For better or worse we all have a local food system – and I don’t mean the grocery store. Sure there are retail stores, but there are other ways for you to get your hands on fresh produce. The farmers’ markets are definitely a great place to shop, but how about a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. CSA’s have become a very popular way for consumers to get the freshest produce straight from the farm. Not only is it a great way to buy produce, its also a great way to meet the person who grows your food. The connection you can make with the people who grow the food you consume is something that is lacking with your big box grocery. What you receive in your box is what is fresh on the farm at that time. Don’t expect corn and tomatoes in June or strawberries in September. The idea is to be seasonal. You will also need to be a little creative using up a couple items that you don’t normally purchase, but that becomes the fun of it too. Your own “Iron Chef” competition.
This summer to help fill our fridge we have purchased a CSA share (typically you purchase a share or percentage of the farmer’s harvest, each week or pick up is different depending on the season and what has been grown) from Roots and Shoots Farm. Robin, Jess and their whole crew do a great job growing food and are great people to talk to. This is what we received in our box this week:
- green onions
- rainbow chard
- head of lettuce
As you can see from the picture, the produce is fresh and beautiful, picked at its best and full of nutrition. A raw salad would be perfect from this box!
CSAs are a great and easy way to support your local farmers and your food system. If you haven’t, consider trying one out.
This is similar to the Asparagus & Morel Crostini recipe, but this recipe was produced for a recent Ottawa Farmers’ Market tasting tent. The recipe here used all local products from OFM vendors at their peak of freshness. The tasting tent at the OFM is a great way for people to learn new techniques and experience new products or products they are familiar with, used in different ways.
You know its spring when you can eat your fill of fresh asparagus again. Ramps are also a spring specialty – they are a wild leek and quite tasty. If you can’t find ramps, feel free to substitute with scallions or white onion.
Grilled Asparagus Tartine withRamp & Goat Cheese Bechamel
Asparagus 1 lb
Ramps (whites only) 1/4 cup
Butter 2 tbsp
Flour 2-3 tbsp
Heavy cream (35%) 2 cups
Goat’s cheese 1 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook thinly sliced ramps slowly in butter or oil over medium low heat until soft. Sprinkle lightly with flour, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in cold cream and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add in goat cheese, salt and pepper. Stir until thickened. Remove from heat.
To make the crostini, cut bread into thin slices. Brush with oil. Grill on the barbeque over medium high heat for just a minute, until lightly charred.
Wash asparagus and break off the woody bottom of the spear. Place asparagus on the grill over medium high heat for 1-2 minutes until lightly charred. Remove from gill and season with butter or oil, salt and pepper. Cut into small pieces to fit on crostini.
Assemble the tartines by placing a spoonful of bechamel onto the crostini, top with asparagus and shave pecorino on top.
Our household tends to produce a lot of food “waste”. While the city’s green bin is great, especially for meat, bones, fats, etc., I think making your own compost from your vegetable/lawn/garden waste is a smart (and environmentally responsible) thing to do. It keeps lots of waste out of the landfill while making great soil for you own garden.
This spring I wanted to skip the city’s small black plastic composter for something different. I wanted to build my own and I didn’t want to just pop down to the hardware store to grab a bunch of lumber. I wanted to build a composter from reclaimed wood. Pallets to be precise. So many pallets are just left to rot or used as firewood. These are a great source of lumber. The trouble is they are tough to get apart – ie. this project took (and is still taking me) a lot longer than anticipated. Even so, I think it is worth it.
This post isn’t a “how to”. I’m no carpenter so I’m sure you can build one just as well as I. Check out Youtube, they have lots of examples of pallet composters as well as many other pallet projects. What I can tell you is that for a composter it should have some sort of removable front to make access easy to the whole composter when it is time to remove your soil. I added a hinged door to the top for easy disposal. Line the inside with some sort of mesh to keep out unwanted pests. Other than that, you just need to build a box. Mother Nature will take care of the rest.
