Tag Archives: Canada

Learning About Canadian Beef

19 Jul

Canada Beef

Aside from being lots of fun and something that Jenny and I enjoy doing together, this blogging thing has connected us with some interesting opportunities. There have been chances to preview new restaurant menus in Toronto. We were part of an all-Canadian recipe creation event centred around Canadian beef, for which we invented our now infamous Moogarita beef cocktail.

And now, something new: I’ve been chosen as a brand ambassador for Canadian Beef, and I’ll be spending the next year helping to share information, create recipes and just generally shine a light on one of Canada’s most important agricultural products.

Why am I doing this, you might ask? I’m not doing it because Canadian Beef is paying me (though they are compensating me for the monthly assignments I’ll be completing, with a small stipend each month). And I’m not doing it because they’ll be supplying me with some great beef products to showcase and cook with (although they will be, and I’m quite excited at that).

I am doing this because I’m passionate about good food, and good food produced in Canada by hardworking farmers and others. And I’ve always loved cooking with beef, and sharing my recipes with others. And as a Canadian Beef brand ambassador, I’ll get to do just that, and hopefully help Communal Table readers boost their beef knowledge.

My first monthly assignment was simply to read through the beefinfo.org website, to better understand how the organization supports Canadian beef producers and consumers. And they wanted me to share with you my favorite part of the Canadian Beef website. As a cook who is always looking for ideas on recipes and techniques, the Cooking Lessons section was definitely the one that jumped out at me. It’s packed with step-by-step lessons, with how-to videos and recipes to match, on how to expertly prepare your beef using a variety of methods—grilling, braising, etc.

And you can submit a question for the Beef Expert, which will be answered on the site. Currently there are more than 20 questions with answers listed, everything from “How large a roast do I need to buy?” to “Do you have some tips for cooking beef in the slow cooker?”

Check out the site when you have a chance!

Celebrating Canadian Beef with Involtini

16 Feb

involtini beef prosciutto

I love meat, though – thanks in large part to Jenny’s influence – I’ve been eating much less of it over the past couple of years than I ever had previously (just check out our Recipes page to see the ratio of vegetarian-friendly dishes to meat-based ones!) 

Last month, I decided to challenge myself to give up meat entirely for 30 days. I was successful, minus a couple of cheat meals I allowed myself because they were special occasions. Over the course of the month, I started to look at restaurant menus differently – instead of automatically ordering the meatiest thing available, I branched out and tried some things I normally might not have. The end result of all this challenge and experimentation is that I’m left thinking about meat in a different way – a way I’d already knew instinctively before, but didn’t always practice; that is, that our access to high-quality meat is something to be celebrated and appreciated, and that the consumption of meat should be seen as an occasion that is likewise celebrated and appreciated. By that, I don’t mean that everyone should necessarily only eat meat on birthdays and holidays, or once a week at Sunday dinners. But those of us who do consume meat should make sure that what we’re eating has been treated as it should: instead of eating any old steak, we should be seeking out the best quality product we can find – from trusted sources who can explain where and how the meat was produced – and cooking it in a way that draws out its full flavour.
 
When I read that Canadian Beef – the association responsible for the support and promotion of Canadian beef and its producers – was funding three scholarships to the Eat, Write, Retreat food blogging conference in Washington, D.C., I decided to put up this post as my entry. Not only would I love the chance to attend a conference that looks like it has a great lineup of learning and networking opportunities, but I also liked that entrants were asked to write about one of their favorite memories involving Canadian beef, or a favorite beef dish.
 
Involtini has to be one of my favorite beef dishes, in part because its preparation incorporates some of the ideas I mentioned above. To me, involtini is a perfect example of what Italian cooking should be, as well as of how I think meat should be enjoyed. It’s about simple, fresh ingredients, combined and cooked gently to allow the flavours to really come together. And it’s really an “occasion” meal: since it takes so long to prepare properly, it’s typically something Italians will make when they come together to celebrate and eat. Even if you’re making involtini to enjoy with just one other person, as was the case for Jenny and I with the version here, the process of cooking, waiting, smelling and anticipating the dish means you really take the time to enjoy what you’re eating and who you’re eating it with.
 
Here’s my favorite beef dish. What’s yours?
 
