Tag Archives: cooking

Celebrating Canadian Food: Chef Michael Smith, Prince Edward Island

30 Jul

chef michael smith prince edward island

Happy Food Day, Canada! While it makes sense to celebrate Canada’s food bounty 365 days a year, it’s a great idea to set aside one day where people across the country can come together to shine the spotlight on Canadian produce, meat, fish and dairy products.

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been running interviews with some of the chefs whose restaurants are marking Food Day Canada by offering special menus centred around local food products. In today’s final installment, we have a few words from chef Michael Smith. While chef Smith is best known to Canadians as a popular Food Network personality, he’s also been a longtime advocate for Canadian cuisine. He was named official Food Ambassador in his home province of Prince Edward Island in 2009, and in January 2011, launched a web series called Food Country to showcase PEI food and the people who help produce it. Chef Smith is also one of the food personalities on the judging panel for the various awards that will be handed out as part of Food Day Canada 2011.

Enjoy the interview, and have fun celebrating Food Day!

What do you love about cooking in Prince Edward Island?

Prince Edward Island is a giant green farm floating in the bounty of the deep blue sea, surrounded by sandy white beaches and full of the ingredients, chefs and culinary artisans that make us one of the worlds great culinary tourism destinations. We are an island of food stories that you will share for a lifetime!

PEI has really been focusing on the promotion of its food production and culinary talent in the two years since you were named the province’s Food Ambassador. What does it mean for you to be part of this initiative, and what do you think it means for PEI to have you involved?

I learned how to be a chef in PEI. I learned how powerful it is to make local food connections, to make your cooking personal. Being Food Ambassador is my chance to give back to an island that has given me so much.

How have local factors such as geography, economics and demographics influenced your cooking style?

All over the world we cook with what’s in our back yard. This is what defines cuisine, when food tastes of time and place.

How has the local food scene on the Island evolved over the years?

PEI’s food scene has grown dramatically over the last 20 years, well past potatoes and lobsters. We have cutting-edge aquaculture, farmers markets around every turn, innovative crops, culinary artisans and organic market gardens sprouting everywhere. Our chefs have kept pace and we’re blessed with a thriving local food and restaurant culture.

What are your thoughts on the idea that there is a “Canadian cuisine”?

Canada is a giant land mass and we welcome customs from all over the world, thus we have many regional and ethnic threads woven into our giant tapestry of national cuisine.

How will you be celebrating Food Day?

I’ll celebrate Food Day with a chefs reunion at The Inn at Bay Fortune. Every year, many of the chefs that have cooked at the Inn return for one great big celebration meal!

A glimpse of Canada’s young talent at the Almost Famous Chef Competition

17 Feb

Almost Famous Chef Competition Dishes

For the past nine years, the S.Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition has given talented culinary school students from across North America the chance to show off their talents. The annual competition is composed of 10 regional contests and a finals competition.

Jenny and I were lucky enough to be invited as media to check out the Canadian regional competition in Toronto last week. Eight students from the George Brown College Chef School, The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver, École hôtelière de la Capitale in Québec City and Montreal’s Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec were asked to create their ‘signature’ dish for a panel of judges including restaurant chefs, food writers and blogger David Ort of Food with Legs.

Chefs Working in Kitchen
Almost Famous Chef contestants working in the kitchen

Each competing chef was free to incorporate any ingredients and cooking techniques into their dish, and it was amazing to see what was created, and to hear the students talk to the judges about what inspired them. In most cases, the chefs chose ingredients common to their home province and talked about their passion for Canada’s bounty. Jenny and I were happy to be able to eat many of the foods we love – bison, duck, pork belly, lobster, scallops – served in interesting new ways. And we even had the opportunity to taste something new – salsify, a vegetable I’d heard of but had never tasted, and which showed up in a couple of the chefs’ dishes.

Piglet Belly and Lobster Pasta
Piglet belly with lobster ravioli from Emile Balk at Montreal’s Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec… one of our favorite dishes of the night

The chefs’ focus was also clearly evident in the kitchen. We were able to spend some time watching the students cook. In contrast to the chaos shown in the kitchens of shows like Top Chef and Chopped, the scene in the Calphalon Culinary Center’s professional kitchen was one of quiet intensity.

In addition to preparing composed dishes for each of the judges, plated as they might be served in a restaurant, each competing chef was also tasked with preparing tasting portions of their creations for each of the 100+ invited guests and media to sample. Guests were then asked to choose their favourite dish, with the winner receiving the People’s Choice Award. Christine Amanatidis of the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver took this honour for her amazing dish of crisp seared duck breast served with a savoury chestnut bread pudding. I’m a huge fan of bread pudding and I’d never tried a savoury version, so Christine’s dish was really inspiring.

Chestnut Bread pudding
Chef Amanatidis’ duck with chestnut bread pudding

But the night’s big winner was Jean-François Daigle of Toronto’s George Brown College Chef School. He wowed the judges with bison tenderloin cooked sous-vide and then pan-seared, which he served with an apple-parsnip-mustard puree, asparagus and a sauce of honey, red wine and beef stock.

Almost Famous Chef contestants in Toropnto
Announcing the winner…

He’ll move on to the finals in California’s Napa Valley from March 11 to 14, for the chance to win the grand prize of $10,000 and the opportunity to work as a paid apprentice for one year with a recognized chef. The finals will be streamed live via the Almost Famous Chef website and Facebook page, so you can follow the action.

Honey-Seared Bison with Apple-Parsnip Puree
Chef Daigle’s honey-seared bison with apple-parsnip puree

In the meantime, why not recreate the winning dishes for yourself? Below are Christine Amanatidis and Jean-François Daigle’s recipes, which they’ve adapted for home cooks. Bon appetit!

Honey Seared Bison Tenderloin with Apple Parsnip Puree
Jean-Francois Daigle, The George Brown Chef’s School (Toronto)

2 cups (500 mL) beef broth
2/3 cup (150 mL) dry red wine
1 cup (250 mL) each diced carrots and onion
3/4 cup (175 mL) diced celery
2 bay leaves
1 tsp (5 mL) whole black peppercorns
1 buffalo or beef tenderloin, about 2 lbs/1 kg, cut into 8 equal portions
Sea salt and pepper
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil or garlic oil
2 tbsp (25 mL) liquid honey
2 tsp (10 mL) chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp/2 mL dried thyme leaves

Apple Parsnip Puree:

1 lb (500 g) parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 lb (500 g) apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tbsp (25 mL) 35% whipping cream, hot
2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
Salt and white pepper

Apple Parsnip Puree: In pot of boiling water cook parsnips, covered for 15 minutes or until tender. Add apples, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until very tender. Drain well and puree in a food processor until smooth. Whisk in cream and mustard and season to taste with salt and pepper; keep warm.

Meanwhile, in saucepan bring stock, wine, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves and peppercorns to a boil and simmer until reduced to 2-1/2 cups (625 mL). Remove bay leaves and discard.

Sprinkle tenderloin with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet, in batches sear both sides of the tenderloin and place on lightly greased baking sheet. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with thyme. Roast in 425 F (220C) oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted in centre reaches 145 F (63 C) for medium-rare.

Spoon apple parsnip puree in centre of plate and top with tenderloin and spoon vegetable sauce around plate.

Makes 8 servings.

Duck Breast with Chestnut Bread Pudding
Christine Amanatidis, The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver

4 boneless duck breasts
Salt and pepper

Chestnut-Chai Bread Pudding:

1 cup (250 mL) chicken broth
1 cinnamon stick
5 each whole cloves and green cardamom pods
3 slices fresh ginger
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1/4 cup (50 mL) minced shallots
1/2 cup (125 mL) whole milk
2 eggs
8 roasted chestnuts, quartered
1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
8 cups (2 L) 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubed multigrain sourdough bread
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter, broken into tiny pieces

Chestnut-Chai Bread Pudding: In saucepan bring chicken broth, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and ginger to boil. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and discard spices.

Meanwhile, in a skillet heat oil over medium heat and cook shallots for about 4 minutes or until lightly browned; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Add steeped chicken broth, shallot, chestnuts, pepper and salt. Stir in bread to coat well. Spread evenly into 13 x 9- inch (3 L) pan lined with parchment paper. Scatter butter on top and bake in 400F (200C) oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is golden brown. Let cool slightly before slicing into 8 pieces, approximately 4 x 3- inches (10 cm x 7.5 cm).

