Tag Archives: Food Day

The Cuban Sandwich: Re-invented for Food Day

31 Jul

To celebrate Food Day Canada, Neil and I came up with an idea inspired by a fond food memory and fresh local produce, resulting in a new take on a classic sandwich; The Cubano.

There seems to be some debate about where the sandwich was born. Some say it was created in Cuban cafes, some say it evolved to what it is today in nearby Florida as Cubans eventually settled there. Either way, today you can find different variations depending on where you go, but the basic components seem to always be the same: bread, Swiss cheese, roasted pork, ham, mustard and pickles. Usually grilled or pressed, always delicious. The pickles really bring it home for me, but all of those basic ingredients oozing and hot between good bread really can’t be beat.

The first time Neil and I experienced a Cuban sandwich was in the back seat of a New York City cab. We found ourselves in a huge rush to get across the city, but we were also starved so we ran into the first takeout place we could find; The Original Sandwich Shoppe of NY on Greenwich Ave. in the West Village. We read the menu quickly and chose the Cuban mostly by default, agreeing that it sounded interesting but not really paying much attention.  There was little expectation or anticipation. We grabbed it to go and hopped in the cab not realizing we were missing a key ingredient – napkins, much needed when tackling a really good Cuban sandwich. How naïve we were before taking that first messy bite. We were completely unprepared for the sheer sandwich nirvana that followed. But we never forgot it. I usually seek one out now when I’m in New York and you can find them at just about every corner deli. Sometimes the pork is roasted and shredded, sometimes it’s in bigger chunks, but those main ingredients are always there and they pair so perfectly together.

We were bouncing around some ideas for dinner on Food Day, when I found myself thinking about those ingredients and how well the flavors work together. But we wanted to do something a little bit different and decided we’d take our cues from what we found on our travels that afternoon.

At Rowe Farms we found beautiful Ontario heirloom beets and green beans and thought it would be fun to play with the pickled part of the sandwich. We also picked up some of their boneless pork loin chops, which we thought would also be a nice update considering it’s BBQ season and chops grill so nicely and quickly on the BBQ. Across the street at the Leslieville Cheese Market we got two different kinds of mild and creamy Canadian cheese and a loaf of good fresh sourdough bread.

Back at home our vision evolved and we decided we’d create a bit of visual feast for ourselves, laying out all of our ingredients to make our own open-faced Cubans with a few twists. We ditched the ham altogether and figured heating the bread on the BBQ would give enough of that grilled flavor in place of dragging out the Panini press.

I quick-pickled the beets and beans in separate batches with slight variations in the pickling liquid. Neil made his own version of a mojo marinade for the pork after reading that the slow-roasted pork usually found on classic Cubanos is marinated in this unique and delicious blend of citrus and spices.

After leaving the pork to marinate and the veggies to pickle for a few hours, all we had to do was light the BBQ, grill the chops and bread and help ourselves to what turned out to be a really fun and delicious take on a sandwich that we both love. Of course we didn’t forget the real pickles (we used mini kosher dills) and grainy mustard. 

We couldn’t completely stray from tradition, though our modern additions made for one enjoyable backyard meal that we’ll definitely be making again. A slight step up from the back of a cab, but just as fun and memorable.


* Quick-Pickle Disclaimer: We barely followed a recipe for the pickled vegetables. We just threw a bunch of stuff into a pot and hoped for the best. Though we did decide to use more sugar for the beets to offset their slight bitterness and changed up a few of the ingredients for the beans. I tried to give measurements, but give or take for each… use your judgment! You can’t really screw them up by adding a little more or less of these ingredients.

Quick-Pickled Raw Beets

Small bunch of fresh beets

1 cup white vinegar

¼ cup sugar

Handful of black peppercorns

Small handful mustard seed

A few bay leaves

Clean and peel the beets. Slice them thinly into rounds and put them in a bowl or container.

Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiled, remove from heat and pour over the raw beets. Cover and leave them to sit in the pickling liquid for a few hours or in the fridge overnight. We let ours pickle for about two hours and they were delicious.

Quick-Pickled Green Beans

A bunch of fresh green beans, washed & trimmed

1 cup vinegar

A little less than ¼ cup sugar

6-7 grinds of sea salt

Handful of mustard seed

A pinch of ground ginger

A few bay leaves

Lightly steam the green beans so they’re heated and slightly cooked but still crunchy.

Bring all of the pickling ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiled, remove from heat and pour over the green beans. Cover and let them sit in the pickling liquid for about 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.

Mojo-Marinated Grilled Pork Chops

3-4 small boneless pork loin chops

Juice of 1 orange

Juice of 2 fresh limes

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp paprika

2 tsp cumin

1/3 cup olive oil

A few pinches of sea salt and black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade and pour on top of the pork chops. Cover, refrigerate and let marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight. We left ours for about 2 hours and they were very flavorful but next time we’d like to try leaving them overnight to let the flavors penetrate the pork even more.

Heat your BBQ to approximately 450 degrees. Cook the pork chops for about 4 minutes per side.

To Assemble Open-Faced Cuban Sandwiches:

While the BBQ is hot, grill slices of fresh bread brushed with a little bit of olive oil. Slice the pork into strips and lay them out on a platter. Slice pickles and arrange pickles, beets and beans on a tray or wooden board with any kind of semi-soft, creamy cheese and Dijon or grainy mustard.

Take a slice of grilled bread, spread with mustard and top with cheese, pork and your variety of pickles. Keep a stash of napkins closeby… 

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!

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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