Thursday, October 27, 2011

BEST EVER SOUP: Carrot & Coriander Soup In Brilliant Shades of Autumn

Today I think I made my BEST soup ever. The surprise to me is that this is a soup (or at least a variation of it) that I make with some frequency. Why was it so much better this time?

I used local produce (carrots, potato and garlic) from Roots and Shoots Farm, my CSA partner.

I used mainly orange carrots. But to round out the two pounds I included two white carrots and two purple carrots.

The colour from the purple carrots bled out into the liquid while the soup was cooking.

However, when the soup was puréed, it gave the soup a beautiful muddy, earthy, deep burnt russet orange colour. Not the hue of pink I was fearing.

Since I did not have my own chicken stock, I used stock from The Glebe Meat Market on Bank Street. They sell it in 500 mL bags.

I used the Vitamix on the double high speed for an extended period of time to make the soup silky soft.

What did I like about this soup? I loved how the coriander stood out boldly against the sweetness of the carrots. I loved the undertone of heat from the cayenne. I was a little more heavy handed than usual. I was particularly pleased with my choice of garnish.

Most of all, I loved the colour.


2 pounds carrots
1 potato
3 ounces butter
1 medium cooking onion, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1 litre chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
plain yogurt
fresh cilantro

Peel the carrots and cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces. Peel the potato and cut into small cubes.

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. When hot, add the onion and sauté while stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté while stirring until beginning to change color, 20-30 seconds.

Add the carrots, potato, and fresh coriander. Sauté, stirring a couple of times, for about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, sugar, salt, bay leaf, celery salt, and cayenne pepper. Over medium heat bring to a simmer. Lower the heat, cover partially and continue simmering until vegetables are soft when pierced with the point of a knife, about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. Use a Vitamix or blender to purée the soup in small batches. The soup may be made ahead to this point; covered and refrigerated. (We use our Vitamix and it always gives a great consistency for soup.)

Return the soup to the saucepan let it simmer on a very, very low simmer to keep warm. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. If the soup is too thick, add more stock or water.

Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, chopped coriander leaves and crumbled bacon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ottawa Magazine's Top 10 Restaurants List 2011

The much anticipated November/December issue of Ottawa Magazine hit the stands at Brittons in the Glebe today. Inside it's cover is the 2011 Top 10 restaurants list by food editor, Shawna Wagman. Apparently I was customer number 3 to scoop up this hot edition.

The cover bore such catchy phrases as: "WHERE TO EAT RIGHT NOW" and "10 RESTAURANTS WITH IMAGINATION". A hint of what would be revealed inside.

Here is the list (and it appears to be numbered):

1. Black Cat Bistro (Patricia Larkin)
2. Navarra (René Rodriguez)
3. Town (Interesting, there was no talk of who is doing the cooking now. Steve Wall recently moved to Luxe)
4. OZ Kafe (Jamie Stunt and Simon Bell)
5. Canvas Resto Bar (Charles Beauregard)
6. Fraser Café (Fraser brothers)
7. Restaurant E18hteen (Matthew Carmichael)
8. The Whalesbone Oyster House (Charlotte Langley)
9. Murray Street Kitchen Wine Charcuterie (Steve Mitton)
10. Sidedoor (Matthew Carmichael and Jonathan Korecki)

Repeats from last year: Town, Fraser Café, The Whalesbone Oyster House.

Returning from the 2009 list: Navarra, Restaurant E18hteen.

I have munched at them all but Sidedoor. And I have been holding off for all the reasons Shawna outlined in her piece, making it quite a surprise pick for a Top 10 list. She is upfront about Sidedoor's "uneven quality of the food" and the sense that "the service has gone from bad to worse". Not mentioned by her are the grumblings about the prices. The choice leaves me wondering. I liken it to then newly minted President Obama receiving the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize before the work was done.

There are others on this list that have been "uneven quality" in my first hand experience. Though I do try to abide by the 'try 3 times' rule before making named declarations.

I almost always order seafood when I eat out - app, main or both. For me, it has been a steady test of the mettle in the kitchen. Perhaps a theme for next year's article.

I am not as familiar as I would like to be with good eateries on the other side of the river. Bistro St-Jacques was a wonderful addition to last year's list. (I made it there 3 times already over the past 12 months.) I had been secretly hoping that Shawna had mined another nugget from across the way. It just can't be a barren eating wasteland, can it? (Nice to see the nod to Marysol Foucault's Edgar.)

This list is a mixed bag alright and I am still trying to make sense of it.