Score duck skin in a cross diamond pattern and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and place duck breast skin side down. Reduce heat to medium and let cook for about 5 minutes or until crisp and brown. Turn duck and place in oven for about 8 minutes or until thermometer reaches 155 F (68 C). Let stand before slicing. Place bread pudding on each plate and top with sliced duck.

Makes 8 servings.

Pasta Pinwheels: Dinner Made Easy AND Pretty

17 Feb

A few weeks ago I found myself in the organic section of the grocery store picking up a box of kamut lasagna noodles. This was a strange occurrence for me, not because of the kamut but because I have never purchased a box of lasagna noodles. Ever.

I have never made a lasagna from scratch myself. There, I’ve admitted it.

And here are some reasons why:

-       I will never be able to make a lasagna that even attempts to rival Neil’s aunts (all of his aunts!) and his mother’s, for that matter. (aunts make the classic Italian meat version, mom makes a creamy béchamel version. Neil daydreams often about both)

-       I pretty much know for sure that any homemade version I attempt has no chance standing up against the one from 7 Numbers in Toronto either.

-       Making a whole lasagna for just two people seems silly somehow, and I never think of making it for guests.

-       Lasagna just always seems like a major pain in the butt to make. When I think of the steps involved compared to the simplicity of the final product, my brain shuts down.

So there I was staring at the kamut lasagna noodles thinking “but they’re so pretty!” I realize this might make me a little crazy, but there it is. I’m big on the aesthetics of my food. I’ve always thought that lasagna noodles, with their curly edges, are quite an attractive noodle and they’re usually hidden among the layers of sauce, cheese and other typical lasagna accoutrements.

I bought the box and figured I’d either research some cool way to use them, or surprise Neil sometime by trying to finally make my own lasagna. The first option came to fruition after a little scan on FoodGawker. As soon as I spotted some photos of what some people call “lasagna rollups”, I knew what to do.

I wasn’t in the mood for the classic flavors of lasagna and didn’t want to make a tomato-based sauce. I also didn’t have a lot of time.

What followed was one of the easiest and quickest dinners I’ve ever made. I’m not joking. This recipe both showcases the ‘prettiness’ of the lasagna noodles and comes together faster than anyone would believe once they see and taste the final result.

You can obviously use this same idea with any kind of filling and/or sauce and you can make as many or as little as you want at a time.

I think I’ve found a new go-to weeknight dinner, and a reason to finally stock my cupboard with some of the most attractive noodles around.

Pasta Pinwheels

Lasagna Noodles – I used Kamut noodles, 10 of them (you can make as much or as little as you want, just adjust the filling accordingly)

Filling:

1 475g tub ricotta (I used light ricotta)

Zest of 1 lemon

Handful of basil, chopped

Handful of Italian parsley, chopped

Pepper

Sauce:

1 large shallot, chopped

Handful of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in 1 ½ cups of hot water

3 Tbsp butter

1 cup white wine

Half a lemon

Boil the lasagna noodles according to the package, but make sure you leave them al dente. If they’re too soft, they’ll fall apart and will be hard to work with.

Preheat the oven the 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix all five ingredients for the filling.

Chop the soft porcini mushrooms but reserve all of the liquid they were sitting in.

In a sauté pan, cook the shallot in a little bit of olive oil on medium heat until translucent. Add in the butter and sauté a few minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Add in the white wine and slowly raise the heat to medium high as you mix, to cook off the alcohol. Add in the chopped porcinis and 1 cup of the mushroom liquid. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, mix and take off heat.

When the lasagna noodles are done, drain them and run cold water over them to cool them off.

Place noodles on a cutting board or clean, dry surface. Spoon the filling mixture onto each lasagna noodle. Roll each noodle slowly, using both hands.

Place all the pinwheels into a glass baking dish and pour the mushroom sauce overtop.

Place in the oven for about 15 minutes to heat everything through.

To serve, sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese and a little bit of chopped parsley.


Pasta with Seared Tuna & Fennel Rub: A New Take on an Old Classic

5 Feb

I have learned so much about cooking from Neil’s family. They’re all amazing cooks who aren’t afraid to try something new. But I’ve really taken a lot of inspiration from the Italian side of his family and their simple and classic dishes.