Here is a picture with the framing mostly done. This composter is big: 90″x36″x36″. I wanted to make sure there was plenty of room for all kinds of food and yard waste. Actually with this size and the speed at which food waste breaks down in this heat, I could compost half of the neighbourhood. I have the composter separated in thirds, so I can start a new bin if need be and let the first one break down – currently I have one bin full of extra soil I bought to fill garden boxes. One bin is for yard waste – grass cuttings, leaves, etc., which tend to break down a little slower.
This picture is the way I’m using it currently. One bin (left) for food, one for soil storage, one for grass/leaves. Someday I’ll get the rest of the doors on it. Also please note, you need the line the inside with some sort of mesh to help keep out those pesky squirrels and other unwanteds. Also, I used reclaimed bricks I found around the yard to build a bit of a foundation. That way the wood is not sitting directly on the ground and it adds a little more stability.
I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. It’s a great way to keep the household sustainable. If you have any questions or comments about the composter or composting in general (for which I’m still a novice), I’d love to hear them.
The Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice Association (CRFA) recently put out their “Foodservice Facts 2012″, a market review and forecast. From its pages the results of a couple of intertersting surveys caught my eye.
Firstly from a survey of more than 300 chefs:
Top 10 Hot Trends on Canadian Menus
1. Locally produced food and locally inspired dishes (no surprise)
3. Gluten-free/food allergy conscious
4. Farm-/estate-branded ingredients
6. Nutrition / health (eg. low-fat, reduced sodium, antioxidents, high fibre)
7. Ethnic / street food inspired appetizers (eg. tempura, taquitos)
8.Food trucks/street food
9. Artisanal cheeses
10. Bite-size/mini desserts
And secondly, again from more than 300 Canadian chefs (i’m assunming these are the same chefs as above):
Top 10 Up-and-Coming Canadian Menu Trends
2. Black garlic
3. Gluten-free beer
4. Red rice
5. Peruvian cuisine
6. Vegetable ceviche
7. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor
9. Game bird appetizers (eg. duck, quail)
10. Savoury ice creams
They are both intersting lists for sure. Nothing overly surprising if you follow food trends or are involved with food service. Any thoughts about items left off the list? What about restaurant/food service grown produce?
Spring is about new growth. Early spring means asparagus season. Here is a (fairly) recent recipe I did for a LEAF newsletter. If you can find fresh morels, they are your best choice. If not, you can always use dried – just make sure to wash out the dirt.
Asparagus & Morel Crostini
4 slices baguette – cut about 1 cm thick
8 spears asparagus – cut into 1.5 cm pieces
8 morel mushrooms – cleaned, cut in 1/2
3 tbsp creamy goat cheese
¼ tsp lemon zest
1 small clove garlic
2 tbsp extra virgin oil – olive or canola
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut baguette on the diagonal about 1 cm thick. In a pan, warm 1 tbsp oil over medium low heat. Cut clove of garlic in half and rub over slices of baguette. When oil is warm, place baguette into pan and toast until golden brown. Reserve. In a small bowl, mix goats cheese and lemon zest. Spread ¼ mixture over each slice toasted baguette.
Add remainder of oil to pan and add cleaned morels. Cook until softened, then add asparagus pieces and cook until tender –about a minute. Season with salt and pepper. Place asparagus & morel mixture on top of crostini. Garnish with lemon zest and fresh thyme. Drizzle with a good olive or canola oil.
Serve as a canapé or with a small salad as a first course.
I was recently contacted by a UK based undertaking called the EatWild Project to join them in a dinner to celebrate historically local foods. The premise this company was using was to be “Culinary Explorers” and follow Samuel de Champlain’s route from the East Coast through to Ottawa doing pop-up style dinners along the way based on historical foods of the time. Interesting concept, right? I thought so too, so when given an invitation to join a group to dine in a Gatineau Park cabin, I accepted. To be honest I was a little sceptical (ie. freaked out) about meeting total strangers in the middle of Gatineau Park, at night, then having to hike 3.5 km to a cabin with no electricity or plumbing. I guess my sense of adventure was particularly strong as I decided to head off into the night.