For me, any kind of Top 10 list for such a significant city as the Nation's Capital, would be a list of 'home run' picks - not necessarily high end (in fact a mix is nice), but a 'pride and joy' list. If someone's coming to town, then you would hope they wouldn't leave without giving a selection of them a try.

Maybe this list fits the "restaurants with imagination" tag (though the write-up on Canvas seems to contradict), but for my buck I still want solid value each and every time. A number fit that bill in my experience but certainly not all.

For anyone asking, Allium (on Holland) is still my favourite in this town.

Pick up the magazine. The article is a great read. Shawna has given you fair warning and has quite accurately depicted the pros and cons of her 2011 picks.

Are you looking for adventure? Then you now have a decent list to start from.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Found The Heart of My Story For My Butternut Squash Soup

[Photo credit: Sandra Gulland, author]

One of my favourite authors, Sandra Gulland, appears to like butternut squash soup. In fact, THIS butternut squash soup. I am not sure I cook on par with how well she writes, but I think I might agonize in a similar way when deep in the creative process.

In one of her a recent blog posts, she discussed the challenges of finding 'the heart of the story'. "That's what the process of writing a novel is about: finding the (damned) heart of the story. And it never, at least for me, seems to come early on."

I can have a similar frustration when preparing a dish that I want to be particularly special. I was making a tried and true autumn soup as my contribution for our October book club meeting's lunch. With Sandra Gulland as our honoured guest, I wanted to fuss a bit. Not only should it be a soup with delightful flavours, but I wanted it to be exceptionally pretty.

Sandra's ingredients are her words. Common to everyone but so unique when put together her way. Sandra writes historical fiction. As a result, the characters and the setting have already been revealed to the world. But she plays with her words and her expectations to make the characters and settings deeper and richer and more colourful than we might have first imagined. This she has proven 4 times over with The Josephine B. Trilogy and her latest book, Mistress of the Sun.

My ingredients are the bountiful foods of the garden, the aromatic spices in my many jars, the staples in my pantry, fridge and freezer. Butternut squash soup is not unusually complicated and those who make it often, likely have recipes very similar to mine. There are classic combinations that work. Squash with refreshing fruits, such as pear or apple. Squash with curries. Curries with coconut milk. Nothing new and clever here. The right balance of flavours and textures though could produce a bowl full of goodness leaving you wanting for more.

I actually made my soup days ahead and put it in the freezer. A step I often feel lends itself to improving soups, stews and sauces. I am sure there is something scientific going on in the freeze-thaw process that is flavour friendly. I don't profess to know what that is but time and time again, I have been pleased.

The day I was making this batch of soup, I was shouting it out on Twitter that the squash and apples were roasting away in the oven in preparation for soup. And out in the big wide universe came the voice of Marion Kane, saying something to the effect that 'You have inspired me. I think that is what I will do with my butternut squash too.' In that moment, we were 'Kitchen Sistas'. I was making soup with food sleuth, Marion Kane! She, somewhere out there in her kitchen on a cold, rainy autumn day, was creating similar smells. This soup was now having very good karma. The results were pleasing.

But then I got stuck. Stuck finding the heart of my soup. I just couldn't serve up a sea of 'yellow-orange', could I? I knew that I wanted it to be stunning to look at and that whatever I did in plating had to also complement the tastes. Twitter and friend requests to the rescue. Suggestions abound. A drizzle of thinned yogurt. Vidal ice wine syrup mixed with cream. Croutons. Fried onions. Dried apple flakes. (I don't even know what that is.) Chives. Parmesan crisps. I played and tinkered with ideas. Some I dismissed right away. The Vidal ice wine syrup intrigued. I followed the suggestion of mixing it with cream. Although tasty enough, it had a very muddy look. It didn't help that my drizzles looked liked grating shards.

I was ready to give up. My timetable was collapsing around me. I was at risk of being away the day of the meeting. If necessary, soup would be delivered ahead of time, as is. I was content that it had a wonderful taste and so a sea of brightness might just have to do.

The night before our special gathering my schedule realigned and, as an added bonus, I had a stroke of genius. My fridge was sporting a small bowl of leftover roasted beets. How did I miss this? How did I get so stuck? The technique is not mine to claim and perhaps in its day was overused. But I loved the idea of using a beet coulis, accented with a yogurt coulis to create trumpeting heart-shaped flowers.

