Watch.Learn.Cook with Canada Beef

29 Mar

Canada Beef


Did you know that Canada Beef, the organization that promotes beef grown across this country, offers a variety of online learning tools designed to help Canadians expand their knowledge of cooking with Canadian beef?

This month, the organization is inviting Canadians to Watch.Learn.Cook with Canadian beef using the helpful videos they’ve made available via YouTube, and as a Canada Beef Ambassador I get to help spread the word about these important tools.

Have you ever found yourself in the meat section of your local grocery store, staring at enticing cuts of Canadian beef on sale – but unsure of exactly what cuts you should buy and how to cook them? Canada Beef’s 30-second videos can be viewed from your smartphone or tablet in the store, making it easy to get a crash course in preparing different beef cuts. Check out these videos on the perfect pot roast, oven roasting (perfect for last-minute Easter meal prep!), or even barbecue roasting. If you’re lucky enough to be getting progressively more spring-like weather as we are in Toronto, the last one is definitely enticing for anyone itching to fire up the BBQ, finally.

Need more help than the 30-second videos offer? There are two-minute versions of these and many other beef cooking topics available, too. When you’re home from the grocery store and ready to play in the kitchen, these more in-depth videos are perfect.

Next time you’re facing an unfamiliar cut of beef that you want to try but need help cooking, check out Canada Beef’s informative video series.

Beer and Food at Aphrodite Cooks

3 Mar

Aphrodite Cooks Toronto

If you’re living in or around Toronto, you know that the past month or so hasn’t been kind, weather-wise. But before we know it, the snow will finally disappear and those of us who’ve been hibernating to avoid the cold will be on the hunt for fun things to do.

In the fall, Jenny and I had the chance to attend a couples cooking class at Toronto’s Aphrodite Cooks, a culinary studio run by chef Vanessa Yeung. From a loft space in the city’s west end, the Aphrodite team offers catering services, hosts food events such as the Reel Eats dinner we attended recently, and offers themed cooking classes throughout the year aimed at couples and singles looking to learn new skills and explore different cuisines.

Our couples cooking class was focused on pairing beer with food. Chef Yeung had invited Roger Mittag, aka the Beer Professor to share his expertise and help determine which beers matched with the meal we were going to prepare: butternut squash and apple bisque; German potato salad; beets with stout and sautéed beet greens; a spicy chipotle beef stew; and, for dessert, pear, almond and cream cheese galette with cinnamon caramel sauce.

Pear galette raw

As we walked in and were each handed an apron and a glass of beer, it was immediately clear the cooking classes at Aphrodite are hands-on, which was great to see. There’s nothing like actually being tasked with chopping, stirring and cooking if you really want to learn how to prepare new dishes. And all the work makes it all the more satisfying to sit down together as a group at the end of a cooking class and eat the food you helped create, as we did at the Aphrodite Cooks class.

Aphrodite Cooks Toronto
Mittag is an actual beer professor – he teaches at Humber College’s School of Hospitality. As we prepared our meal, he gave us a crash course on beer, the beer-making process and how different malt roasts affect the flavour of the finished product. He brought along five different beers for us to sample with our meal. As a beer lover, I’m always happy to discover a new beer, and Roger’s selection helped me do just that: Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus, a Belgian-style microbrew that’s lighter and hoppier than most Belgians I typically turn to, and surprisingly easy to drink considering its 10% alcohol content.

Roger Mittag beer Toronto

Of course, a great cooking class is incomplete if you’re not given the tools needed to recreate the meal at home. Attendees at the Aphrodite Cooks couples class were emailed digital copies of recipes for all the dishes we prepared, as well as a list of all the beers sampled. No note-taking needed!

Check out the Aphrodite Cooks website for a listing of upcoming couples cooking classes (new ones are added to the schedule throughout the year), as well as some of the other great cooking workshops planned (if you’re looking for a fun Mother’s Day experience, for example, consider taking your mom to the upcoming Portugese Mother’s Day brunch).

S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition: A Showcase of Culinary Promise

20 Feb

S. Pellegrino almost famous chef competition

For the past couple of years, we’ve been lucky enough to attend the Canadian regional portion of the annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. The competition brings young culinary students from around North America together to compete and showcase their skills as the next generation of great restaurant chefs.

This year’s Canada regional competition is taking place next Monday in Toronto. I had the chance to chat with Timothy Van Ryzewyk, a culinary student representing Toronto’s Humber College in the competition, about what drives him to create great food. You can read his thoughts below.

But first, an exciting contest: We have a $150 gift certificate, good for dinner for two at Mark McEwan’s Fabbrica restaurant in Toronto, courtesy of S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. I recently had the chance to eat at Fabbrica and chat with Mark McEwan, and I can vouch for the food.