Involtini with prosciutto, spinach and cheese
 
8 veal or beef cutlets, as thin as possible
8 thin slices of prosciutto
16-24 thin slices of parmesan or pecorino cheese
A large handful of spinach leaves
1 large handful of parsley, chopped
1 large handful of basil, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
1 or 2 large carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bottle of strained tomatoes (a.k.a., “passata”)
 
Lay cutlets on a work surface. Lay a slice of prosciutto lengthwise on each cutlet, then top the prosciutto with 4 or 5 spinach leaves, followed by two or three slices of cheese, and fairly generous sprinklings of chopped parsley, basil and lemon zest. Roll up cutlets from one end to the other, fairly tightly, and place a toothpick in each end of the roll to keep everything together.
Involtini prosciutto cheese
In a deep metal pan over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Brown each meat roll for a couple minutes on each side (you’ll probably want to do this in two or three batches to not crowd the pan). Set the meat aside.
beef involtini browning pan
In the same pan, add garlic, carrots and onions and saute for several minutes. Deglaze the pan with half a cup of wine (red preferably, but white works too). Add the strained tomatoes and a hit of salt. After a couple of minutes, once the sauce has started bubbling, put the meat sauce, turn the heat down to medium-low and allow to simmer uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour, until the meat is tender and you can’t stand to smell the dish any longer without tasting it. Serve with your favorite sauteed greens or a salad.
veggies saute pan
 

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!

Celebrating Canadian Food: Chef Jeffery Mickelson, Klondike Kate’s, Yukon

25 Jul

Jeffrey Mickelson Klondike Kate's Dawson City Yukon

July 30 is Food Day Canada, an initiative started nine years ago by Canadian food writer Anita Stewart to celebrate Canada’s food bounty and culinary skill. Chefs, restaurants and ordinary citizens all over the country will mark the occasion in their own special ways. In advance of Food Day Canada, we’re chatting with some of the chefs whose restaurants will celebrate Canadian food on July 30 to gauge their thoughts on our country’s food scene and traditions.

Last time, we spoke with chef Michael Howell of Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. This time around, chef Jeffery Mickelson talks about his experiences cooking at Klondike Kate’s in Dawson City, Yukon. Mickelson, a B.C. native, worked from 2002 to 2007 at Klondike Kate’s before departing to spend some time working in kitchens around the world, including in Vancouver, Ottawa, Chicago, Mexico and England. He’s returned to the kitchen at Klondike Kate’s for 2011, and will be helping to prepare a menu celebrating the Yukon’s bounty for Food Day 2011. 

What do you love about cooking in the Yukon?

Cooking in the Yukon is really no different than cooking anywhere else. Obviously getting stuff here is always a bit of a issue, but as far as local producers go, it’s great. We get fresh birch syrup from Uncle Berwyn, various wild and cultivated berries from an emu farm down river, lots of amazing produce from Grant Dowdell’s farm. Our season is much shorter, but the producers can grow large amounts of goods in the short time. Our customer base is territorial and worldwide. We serve lots of regular Yukoners, and when summer is in full swing, the tourists are reliving the Klondike adventure. Myself and Wade (co-chef/owner) are out foraging all summer long, for various stuff including, nettles, herbs, mushrooms, wild greens, spruce tips etc.

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

We grow fast and big, and store our goods for the off season. You really need to know how to store and preserve the produce to get local stuff all year round. Our biggest problem is getting local meat. There is no meat inspection building in the Yukon, so we rely on a portable abbitore to drive around to inspect and slaughter animals that are destined for restaurants or grocery stores. The costs are so high for this service that, in the restaurant, it is hard to get people to switch to a local product at twice the price. There are not enough producers to provide inspected meat for the entire territory, and the government does not want to lower the costs of production (inspection costs, subsidies, etc.) to get it to the restaurants. Our busy season is in the summer, the same time the food is being produced. Come fall when we’re closing up shop, the meat is being slaughtered, which is great if you’re stocking up your freezer for winter at home. But to buy stuff that’s been frozen for six months at almost twice the price is a hard one to swallow. It is getting better though.

How has the local food scene in your region evolved over the years?

There are more producers, and more organic, natural foods. The restaurant scene in the Yukon is young and slowly evolving.