Have you ever made a trumpeting heart-shaped flower with coulis? It is best to have the coulis in easy to manage squeeze bottles. The size of the opening is very important to get the right size dot. Consistency is important too because you don't want the beet or the yogurt to bleed out when the dot is laid on the soup. The beet dot is the larger of the two. The yogurt dot lays on the edge of the beet dot. Then putting a round toothpick deep into the soup, pull through the yogurt, then the beet and artistically pull a gentle curl.

The colours would be spectacular, I thought. I had also prepared a bundle of apple slivers.

No time for a dry run. The plating creation would unfold the next day as we were about to serve. The Vidal ice wine syrup came along for the ride. My confidence was somewhat restored. I was beginning to feel that maybe I had found the heart of my story.

Then something dawned on me that I had totally overlooked. An unforgivable oversight considering my many hosting experiences. I had given absolutely no consideration to the vessel being used to serve the soup. I knew nothing about the dishes being used by the book club hostess. She decided to pull out all the stops and laid out the table with her finest. What luck. The yellow-orange of the soup, the deep purple-red of the beet coulis and white of the yogurt would look striking surrounded by the majestic blue in the delicate china.

As the first ladle of soup hit the bottom of the bowl I knew this plating was going to be very showy, considering the decorating that was about to unfold. And so we made it up on the spot. The bowl was not broad and the flowers should not be crowded. Just a pair would fit. I chose to have my flowers tail out in opposite directions since there was only two in the bowl. There was room for a nest of apple slivers in the middle. Why bring the Vidal ice wine syrup all the way across town and not use it? After all, I paid a fortune for it. A splash covered the wee nest of apple.

We worked together quickly, I ladling and my favourite epicurean enthusiast, just trained, drawing trumpeting heart-shaped flowers with coulis. Then servers bustled 12 plates as quickly and safely as possible to the dining room so all would have theirs piping hot.

It was a very last minute idea but I sense those fussy, swirly, decorative beet flowers were in keeping with the bold, elaborate fashions of the 1600's and the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Maybe, maybe if we squinted really hard at them, we could make out fleur-de-lys.

It appears, I did in the end, find the heart of my story. But alas, "... it never, at least for me, seems to come early on."

Spicy Butternut Squash, Apple and Coconut Milk Soup
Inspired by many.

Butternut squash
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 apples, I prefer Granny Smith
Vegetable oil
2 small onions, diced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste (add more at the end if you want more bite)
5 to 7 cups of chicken stock, homemade
1/2 cup coconut milk, more if you need to tame the heat of the curry paste
Apple juice, works well to thin the soup to desired consistency just before serving

Heat the oven to 375ºF. Cut the butternut squash lengthwise. Dig out seeds and pulp. Rub open flesh with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cinnamon. Place on a large baking sheet, flesh side down. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

Cut the apples lengthwise. Rub open flesh with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cinnamon. After the squash has baked for 25 minutes, add the apples to the baking sheet, flesh side down. Continue to bake the squash and apples for 20 more minutes. You will see that the apples have 'exploded'. Pierce the squash with a skewer to see if it is fully roasted.

Let the squash and apple cool long enough so they can be handled. Scoop out the squash and apple flesh. Note that you will need to remove the apple seed core if you had not already done so. It is easy to do since the flesh is so soft.

Dice two small onions. Sauté the onion in vegetable oil until it has softened. About 3 minutes. Add the grated fresh ginger. Continue to cook to release the flavours. Another minute. Add the Thai red curry paste and cook for a minute until the onions and ginger are covered.

Add the flesh of the squash and apples. Mix with the onions, ginger and curry paste. Add 5 cups of the chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes.

Purée in the Vitamix or blender until silky, smooth. Add warmed chicken stock to help blend if the soup mixture is too thick. Put the blended soup into a clean pot. Add enough chicken stock to bring it to the right consistency. Remember, you will be adding a bit of coconut milk later too. Apple juice is nice for thinning as well but don't over do it as it will make the soup too 'appley'. Heat the soup through. Add the coconut milk. Adjust seasoning. If you would like a bit more heat, add a bit more curry paste. More coconut milk can be added if you over spice the soup. Play with the flavours until you get the right blend. Season with salt.

I like to freeze the soup until I need it. You will find the coconut milk will appear to have separated once it is thawed. It will come back together once heated.

*Update (Oct 27, 2011) - found this great post on roasting beets. Great pictures too. Pretty much the same way I do it. Worth the read.

Beet Coulis
Roasted beet(s), cooled
red wine
maple syrup

Purée in Vitamix or blender. Add splashes of red wine and maple syrup to make it silky smooth but it needs to stay relatively thick. Not runny. When using to decorate the plate, place the beet coulis in a squeeze bottle to control the 'dot' being placed on the soup. Another reason why it shouldn't be too runny. For control, you don't want it coming out of the bottle unless you squeeze it.