To win, leave a comment below telling us what your most memorable restaurant meal was in the past year. We’ll draw a lucky winner from all comments left here by 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, February 23.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Victoria, who was randomly chosen as our winner with the help of Random.org!

 

S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef

What drew you into cooking?
I have always been passionate about cooking; my mother still brings up photos of me as a child helping in the kitchen. Everyone has to eat, so my goal is to give them a dish that they want to keep eating over and over again. I love the kitchen atmosphere – whether it be the long hours, hard work and dedication everyday or the occasional stressful day, it all comes with the job and I just couldn’t see myself behind a desk.

Who is your biggest culinary influence?
From the industry standpoint I would say Chef Susur Lee is my influence. His extremely hard work throughout his career got him to the point he is at today. From a food standpoint my biggest influence is my Mom. If it were not for her allowing me to be a part of cooking family dinners and holiday meals, I never would have discovered my calling.

How would you describe your preferred cooking style?
I enjoy the fusion style of cooking because you can take bits and parts of different styles you have learned and bring them all together to make a very ”out of the box dish” using very different cooking techniques. Introducing and discovering new food combinations and preparation techniques is definitely something that really appeals to me.

How are you preparing for the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition?
I have been practising my signature dish at Humber College and at home at least twice a week. When I sleep, I dream of my dish so that on the day of the competition, I can close my eyes and produce my dish.

You write comedy in addition to training as a chef. How do you think your creative and humourous side helps in the kitchen?
The comedy I write is based upon sketches. I am currently working with a few friends on writing and acting in a sketch comedy show that we plan to have ready to send out by the end of the year.

Comedy writing is a great utensil in the culinary world because there will always be moments when you’re in the heat of things and someone loses their cool. Being able to defuse that tension can really save the day during a busy service – especially in my case, where I am currently the head expeditor at Lee Restaurant.

Having a constant creative outlook makes it very fun creating menus for school projects or for a competition. You don’t limit yourself; at the same time you’re being logical with the food choices you make.

A Taste of Valentine’s Day at Fabbrica

8 Feb
Mark McEwan Fabbrica Toronto

Dining with Mark McEwan at Fabbrica

Jenny and I aren’t huge fans of Valentine’s Day. We rarely mark the occasion with cards or flowers, and definitely steer clear of restaurants offering (usually overpriced) Valentine’s Day-themed prix fixe menus.

So, when I was invited to have dinner with chef Mark McEwan at his newest Toronto restaurant, Fabbrica, to preview the kitchen’s Valentine’s Day menu, I was initially skeptical. But, then again, it’s not every day the chance comes along to sit and break bread with a man who is one of Toronto’s best-known chefs and a host of Top Chef Canada on the Food Network.

As we sat and read over the special Valentine’s Day menu that will be available to Fabbrica diners between February 14 and 17, McEwan put me at ease by saying that he’s not a fan of Valentine’s Day menus built around “cheese” like heart-shaped food and chocolate incorporated into each dish for no good reason. The dishes on the $55 prix fixe ($85 with wine pairings) were developed around the same ethos McEwan says Fabbrica’s regular menu is built: good, honest Italian food done right.

Veal Mark McEwan Fabbrica

Seared veal tenderloin on braised brisket raviolo and carrot-parsnip puree. A great dish!

Since graduating from culinary school at George Brown College in 1979, McEwan has been at the forefront of Toronto’s dining scene, owning and/or running the kitchen at some of the city’s most popular restaurants and hotels—many of which count wealthy residents and visiting movie stars as frequent diners.

But despite the flashy clientele, McEwan says he’s always made sure his menus focused on the classics rather than what’s trendy. And he thinks that’s what diners want. Even in the food trends that have taken Toronto by storm over the past year or two—think tacos, Southern barbecue and rustic Italian—McEwan says the key elements are authenticity and time-honoured technique.

McEwan Fabbrica Budino

And for dessert, caramel budino topped with espresso gelato

McEwan says that even the projects that have brought him into the national spotlight—his Food Network shows The Heat and Top Chef Canada—have been real and honest. Of the former, which followed him as he worked to open his eponymous, upscale Toronto grocery store, McEwan, he says the show was an honest portrayal of the experience, giving viewers a glimpse at the opening of a business and the mistakes made along the way. And he says he’s enjoyed working on Top Chef Canada because, unlike some other food-based reality shows, this one is focused on good cooking and passionate chefs; “It’s not about a basket of weird ingredients,” he says, referring to Chopped—a show I admitted to him that I’m a pretty devoted fan of.

Like his restaurants, there’s a definite polish to Mark McEwan, a sense that he’s always ready to perform. But after spending a couple hours with him, talking about food, sports (he’s a Buffalo native and, like me, a long-suffering Bills fan) and ideas for Toronto’s future (he’s a big believer in the current plan for a downtown casino), I was definitely left with a feeling of authenticity in both the man and his food.

