thursday grocery special column, I saw that the Metro was advertising roast beef on sale. Two for one. I picked up two pieces just cents apart in price, yielding me a little over 4 pounds of outside round for what worked out to be about $3.65/lb.
I still had colourful carrots of white and purple left from my CSA share from Roots and Shoots Farm. Plus their onions and garlic. I had also picked up a small rutabaga at the Ottawa Farmers' Market from the stand of Needham's Garden Market of Arnprior. My beef stock was made by the Glebe Meat Market. I often keep supply on hand in the freezer.
With these basic ingredients on hand, it was succulent stew that was going to add to our freezer bounty. (Cross rib or blade are more typical cuts for stewing beef but I decided to use my outside round and handle it tenderly.)
Stew is also great for gifting to others with busy, chaotic lives. I have already snuck some into one of the hospital campuses this past week for a loved one's dinner. Dare I confess? I also know of a diligent student now residing at one of our local universities that appreciates an impromptu food rescue when it comes her way.
I asked her for a picture of the gifted stew and mashed potatoes. Also riveting comments.
Her 'riveting' comments: "The food is delicious as always. Thanks so much!" She knows I fuss over plating and when the picture came: "Yummy! But not very artsy."
For what it's worth, plating can really make a meal. I shared with her the picture from my plate. We agreed the differences in look must be about 'lighting'. Yeah, that's it, the 'lighting'.
[photo credit: Starving Student]
By the way, stew tastes even better the next day!
Succulent Beef Stew
4 pound roast suitable for stewing
4 cups carrots, chopped into 1" pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped into 1" pieces
1 small rutabaga, chopped into 1" cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 onions, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
fresh marjoram or 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 cup red wine
28 ounces diced tomato
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups beef stock
1 cup frozen peas (optional)
1/2 cup corn (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Cut roast into bite-size pieces about 1 1/2" cubes.
Peel and chop carrots. Chop celery and set the two aside.
Peel the rutabaga and cut into chunks. Set aside.
Dice the onions and mince the garlic.
In large Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat. Sear the meat on all sides in batches (season with salt and pepper just before going into the pan). Then transfer to plate. Make sure you don't sear it too long or you can actually dry it out.
Reduce heat to medium and cook onions and garlic for 1 minute.
Add carrots and celery. Cook until onions are tender and vegetables perhaps are just starting to brown.
Stir in thyme and marjoram and cook a minute more. Add wine to help deglaze pan. Add the can of diced tomatoes.
Move mixture to large stock pot. Add meat and rutabaga.
Meanwhile in dutch oven make a roux. Melt butter. Add flour and cook for about 1 minute. Add the beef broth slowly to make a gravy. Add to the stock pot. Add the remaining beef stock not used in the gravy. All vegetables and meat should just be covered in liquid. If not, add more beef stock and/or wine.
Simmer on very low for 3 hours. Just before serving, if using, add the peas and corn and warm through. Also add salt and pepper to taste. If I am freezing the stew for later, I don't put the peas in until just before serving. I find they don't freeze and reheat well. (They turn a sad, hospital food green.)
Serve stew over mashed potatoes or egg noodles. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley if you would like to add a bit of colour.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Curious. I didn't jump into the much coveted Holiday issue of the LCBO Food & Drink magazine like I usually do. Plus 15ºC today likely had something to do with it. Oddly, my bottle shopping confreres were decked in wool pants, socks, heavy shoes, fall coats and scarves when cruising through the liquor store this morning. I, on the other hand, dressed more appropriately for the weather Light weight fashions in keeping with a dreamy Disney vacation. And I was still hot. Wouldn't they be sweltering?
So everything wintery and frosty and jingly about Holiday just isn't working for me yet. It is important to know that the rule in my house is that Christmas starts the day after Remembrance Day. In 3 more days I should be contemplating putting up my tree. I now know what it feels like to do Christmas in Florida.
I peeled through the pages hoping to be captured and launched into the season. Eventually I did let go. Partly aware of my hosting obligations soon coming on me. Plus my strong desire to be ready and awesome. I do love the Holiday issue for the inspiration it lavishes on us as we go about planning our feasts of this and nibbles of that.
My list of wants ended up being many, and here are a few of my top picks:
- Garlic Chicken on Bok Choy Rice Cakes and Black Pepper & Asiago Fricos with Serrano Ham (From Sugar and Spice by Christopher St. Onge) * In fact ANYTHING from this feature looks smashing.
- Hot & Sour Soup and Stir-Fried Beef with Black Beans and Rice Noodles, Steamed Rice (From Fine China by Lucy Waverman) * Another feature where every recipe appears genius. Check them all out.
- Bubbly Sangria (From Spirited Sangria by Michelle P.E. Hunt and Laura Panter) * 5 hard-to-choose Sangria recipes. 5 parties? Or 5 punch bowls at the one? A difficult decision.
- Coconut Lime Clouds and White Chocolate & Clementine Shortbread Sandwiches (From White Delights by Christopher St. Onge) * Christopher is running away with this issue with 5 knock out choices for the cookie platter. Look at them all.
- Hot Boxty and Lemon Posset (From Boxing Day Specials by Marilyn Bentz-Crowley) * Have you ever heard of Boxty and Posset?
- Spiced Scallops with Blood Orange Salsa and Chilled Orange Salad with Honey and Grand Marnier (From Citrus Season by Lucy Waverman) * Please, please, please pay attention to her tip on how to do 'special cut oranges'.
I favour the old familiar holiday jingles that should be belting out everywhere in just a few weeks. The Holiday Playlist by Rick Shurman and Earl Torno took a departure from tradition and focused on a theme more in tune with 'reconnecting with family and friends'. A cute idea. Though I am still puzzled by the choice then of Let's Call The Whole Thing Off by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong. I guess some reconnections just aren't meant to be. Check it out on iTunes.
In Inspired Ideas by Brenda Morrison, is a definite GOTTA HAVE. Cool Ideas, showcases the Prepara Ice Balls. I am a faithful user of Lee Valley Tool's Ice Lantern, filling them over and over with boughs of pine and cedar and a few fresh cranberries. So it is no surprise that I would shape shift to orbs filled with slices of lemon, mint leaves or rose petals. Now, to go about sourcing them in Ottawa.
I have to think there is extra sweat that goes into making the Holiday issues extra glamorous. Food styling is everything. It has the very important role of conveying the seduction of the dish glossed up in the pages before you. When successful, you can smell the dish and want to lick the pages. A tip of the fork to the food styling team of: Ruth Gangbar, Terry Schact, Heather Shaw and Christopher St. Onge.
If you need something to rev your Holiday engine, you might try starting with the latest LCBO Food & Drink magazine. Weighing in at a hefty 865 grams (25 grams lighter than last year), not only will you be ready for your holiday party plans, you will find lots of great ideas that suit the chilly days that are inevitably coming ahead.
What tickled your fancy in this issue?
Plan ahead: The Winter issue hits the stores 9 weeks from today on Wednesday, January 11th.