Yogurt Coulis
Plain yogurt (not fat-free)

Thin yogurt with cream. Place in squeeze bottle. It should not come out of the bottle unless squeezed. The hole in this bottle should be smaller than the hole for the Beet Coulis.

Apple Nests
1/4 cup Dried apples, cut in thin slivers but no longer than 1" long
2 tablespoon apple juice or water, which ever you have on hand
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Heat apple slivers in apple juice in small pan. Add butter and sugar. Heat through until the liquid is absorbed into the apple. This can be made ahead and refrigerated until plating time.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Petit Hakurei Turnip Latkes - Darling Hors D'Oeuvres

I feel there is a movement trending to use the technique of grating or shredding in food preparation. Most recently I experienced at least a half dozen presentations of 'slaws' at the Savour Stratford's tasting event.

When I considered how to use my Hakurei turnips from my latest CSA basket from Roots and Shoots Farm, I saw slaw.

But the raw turnip does have a strong taste. My idea to temper that flavour was to make them into mini latkes. I was feeling quite genius until I hit Google and saw that this has been done MANY times before.

A number of the recipes were the same. Just a basic latke recipe. Since I had never made latkes, let alone Hakurei turnip latkes, I kept things simple.

The result was 'Green Acres meet Park Avenue'. They made for beautiful hors d'oeuvres. The mister thought they would have been divine served with bubbles. On this, I would have to agree.

Petit Hakurei Turnip Latkes

Hakurei turnips (I used my entire bunch)
1/2 onion chopped
1 egg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Sour cream
maple syrup
plum jam

Clean the turnips. Cut off the greens and end. Peel. Using a box grater, grate the turnips. Press all the moisture out of the shredded turnip. I used a big paper towel and twisted it at both ends in opposite directions. You may need to use a second paper towel.

Whisk an egg into a medium bowl. Add the wrung out turnip, salt and pepper. Mix. Sprinkle the flour over the turnip and mix. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes.

Heat oil in pan. (Do not use olive oil as it is not a good oil for frying. I used canola oil.) Drop a piece of turnip in the pan. When it sizzles, it is time to make the latkes. Drop a teaspoon of the latke mixture into the oil and flatten with the back of the spoon. If your oil is hot enough, the latkes should not stick to the pan or absorb the oil. Make sure the oil is not so hot that it is smoking. If they brown too quickly, they may not cook properly in the centre.

Once they have turned a golden brown, flip them and finish frying on the other side. You are frying them for approximately 2 minutes a side.

Place the cooked latkes on a paper towel to blot any excess oil.

Serve toasty warm with the garnish of your choice. Sour cream or a dip with a sour cream base is quite common.

You can keep them in a warm oven until they are ready to be used. They would hold up well made ahead and reheated.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Natalie MacLean's New Book - Unquenchable

I just saw this tweet this morning:
@Natalie MacLean: Ottawa's top wine bar Play is hosting the launch event for my new book Unquenchable, join us:
I know many of you are Natalie fans. Subscribing to her wine reviews and using her Wine Picks & Pairings app. Totally trusting her with your party planning.

There is a bit more to Natalie though than the encyclopedic wine brain and palate. She also likes to write. Did you get a chance to read her first book Red, White, and Drunk All Over? A runaway success. Oh to be able to have that kind of response on a first book. I can only dream.

I thought you might be interested in knowing that Natalie is about to launch her new book - Unquenchable: A Tipsy Request for The World's Best Bargain Wines.

There is an event coming up here in Ottawa on October 25 at Play Food & Wine down in the Byward Market on York Street. Haven't been to Play yet? Chef Michael Moffatt is one of my favourite chefs in the city and is a regular Ottawa Gold Medal Plates contender, winning last year and in 2007. Their sommelier, Grayson McDiarmid, has also been receiving high praise. I am sure the canapés will be divine and the wines perfectly matched.

The ticket includes a signed copy of the book. Maybe you can convince Natalie to write something really sassy to make your book super unique! I love the idea that this is a smallish event. Suits me better. Maybe you too.

Notice that they are offering two time slots that night to fit your crazy schedule. 5:30 to 7:00 pm or 7:30 to 9:00 pm. Just click on the times to buy your tickets.

My advice to Natalie if she plans to do a reading: Do it before the drinks start flowing! Relaxed people can be loud.

If you have some wine loving friends or book readers on your Christmas list, you could be done shopping a full 61 days ahead of schedule. THAT has great appeal. I heard nothing about gift wrapping. For that you are on your own.

One Christmas I put Natalie's first book in a Secret Santa exchange and it was a real hit. Not hard to find friends that love wine AND a great read. [For the record, it was one of those sophisticated Secret Santa exchanges with all kinds of lovely things. Not the kind where you try to clean out your garage. I really struggle with those.]

I would love to hear if you decide to go. If I am not in Paris, I will be at Play.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Get Well Soup

Today I found out a special someone was feeling 'not so great' over the Thanksgiving weekend. I felt compelled to heal with food. I knew I couldn't pull chicken noodle soup out of a hat on short notice, but I could do something similar.

Get Well Soup

6 cups homemade turkey stock
2 cups homemade tomato juice
1/2 field tomato, cubed
1 large carrot, diced
1/4 cup diced celery
1 onion, diced
Capellini noodles, broken into matchstick lengths

Combine all the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer until the vegetables are soft and the noodles are cooked.

* I was happy to be able to use carrots, celery and onions from Roots and Shoots Farm.

Then, piping hot, into a mason jar and 'Special Delivery'!

Not feeling that great myself today, there was enough left over that I too could enjoy Get Well Soup for dinner.

HOW TO: Rødkål - Danish Braised Red Cabbage

Rødkål (braised red cabbage) is a very popular dish in Denmark. It is commonly served with roast pork, sausages, duck, goose, frikadeller or turkey. I find the dish tastes much better when it is reheated the second day.

Whenever I received a red cabbage in my CSA basket this summer from Roots and Shoots Farm, I almost always made rødkål and froze it for future use.

This time when I made rødkål I had two cabbages. One regular size and a wee one. So I made one and half times the recipe below.

I think that rødkål is considered most authentic when it is made with red currant jelly. But plum jam works well too. We had homemade of both growing up but more often than not it was the plum jam that was plentiful.

Rødkål - Danish Braised Red Cabbage

1 Red Cabbage, shredded
2 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp Vinegar
1 Apples, diced or shredded
1/4 cups Plum Jam, or red currant jelly

Shred cabbage. I use my KitchenAid food processor and use the straight blade of the double blade. This gives a thin cut.

Melt butter with vinegar in dutch oven. Add shredded cabbage. Lightly sprinkle salt on each layer as it is added to the pot.

Skin the apple, core and quarter. I use my large shredding blade for processing the apple. Or sometimes I just dice it. Because I tend to use the McIntosh apple, it breaks down well in the braising process no matter what its starting shape.

Add plum jam and diced/shredded apple to the dutch oven. Mix with the cabbage.

Keep the lid on. Make sure that the cabbage does not cook dry! Add a bit of water if you are worried about that. Cook at least for 1 hour on a very low simmer.

The braised cabbage freezes well. It was a way of softening up the cabbage too, which is why I love having it as a reheated dish. It just seems so much better. I freeze it in portions so I don't have too much when I go to use it.

To reheat, put the thawed cabbage into a pot on a very low simmer and add a bit of plum jam or red currant jelly. Heat it through. I find the cabbage looks a bit pale when I freeze it, but when I reheat it with a bit of jam, the dark colour comes back.

We ALWAYS have rødkål with turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Roots and Shoots Farm - 15th Week of CSA Food 2011

As half share participants in Roots and Shoots Farm's CSA program, this is our last food basket of the 2011 season. It has been a wonderful summer of produce for us and we have been very pleased to be associated with a certified organic farm. Particularly this farm. Their constant care and attention over 'my food' in the fields amplifies why I am feeling melancholy about this milestone of lasts.

What has resonated loudly with me is the strength of the farm team. Steely determination and unwavering resolve appears to be the motto at Roots and Shoots Farm. I lived in a rural farm setting for 15 years. I get how much work it can be and how sometimes Mother Nature will hijack your agenda, despite your best efforts.

Thankfully, Roots and Shoots Farm will be participating in the indoor market at Lansdowne on Nov 20, 27 and Dec 4, 18.

We have been CSA members with them for the two seasons they have been in business and we plan to continue with them again next summer.

  • I love kale. Last year I didn't know much about kale. Kale intimidated me. I now pine for kale. And when I get it, whether it is Russian Red or Tuscan or some other variety, I have lots of ideas for my kale.
  • The farm made improvements in the weekly communication. It was great to hear what had happened over the week. Their challenges, their strategies, their future plans. It helps to get the list of basket contents ahead of time. That extra day allows for planning and complementary shopping to round out the food supply.
  • There were many wonderful recipes shared with the weekly newsletter. Some we tried and some we used as inspiration. Even though I am a happy kitchen person and now a CSA sophomore, I still appreciated this direction. Freshmen would have been even more delighted, I am sure.
  • I would love to get more specific information about the varieties for plants and produce. As an easy example, all potatoes aren't equal. Some are better for baking. Some better for boiling. Etc. The same can be said about radishes and beets and lettuces, etc. Even garlic. Some garlics are stronger than others. Knowing the varieties allows me to use the produce to best show off its great taste. I hesitate to suggest things that involve extra work by the farm team since I prefer them in the field vs. on the computer, but maybe there could be a static page on the website that shows a picture of the plant and its name. I am happy to help with that too.
  • This year I am more relaxed about not knowing what was coming in my food basket until the day is almost upon us. I have become a better planner around this 'black box competition' challenge. I have learned to embrace the uncertainty. No one is more surprised by that breakthrough than me. We Type A people do have our issues.
  • I felt that the produce was consistently better this year.
  • I found the size of the basket suited me and our family well.
  • I did a better job of prepping the food once I picked it up. Cleaning produce well before putting it away and wrapping well what needed to have its moisture preserved. I was surprised at how long some things lasted. But who knows how old things are already when you buy them in the grocery store. My CSA food is picked same day or sometimes the day before.
  • I liked that the farm had a stand at my drop-off to allow me to make extra purchases or to go there on my off week to shop for their produce.
  • I liked getting extra news and pictures on the Roots and Shoots Farm Facebook page.
  • I liked the Swap Box. I only used it once. I traded bok choy for a red cabbage. I am greedy about red cabbage. I did try to stick with my basket and not do trades. I accepted that this was likely the best way I would learn about something I had not tried before.
  • I wished I had done more freezing. I did not really get much further than my usual of freezing soups. This is my challenge for next year. Unrelated to this farm's produce, I did freeze big batches of pesto in tiny jars and also many tiny jars of minced garlic in olive oil.
  • I wished I had done more preserves this year. Unrelated to this farm's produce, I did peach and red pepper relish and also tomato sauce and tomato juice.
  • I was most successful with using my produce when I figured out its destination dish as soon as the basket came home. "Hey Mr. Napa Cabbage! You are going to become coleslaw with Bobby Flay's famous dressing." Done.
  • I have found a few CSA members that are blogging a bit about their food and I also have a few friends that have joined Roots and Shoots Farm this season. I would love to be a part of a more active network of those using the same CSA basket. There were times when I wanted to shout out to someone, "What are you planning to do with those Hakurei Turnips this week?"
Did you participate in a CSA program this summer? How did you enjoy it? What did you learn? About the produce? About yourself and how you engage with food?

What a beautiful Thanksgiving CSA basket to close out my season. Enjoy the pictures.


Brussel sprouts


Lettuce greens

Hakurei turnips

Tuscan kale


Red onions


Butternut squash


If you want to learn more about the farm, the contact information for Roots and Shoots Farm is:

Turkey Dinner and the Super Delicious Piping Hot Gravy

My turkey dinner menu is non-negotiable. I cater to the guests favourites. This is not the time for me to get creative with the dishes. So in that way it is an easy meal to prepare. It becomes a buffet of everyone's wants.

At best, I can play around with how I make the turkey. I usually brine it and this year I tried Martha Stewart's cheesecloth method. These two things are supposed to be about making the meat juicy and flavourful. Who could object to that?

But there must be mashed potatoes for the teenager and roast potatoes for the MIL. The mister wants the stuffing and the teenager insists it is the 'usual' recipe from my side of the family tree. The 10 cent braised red cabbage (rødkål) is something I insist on and would feel hollow without it. The basic steamed peas and carrots are also the request of the teenager. After all, Grandma always made them with any roast meal. The MIL has a soft spot for the roasted parsnips and carrots. So before you can get any kind of fancy, the plate is full.

Other visiting guests have wanted squashes. But not this time.

Typically there isn't a big interest in anything cranberry. This year I sprung for Michael Sunderland's michaelsdolce™ Cranberry and Apricot jam. We all loved it with the meat.

There is plenty of choice, it is simple, and the plate is full. In the end, in my opinion, it comes down to piping hot delicious gravy. My gravy recipe is timeless and something that has been done my way for some 20 plus years. It now is the family tradition.

Christmas is 76 days away. Tuck this recipe in a safe spot and give it a try with your December turkey.

* I used potatoes, carrots, celery, onions and red cabbage from Roots and Shoots Farm for our Thanksgiving dinner.


Giblet Stock
Turkey neck and giblets
1 1/2 cup white wine (I use Sauvignon Blanc or Gewürztraminer)
4 1/2 turkey stock (or chicken)
1 big stick of celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 small cooking onions, chopped

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan. Make sure the turkey stock is cool to start and not hot. This is important for drawing out the flavours from the neck and giblets. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Simmer for 3 hours. Strain out the juice from the giblets and vegetables. It should measure about 4 cups.

8 tablespoons fat from the drippings of the roasted turkey
12 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Giblet stock
Pan drippings from roasted turkey, fat skimmed off
Turkey stock (chicken stock or white wine or vegetable water from boiled potatoes or peas and carrots), as required

Scrap the pan drippings into a bowl. The fat will rise to the top. Skim off all the fat and leave the flavourful, dark pan drippings for later. If you don't have enough fat from the roast, use butter as well.

Pour the giblet stock into the roasting pan and bring to a boil in order to de-glaze the pan. There will still be a lot of flavour stuck to the bottoms and sides.

Heat turkey fat in a saucepan. But make sure it doesn't get too hot or it will start to burn and also burn the flour. Whisk in the flour. Cook it for at least a minute to remove the raw flour flavour. It is important that the flour is totally covered in the fat to avoid lumps. This is called a roux.

Add 1 1/2 cup of the giblet stock and whisk. When adding liquids to a roux, it is important that they are not chilled since the roux is hot and you will cause the roux to 'cease'. Adding the liquid in stages means that the liquid will incorporate into the roux more easily. Continue to add in batches until all the giblet stock is used. Add the pan drippings that have been separated from the fat.

Bring your gravy to a boil to thicken. The thickness of a gravy is a personal thing. I will now add turkey stock (or chicken) to bring the gravy to the consistency our family enjoys. Sometimes I add a bit more wine. The water from the boiled potatoes or peas and carrots are also great liquids to use for finishing your gravy to get it to your desired consistency.

I don't typically do this with gravy but I like to for turkey gravy. I put the gravy through fine sieve into another pot, working the sieve with a whisk to push all the goodness through. This is mainly due to the 'chunks' of drippings from the roasting pan. I like a very silky turkey gravy. On the off chance you had problems with lumps, this will catch those too.

I roast my turkey the day before I serve it. I also make the gravy the day before. This allows me the time to fuss as much as I want with the gravy as I am not under a time crunch. I think that extra day really does wonderful things for the flavour of the gravy. Much like a stew or chili or soup that sits for a day.

I use turkey stock from the Glebe Meat Market in my giblet stock recipe. They sell 500 mL bags. Sometimes fresh, sometimes frozen. Because I make the turkey the day before serving, I also make turkey stock that day once I have the meat off the carcass. If I need to thin out my gravy for the meal, I will use the turkey stock that I made the day before with the roast and the gravy starter.

Serve your gravy piping hot.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Savour Stratford - Tasting Awards

Those of you who know me, know that I shy away from food tasting events. The kind of events where the masses throng confined spaces to rush their movable feast of dozens of tastings at breakneck speeds before the spoils are too picked over.

Trying to juggle a plate, sometimes of an odd shape, with a wine glass, napkin and camera can be a bit tricky.

I usually prefer enjoying a chef's creations in his or her dining room, where the setting is much more leisurely and the food preparation and plating gets full attention and care.

700 tickets were sold for Savour Stratford's main event. It is the most challenging of conditions for chefs to work in. It is a tented outdoor setting. One never knows the temperature. Last year it was freezing, this this year warm enough that the wasps were keen to explore. The workstation is makeshift and confining. And the order of the day is to present a food idea that showcases one's talent, can be assembled with ease, is manageable for the taster, and can be put out as fast as the sold-out crowd descends.

So what was I doing in the Tasting Tent at Savour Stratford last Sunday afternoon? Two words. VIP ticket. The general admission was $75 - a pretty respectable price for 30 plus tastings. It also included a selection of beverages - craft beer, Ontario wines, coffee, tea. (Ottawa's Feast of Fields a few weeks earlier sold tickets for $70 and had 20 farmer-chef teams.) For an extra $40 I could call myself 'VIP'. The biggest plus for being VIP? I was graced with a 'food rush handicap' of 60 minutes to do my tortoise race at a more leisurely pace and with a wee bit of elbow room.

Some may think that $40 is a lot of money to pay for space around you but I should mention we also received a swag bag. The snappy looking black event bag itself retailed for $6. The 50 gr. spice blend by well-known Kitchen Connaisseur sells for $6.50. The 125 ml jar of Crock Pickle Relish by Pickles Eh! sells for $3.50. There were a number of winery tours and tastings certificates (harder to use for an out-of-towner like me), soap, a darling wine cup, bottle opener. I could go on. It now doesn't seem like I paid THAT much more for my head start and breathing space.

The Tasting event was judged by Connie DeSousa, Chuck Hughes, Ivy Knight, Suresh Doss, and Kris Holden-Reid. I felt they made solid choices. I tasted them all except the winner of Best Beverage.

People's Choice Award - Pickled heirloom tomato with garlic and herbed cheese on a fried wonton finished with micro sprouts
By: Chef Jamie Craig, Wildstone Bar & Grill with Miss Fosters Popcorn and Good Luck Farms

Best Meat Dish - "Porkapoluza" [Corn tortillas made with pork lard, Berkshire bacon jam, Habanero smoked Tamworth pork belly, Fermented pico de gallo, Salt-cured Berkshire loin shavings and Pork crackling] *** My choice for best over all ***
By: Chef Nick Benninger of Nick and Nat's Uptown 21 with Perth Pork Products

Best Vegetarian Dish - Weth Mushroom Tostada with Tomatillo Salsa & Sour Cream
By: Chef Aaron Linley, Bijou with Weth Mushrooms

Most Creative Dish - Butternut Squash Ice Cream with Black Walnut Shortbread and David Koert's Organic Maple Butter
By: Chef Mark Brown, Stone Maiden Inn with Koert Organics

Best Dessert - C'est Bon Chevre Panna Cotta
By: Chef Rene Delafranier, Rene's Bistro with C'est Bon Cheese Limited

Best Beverage
- Ontario Savoury Herbal Tea
By: Tea Sommelier, Karen Hartwick from Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar

I do want to highlight one other entry.

My Personal Honourable Mention - Arincini Balls [Risotto ball stuffed with braised pork. Fried then topped with fontina and smoky tomato & bacon jam.]
By: Chef Sean Collins & Greg Kuepfer, Pazzo Restorante and Pizzeria with Church Hill Farm

Despite not being cut out for these types of events, I had a great time. I loved the food. I was thrilled that they had decent weather and not the forecasted rain. To feed 700 people in such a short time under non-traditional cooking and plating conditions, was impressive. By the time I headed out, the place was packed!

Hats off to the organizers, chefs, farmers and their teams. Savour Stratford overall was an impressive event. You are fully deserving of your provincial and national recognition. Well done.

Things I liked:
  • A VIP ticket was available for those wanting to be less crowded. For a bit.
  • The program listed the names of the Farmer-Chef Culinary Teams with the details of the dish they were going to serve.
  • The swag bag was given at the end. Nice not to have one more thing to juggle.
  • There were decent items in the swag bag.
  • There were a number of well placed water coolers
  • There was an opportunity to meet a number of the producers on Saturday and Sunday in the Farmers' Market nearby. I often feel the producers get short shrifted on these types of events. Understandably, there is so much glamour around the actual dish created, when the glory maybe should go to those who provided the raw ingredients. Because of the crowds and the need to be moving the yummies along as they are plated, there really is no time to engage in any depth of conversation with the farmers. As a result, I so appreciated being able to spend time with the producers at their stands in the market.
  • Consider providing clear signage in the Farmers' Market for those participating in the Tasting Tent. I just fell across this information in conversation with a number of them. It is an opportunity to give them some more airtime. Perhaps other Tasting Tent visitors would make a point of checking out their farmers beforehand.
  • 30 tastings is plenty. I risked not feeling well from all the richness. I skipped 5 booths just to be on the safe side. (All be it they were two teas, a coffee, jams and chocolate - I know, bad call.) There was no room for liquor on top of all of that. I didn't dare. Congrats to those who could do both. So in that sense, I did not maximize my ticket price.
  • Push quality over quantity. I felt some tastings were a bit light on creativity.
  • On the lighter side....I know this one will never fly, but here it goes. Maybe for us 'VIP's, you could load us on a golf cart at the end of the event and chariot us back to our car where we could decompress for a bit. As predicted, I was tuckered out going solid from 9 am to 3 pm. I was super stuffed. Thankfully, stone cold sober.
Interested in seeing the full selection of wonderful food tastes? Enjoy the slide show.

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