Beef Roasts and Dirty Little Secrets

24 Jan

oven roast beef

Everyone has his or her own dirty little secrets. Some bloggers even write about those secrets. Up to now, I haven’t been one of those bloggers.

Here’s my dirty little secret for today: I’m quite comfortable in the kitchen, and there are few dishes I haven’t attempted to make, or wouldn’t consider attempting. But I’d never made a roast of beef until recently. I have no idea why, really. In theory, it’s dead simple. You find yourself a large cut of beef, prep it with a spice rub, or even just salt and pepper, and throw it in the oven for several hours until it’s done. Really, a roast does most of the cooking for you.

Of course, that may be why it took me so long to make my first beef roast. I like to play in the kitchen. My brain rationalizes cooking as an active thing—chopping, mixing, stirring. Putting something in the oven or a slow cooker and leaving it be just kind of freaks me out, I guess.

But my most recent assignment as a Canada Beef brand ambassador was to cook a roast of beef—which was exactly the nudge I needed to finally cross this one off my never-cooked list.

Canada Beef’s consumer information site, BeefInfo.org, has a ton of useful tips on making a roast of beef—everything from what cuts to look for, to how long to cook the roast, and of course, recipe ideas. I certainly scoured the site as I was figuring out how to tackle this meal.

One of the most daunting, and eye-opening, elements for me was how to buy a roast. Frankly, I always thought that a beef roast was a beef roast. But it turns out that there are several roast cuts you can choose from, which come from different parts of the cow. Premium roasts come from the loin and rib; they’re more tender, but more expensive. Then there are cuts from the hip. They’re leaner and cheaper. I opted for the latter category, buying a sirloin tip roast.

wet rub for meat

I made a wet rub for my roast, mixing 1.5 teaspoons of smoked paprika, a half teaspoon each of cinnamon and cumin, one minced garlic clove, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a few generous grinds of salt and pepper, plus a few drops of water to bring everything together. I covered the roast in the rub and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours so the flavours could work their way into the meat.

To cook my roast beef, I followed Canada Beef’s tip of starting the process by oven-searing the beef. Place the roast in a shallow roasting pan, and cook uncovered in a 450 F oven for 10 minutes, before reducing the heat to 300 F for the rest of the cooking time. To be honest, I didn’t think this got the best sear on the meat and I’ll try their alternate suggestion next time—searing on the stove top in a bit of oil, before putting it into the oven at 300 F.

roast beef pan

From there, as Tom Petty once sang, the waiting is the hardest part. Cooking time will depend on the weight of your roast and the degree of doneness you want from your meat. Check out the cooking time chart here for a guideline, but a foolproof method is to use a digital meat thermometer (the team at Canada Beef were kind enough to send all their beef ambassadors one to cook with); you select the type of meat you’re cooking, the doneness level you want (rare, medium or well-done), and the thermometer lets you know when your roast has reached the target internal temperature.

When my roast was done—I bought a five-pound roast to serve a small crowd, and was going for medium-well, so the cooking time was a little over three hours—I let it sit for 20 minutes or so before slicing. This is an important step if you want your roast to be tender and juicy after you cut it.

Turns out that all my food abandonment issues were for naught. The roast turned out great, and it gave us plenty of leftovers for lunch. And, really, what’s better than an easy, hands-off dinner that’s sure to leave you with bonus meals?

A Holiday Cocktail: The Smoked Sammon

19 Dec

Belvedere vodka cocktail

Whether or not you’re as food crazed as I am, everyone has food memories they associate with the holidays. Growing up, the appetizer table at Christmas dinner always included a smoked salmon platter, sometimes paired with a dill cream cheese, and often garnished with cucumber and lemon slices.

So, when I was asked by the team at Off The Grid to participate in a promotion where Toronto cocktail fanatics were asked to create a holiday tipple using Belvedere vodka*, my thoughts turned to one of my favorite holiday food memories. Those who’ve followed this blog know I’ve never shied away from unusual cocktail ingredients or smoky flavours (truthfully, I have a strong preference for brown spirits), so putting together a cocktail reminiscent of a smoked salmon platter was a welcome challenge.

The result: The Smoked Sammon (The name is a play on the name of the street I live on… and a reflection of the fact there is definitely no actual fish in this drink!).

cucumber Belvedere smoked paprika

To make this drink, step 1 is infusing the vodka with cucumber and dill. Peel, halve and de-seed half an English cucumber, then chop the halves into small chunks. Throw the cucumber into a mason jar, or any container with a tight seal, along with a handful of fresh dill. Pour in half a bottle of Belvedere vodka and close the lid. Store in the fridge for three to four days to infuse, and give the jar a gentle shake once a day.