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

We definitely do have a defined style of food, almost identical to the U.S. After all, we all came here at the same time, just spread out to different spots. If you look at any historical cookbook, Canadian or American, the recipes and food styles are almost identical.

How is Klondike Kate’s celebrating Food Day Canada?

Everyday at Kate’s is food day. We use all the local goods we can get our hands on and thrive on fresh product coming in the back door in season. We will be doing a Food Day-themed menu paired with Canadian wines.

Celebrating Canadian Food: Chef Michael Howell, Tempest, Nova Scotia

13 Jul

Chef Michael Howell Tempest

Last month, we had the opportunity to attend the first Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ont. In addition to being able to learn about and taste cheeses from all over Canada in a setting that is quickly becoming one of Ontario’s greatest culinary tourism escapes, I loved that the festival pulled together chefs from all over Canada and gave festival-goers the chance to chat with them.

Jenny and I spoke only briefly with Michael Howell, chef of Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. But in those few minutes, we really got a sense of the passion chef Howell, a Nova Scotia native who’s lived and cooked all over the world, has for both his trade and his home province.

July 30 is Food Day Canada, an initiative started nine years ago by Canadian food writer Anita Stewart to celebrate Canada’s food bounty and culinary skill. Chefs, restaurants and ordinary citizens all over the country will mark the occasion in their own special ways. In advance of Food Day Canada, we’re going to be chatting with some of the chefs whose restaurants will celebrate Canadian food on July 30 to gauge their thoughts on our country’s food scene and traditions.

First up, we talk to chef Michael Howell. 

What do you love about cooking in Nova Scotia?

I am blessed to be living in the heartland of Nova Scotia’s agricultural bounty. My restaurant is 500 metres from the Wolfville Farmers Market, less than five kilometres from five wineries, and most of my fresh product comes from within 20 kilometres of my business. ALL of my suppliers are primary producers – I do not have to use ANY distributors.

Nova Scotia is a nascent destination for culinary tourism and yet there is a breadth and depth to the chefs cooking here that is equal to many far more cosmopolitan destinations. We choose to live here because of the quality of life as well as the quality of porduct available at our beck and call.

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

Seasonality is a mantra that many chefs espouse nowadays, and in some cases, rather exemporaneously. I truly try to cook seasonally with respect for local ingredients. I can get local tomatoes (from a greenhouse) 10 months of the year. I have another greens supplier that keeps me in exotica (radish sprouts, micro mix,  etc) 12 months of the year.

Seafood is ALWAYS available so I am only restricted by green veg and fruit availability. For several seasons, I have cooked an all Italian menu for the winter that reflects seasonality but also brings in the locals in the dead of winter – think squash and quark ravioli with sage butter or locally farmed (land-based farming) branzino with winter veg ragu. My cuisine is simpler as I get older – less complicated, more about purity of ingredients and flavours –  but I try to stay au courant so that I am not thought of as anachronistic by critics and so my young cooks  don’t get bored by simplicity…

How has the local food scene in your region evolved over the years?

I, and several other chefs (Martin Ruiz, Craig Flinn, Dennis Johnston, Ray Bear) are driving a culinary rennaissance here in Nova Scotia. We bring experience from all over the world to our little corner of heaven. We continue to travel and experience great cuisines and make an effort to stay relevant when we come home to our businesses. Our cuisine is distinctly steeped in seafood – that is inescapeable, of course. But we aren’t just about Digby scallops and lobster either. Many of us are beginning to grapple with the issues of sustainable seafood when it comes to procurement, so hopefully we are driving a new thinking when seafood suppliers think about the methods of harvesting and the species they are delivering to us, so that they respect an increasingly passionate scrunity of the products we are serving at our restaurants by customers concerned with sustainability and the health of our oceans.

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

Canadian cuisine is indefinable. We are motivated by our ethnicity, by our regionality, by our urbanism. Anthony Walsh’s interpretation of Canadian cuisine is one pole (bringing the best to Toronto from all corners of Canada), Martin Picard’s is another (celebrating distinctly Quebecois cuisine steeped in French tradition). Our cuisine is interpreting our local ingredients wherever we are. Increasingly, like Italian cuisine, we  are regionalized. Tuscan cuisine is completely unlike Pugliese cuisine, yet they share a common thread of pasta,  and primi, secondi and dolce as a method of dining. I cook scallops, lobster, halibut, haddock and mussels as regional celebrations yet I still cook Berkshire pork, great rib eyes to make the steak lover salivate, and cool vegetarian dishes to satisfty the increasing number of non-protein eaters that are a part of the culinary landscape. There will never be a definable Canadian cuisine, unless the definition is melting pot influenced by regional ingredients.