One of the dishes that Neil was raised on was his dad’s quick and easy tuna pasta. He still makes it now and whenever I have it I always think “how did he make something so simple taste this good?”

His classic version consists basically of long pasta noodles (like spagettini), a can of tuna packed in oil, lots of garlic, olive oil, hot peppers or chili flakes and rapini or broccolini. It was a staple of Neil’s childhood and something that we now crave together and are sometimes lucky enough to have made for us.

My newfangled version came to be when my sister and her boyfriend were coming over for dinner. I knew that my sister hated canned tuna but happened to love fresh seared tuna steak. She has champagne taste, that girl.

So I decided to make a tuna pasta but using fresh tuna instead of canned. I knew I needed a rub of some sort and the first spice that I could think to use was fennel seed. Fennel is a great compliment to fish and I figured it would work well in this dish.

I had never toasted fennel seed myself but tested it out for this recipe and my kitchen was immediately warmed by the scent of toasting fennel. It’s so fragrant and lovely.

The first time I made it, I used a coffee grinder to grind up the spices but we recently got a good mortar and pestle (a kitchen tool that we should have owned ages ago) and I really like how the rub came out using it.

This pasta dish takes everything that’s great about the classic version and brings it up a notch. And it’s really not that hard to make. It’s another one of those meals that looks like it should have been hard, but comes together in a snap. Just get organized, chop and set up all your ingredients beforehand and it’ll be a breeze.

Pasta with Seared Tuna & Fennel Rub

1 box of your favorite long pasta (I used quinoa pasta this time around, a perfect substitute for the real thing)

1-2 tuna steaks (use very fresh, sushi-grade tuna, 1 steak per 2 people)

Olive oil

1 Tbsp whole fennel seeds

1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns (* we used 1 Tbsp because we like spice, but cut it back to ½ Tbsp if you’re more conservative with spice)

1 tsp sea salt

Zest of half a large lemon

1 bunch broccolini or rapini, roughly chopped into thirds

Red chili flakes

1 large clove of garlic, chopped

1 large shallot, chopped

¼ tsp anchovy paste (or more, to taste)

Mix the freshly grated lemon zest with the sea salt and set aside.

In a small pan, toast the fennel seeds and peppercorns on medium low heat for about 3-4 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Keep them moving in the pan with a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat and put them right into a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Grind into a fine powder.

In a bowl, mix the fennel and pepper powder with about half the amount of lemon salt. Set the rest of the lemon salt aside for garnish.

Lightly brush some olive oil onto each side of the tuna steaks and then coat both sides with the fennel, pepper & lemon salt rub.

Lightly oil a large sauté pan and set on medium-high heat. Give it a few minutes to really heat up. Sear tuna steaks for a few minutes on each side, making sure not to overcook. You want a nice crust on the outside and a rare middle. You’re going to add the tuna back into the hot pan later on where it’ll cook a bit more so keep it on the rare side.

When the tuna is done, remove from heat and cut into thin slices or small chunks. Set aside.

Boil your pasta water (with salt!) and get your pasta cooking.

Using the same sauté pan that you used to sear the tuna, add a good amount of olive oil and return to a medium heat. Add in garlic and shallot and sauté for approximately 3 minutes.

Add the broccolini or rapini and sauté for a few minutes. We used broccolini and added about ¼ cup of water into the pan to help it steam and cook but Neil thinks rapini wouldn’t require as much water because it’ll wilt on its own. Use your judgment. You don’t want liquid in the pan, you just want to get the broccolini a bit wet and it’ll absorb the water as it cooks. It also helps loosen the bits on the bottom of the pan.

Add in chili flakes and anchovy paste and mix.

When the pasta is ready, strain and add directly into the pan with the broccolini mixture. Drizzle good quality olive oil overtop and mix well.

Add the tuna into the pan and toss with the pasta.

Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle the rest of the lemon salt overtop. Serve hot.

You can serve this pasta with some freshly grated parmesan cheese, even though it’s not traditional to put cheese on top of a fish-based pasta. Clearly though, we’re not averse to breaking tradition.

Thanks to my fabulous sister Jayme for being the driving force behind the creation of this recipe!

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