Arriving barely on time at the parking lot to Lac Phillippe I was met with, well, nothing really. No one. A few vehicles. Maybe everyone had arrived and had headed to the cabin. A quick call to a contact number I was given (the organizers were not travelling with cell phones) – and it looks like the rest of the group is still 10 minutes out. Once they arrived, quick introductions were made , then the 5 of us were off for a bit of a hike. Gatineau Park is quite lovely on a chilly winter’s night. A little unnerving under the circumstances, but lovely. After about a 30 minute hike, where we chatted and got acquainted, we arrived at our cabin destination, and……no one. OK, maybe I should start running back to the car. The organizers were supposed to meet us here. Weird. Well at least the cabin was unlocked, so we went inside to pass a little time, have a beverage, and decide our next move. Isn’t this the premise to 1000 cheesy horror movies? The cabin itself was pretty bare bones: no water, no electricity, a wood fired stove, a table and chairs and bunks for about 8 or so. At this time we are thinking should we stay or should we go? After about 45 minutes, our organizers arrive (happy that we’ve still hung around) with tales of car problems and trail head confusion. OK, light a fire, looks like we are having dinner!
Now that it seems like we are going to eat, I’m wondering what’s on the menu, because it has been a surprise. With a historical reference to the evening, the meal must be locally based, so, here we go. My apologies for the crappy pictures, but it was tough to get any light at all without the flash.
First course: a soup of maize (corn or popcorn), with butternut squash, blueberries and bison meat. This was actually based on a historic recipe where the corn was popped then turned into a soup. It was quite interesting. Not something I would make again for myself, but it was actually pretty good. The roasted squash and blueberries gave it a sweetness and the bison a bit of saltiness, which it needed as the popcorn mash was, as you can imagine, a bit bland. Warming and filling on a cold night.
Next up, the main course. This again was definitely something that could have been eaten a couple hundred years ago. Elk stew, wild rice (the real stuff, not the generic cultivated stuff), sauteed kale and rye bread. Another hearty plate with tender pieces of elk meat and wild rice that was just crispy enough. The kale with still firm enough and the bread had a good chew. Satisfying.
Lastly dessert of course. Maple cake with cream and dried blueberries. Sweet and tasty enough, but fairly generic. Not much more to say about it really.
What was fun was that after we had dessert, we all went outside and poured reduced maple syrup on a fresh piece of snow and had maple candy (my first time).
After our maple treat we said our goodbyes to our organizers and started our long walk back to our cars. The moon was very bright and it was calm and serene as we kept up a quick pace. It was now after midnight and my day was going to start again in only a few hours. All in all it was a fun experience. A nice group of people, a tasty meal and a good hike. It also makes for a good story. Thanks to all that we there and to the Culinary Explorers for putting it together.
For many years in Vancouver I worked in a restaurant that made a very good chocolate cake. Customers loved that cake but had no idea of it’s secret ingredient. Beets. Yup, red They gave no real flavour to the cake but helped to keep it very moist. Recently, I had the idea to add beets to a chocolate brownie recipe. Worked out pretty well. I used a fresh beet that I boiled, but you could certainly use canned if you like. It is best to use the best chocolate you can though. If you only have chocolate chips that’s OK, but the better the chocolate, the better the brownie.
These brownies will remain super moist for days – if in fact they last that long at all. Not likely.
Chocolate & Beet Brownies
10 0z (1 1/4 cup) chocolate
1 cup butter
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped red beets
Boil beet under very tender (or use canned if you prefer). Place beet in food processer and pulse until small chunks (do not puree). Reserve.
In a double boiler or microwave, melt chocolate and butter together. In a mixing bowl mix together brown sugar and eggs. Blend in flour, baking powder and salt. Fold in chocolate, vanilla and beets until well incorporated. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan. Bake at 350° for approx. 35 minutes or until brownie is just firm.
Beets and chocolate. Who knew they go so well together.
The idea for this recipe came to me for two reasons: 1. I was going to make muffins anyways, and 2. I saw the piece of squash sitting in the fridge and thought I should use it up. I know, not that exciting, but it really had never occured to me before to make squash muffins and I thought I should give it a try. Butternut squash, being quite a bit like pumpkin, works very well here and keeps the muffins very moist. If you aren’t ready to go for the full squash experience, use 1/2 squash and 1/2 banana (which is really great as well).
Butternut Squash Muffins
2 1/2 cups flour (white, white or mixed)
1 cup + 1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup butternut sqush (or mixed squash & banana)
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tsp + 1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp + 1 tsp vanilla
Start by peeling and cutting up about a cup or squsah. Add squash to a small pot, cover with water, then add 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 1 tsp cinnamon. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer until squash is tender. Drain water and mash squash (you can leave it a little chunky).
In a mixing bowl add flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt & baking powder and mix well. Add eggs. In a seperate bowl mix together squash, milk and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and stir. Mix in melted butter until well incorporated. Portion into 12 lined or silicone muffin cups. Bake at 400° for 23 minutes.
I recently had the opportunity to have one of my first real Ottawa dining experiences at the Whalesbone. This was a birthday dinner out with quite a few food people, so the expectations were high for a good meal. I’ve heard they have some of the best seafood in town, and coming from the West Coast where seafood reigns supreme, I was looking forward to seeing what they could do.
Before getting into details of the meal, it’s worth noting that the Whalesbone is OceanWise certified, meaning that all or most of their seafood offerings are sustainable.
Now one of the advantages of going out with a group of food people is the restaurant kitchen tends to throw in a few extras and items that you won’t find on their regular menu. To start we had a platter of there house pork terrine and house char gravlax. Both were tasty. The pork with thick slices of bacon and the char with a subtle cure. A cheese platter came to the table as well, but I’m not sure of what those 3 cheeses were – still trying to figure out my local cheeses. Condiments ranged from grainy mustard and cream with the meat/fish to apple butter and a granola type mix with the cheese (a mix of seeds, nuts and fruit – it was good and a nice change from the regular spiced or candied nuts). Next came a platter of oysters. Actually they went so fast that another platter was ordered. I’m not a huge oyster fan, but tonight they were tasty. West Coasters I believe. I’m normally not a “add sauce to my oyster” kind of guy either, but with the tray of condiments came a little bottle of scotch. Scotch is actually very tasty on an oyster – makes the finish very smooth and not so briny. Lastly came a big bowl of smoked oyster dip with crunchy crostinis. The dip was neither smoky or oystery, but tasty none the less.
So now that we made it through several rounds of pre-appetizers,time to dip into the menu. The Whalesbone being a seafood restaurant, expect just that, with a couple seasonal meat choices thrown in. For my appetizer I chose the clam chowder (because I do love a clam chowder). This one was thick with heavy cream, potato and clam, topped of with a slice of white fish and a couple fritters. A tasty, rich chowder. Would like to have the fritters on the side, but that’s just me. At $12 it’s not a cheap bowl of soup, and that’s also the least expensive appetizer choice (it goes up to about $20 for the lobster roll).
For my main I went for the Walleye. Being on the West Coast for so many years, I’ve missed lake fish, so I had to give it a go. Nicely seared – still moist. Accompanied by a slab of fried polenta, prosciutto, turnips, sunchokes and a few other baby vegetables, with a spoonful of white veal sauce. Again I enjoyed it. A touch small for the $30 price tag, but well put together.
The dessert menu was skipped as a platter of birthday squares came to the table – to let the gorging continue.
All in all, good dinner, good company. I’d definitely come back to The Whalesbone again.