How is Tempest celebrating Food Day Canada?

We are cooking a hugely celebratory multi-course dinner that reveres local ingredients:

Dulse crusted Roasted Elmridge Farm Fingerlings with Farmers Sour Cream and Acadian Sturgeon Caviar
Domaine de Grand Pre Champlain Brut

Arctic Char Tartare:
Sustainable blue Arctic char, Back Door chives,  opal basil oil, horseradish espuma, crispy Lakewood Market garden zucchini blossoms
L’Acadie Vineyards Sparkling Rose

Trio of Taproot Farms Sun Gold Tomatoes:
Panzanella with Fox Hill Cheese House mozzarella, Boulangerie la Vendeenne sourdough
Tomato water and ShanDaph oyster shooter
Stinging nettle and Fox Hill quark ravioli with tomato confit
Annapolis Highlands Vineyards Geisenheim Riesling 2010

Applewood smoked leg of Gaspereau Valley lamb with Chef’s Garden pirri pirri sauce, minted tabbouleh, our own ajvar, lemon verbena foam
Luckett Vineyards 2009 Triumphe

Noggins Corner peach tart, Ran-Cher Acres goat cheese and Cosman & Whidden Honey gelato
Domaine de Grand Pre Pomme D’Or

Celebrate Food Day on Saturday

28 Jul

 Canada Maple LeafOne of the best things about being a food lover living in Canada – and one of the easiest things about blogging about food in Canada – is that there’s just so much great stuff to enjoy within our borders. The fresh fish and seafood, variety of produce, grains, meats and dairy we have is truly unbelievable. And with such easy access to all these great food products in communities across the country, it’s no wonder that Canadian chefs and home cooks alike are so innovative. But with all this around us, it’s easy to take it for granted.

Food Day, which is this Saturday, July 31, is aimed at making sure Canadians recognize our bounty. Food Day was started in 2003 by Canadian food writer and educator Anita Stewart, with an event – The World’s Longest BBQ – designed to help the country bounce back from the sanctions that were then in place on Canadian beef. The spirit of that first BBQ has carried through annual Food Day celebrations over the past eight years, with more and more people marking the day by holding their own backyard grill fests. Stories posted by Canadians to the Food Day website over the years demonstrate how people have embraced the celebration.

This year, Food Day is being expanded even further, as restaurants and food suppliers across the country are joining forces to offer special menus celebrating Canadian food. The Food Day website has a listing of the more than 130 restaurants participating across Canada, and some of the menus posted look incredible. Have a look and consider checking out a participating restaurant in your community if you don’t feel like firing up the grill at home.

I grew up surrounded by a tradition of, and passion for, great food. The Italian side of my family made me appreciate fresh ingredients and simple preparations, while my amateur gourmet chef mother taught me that food can be cooked and presented in so many incredible ways. But it was the five years I spent living in Manitoba in my 20s that really gave me an understanding of the complexity of food beyond what appears on my plate. As a trade magazine editor working in the Prairies, I spent those years covering agriculture issues. I had the chance to speak to farmers, manufacturers, food marketers and government officials about the challenges and triumphs associated with being part of the food chain. I was founding editor of Canadian Potato Business, a magazine aimed at providing important information to producers of Canada’s most important field crop. As much as that tends to be a point of amusement in conversations today, it was a great experience and opportunity to learn about issues my born-and-raised-in-the-Greater-Toronto-area mind hadn’t previously thought of. And the fact that the magazine continues to thrive today (albeit under a different name and written by people with better understanding of farm issues than me) makes me proud.

I won’t be in Toronto on Food Day to take advantage of the great menus from this city’s participating restaurants. But whether or not I’m eating at a Food Day partner resto on July 31, I’ll be sure to spare a thought to all the people who dedicate their lives to bringing us amazing food products.

How will you celebrate Food Day?

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