Step 2: create the “smoke” for your cocktail. For this, I made a smoked paprika simple syrup, an idea I borrowed from Toronto chef Matt Kantor. Heat 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika in a saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes or so, until the sugar is dissolved. Let the syrup cool completely, then store in the fridge in a Tupperware (it’ll keep for several days).

Finally, make your drink. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and shake together 2 ounces of the infused vodka, half an ounce of your smoked paprika syrup and a few dashes of citrusy bitters to round things out (I used Bittered Sling’s Lem-Marrakech Bitters). Pour into a cocktail glass over ice, and garnish with a slice of cucumber from your infused vodka.

*Thanks to Belvedere and offthegridto.com for supplying me with a bottle of vodka to play with. To check out more cocktail creations, visit Off The Grid.

Food, Film & Stories of Unrequited Love – An evening at Reel Eats “Like Water for Chocolate”

9 Dec

Reel Eats Like Water for Chocolate

Everyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a great story. When unrequited love is on the menu, you’ve got my undivided attention twofold. Throw in beautiful food, a cozy setting and good company and you’ve got the makings of a perfect evening.

That’s how I felt about our very first experience attending Reel Eats, a monthly movie-themed dinner and storytelling event that “seeks to celebrate the art of a good story through every frame, plate and experience”

The events take place monthly in Toronto and are the brainchild of a dynamic group of chefs and foodie folks: Mary Luz Mejia and Mario Stojanac of Sizzling CommunicationsVanessa Yeung and Domenic Ubaldino of Aphrodite Cooks and Sang Kim – restaurateur, writer and cook behind Sushi Making for the Soul.

We were treated to a delectable authentic Mexican meal by Mexican-born Chef Francisco Alejandri, inspired by the extraordinary film “Like Water for Chocolate”.

Reel Eats Mexican

Chef Francisco Alejandri cooking for guests at Reel Eats

Seated at communal tables in the inviting and cozy Aphrodite Cooks culinary loft space in the west end of Toronto, about 40 people, a mix of strangers and friends, enjoyed a special meal with the film playing silently in the background to set the mood. Through the evening, three storytellers entertained us with unique tales inspired by the movie’s theme of unrequited love & loss. Dinner theatre with a twist!

Neil and I are so enamored with real Mexican food and flavors, and the meal we ate convinced me that I could step into any family home across Mexico and be treated to the very same mix of dishes. I realized afterwards that interestingly, it was the first multi-course Mexican meal I’ve ever eaten that didn’t include any corn product or ingredients whatsoever.

Chef Alejandri

Chef Alejandri’s menu may have sounded simple, but each dish was layered with complex flavors that made for a really surprising and enjoyable meal.

We started with “Mama Elena’s Sopa de Fideo Aguada con chorizo” – Vermicelli Pasta cooked al dente and finished in a spicy chorizo tomato broth, served with ripe banana. A few people seemed thrown by the fresh banana slices but I was giddy about the flavor and texture combinations. This was superb.

Chorizo Soup with Banana

Next came the main dishes, served family-style at the table. “Pedro’s Almond Chicken” included dark and white meat finished in a mild almond sauce. The almond sauce was so decadent and delicious I dreamed about it for days afterwards.

Reel Eats Mexican dishes

“Pork in Spicy “Revolutionary” Mole Sauce” consisted of fall-off –the-bone pork ribs cooked in a spicy red mole served with rice. One of the storytellers focused his tale around the importance & identity of mole in Mexico and how it differs from region to region, family to family. Chef Alejandri’s mole was like none I’ve ever had before. You could taste the hours of cooking and multiple ingredients that went into it. It was perfection!

The mains were served with a side of earthy sautéed mushrooms & potatoes with wilted spinach, a delicious accompaniment.

Reel Eats Mexican Meal

The dessert course really spoke to the themes in the film. “Tita’s Passionate Deep Chocolate Torte served with sensual rose petal ice cream” forced me to eat every bite very slowly to take in the decadence of the dense chocolate torte and the delicate flavor of the rose ice cream (one of my favorite flavors!). It was such a gorgeous end to a beautiful meal.

Chocolate Cake Rose Ice Cream

The event was BYOB and the organizers sent suggested wine pairings via email a few days prior. They served two different kinds of ‘agua fresca,’ which Neil and I really appreciated after learning about and enjoying different varieties at a Mexican cooking school we visited last year. The deep green, fire-quenching cucumber and parsley agua fresca was a great accompaniment to the meal, and helped to put out the scorch of the spicy mole.

We had what I can honestly describe as a memorable and enchanted evening, and I really encourage anyone living in the greater Toronto area to attend a Reel Eats event if you’re looking for a unique, entertaining and delicious night out. Join the Reel Eats Facebook page to be kept up to date about future events.

Storyteller Mary Luz Mejia at Reel Eats

Storyteller Mary Luz Mejia at Reel Eats

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 79 other followers

%d bloggers like this: