Tag Archives: summer

Finding My Burger Personality with Canadian Beef

9 Aug

Canada Beef Burger Personality

What’s your burger personality? It sounds like a bit of a strange question, until you take a look at the chart above, from Canada Beef. It’s part of their new campaign to get Canadians thinking about one of everyone’s favorite summer BBQ meals, and what makes an ultimate burger. And since I’m a Canada Beef Brand Ambassador (as I mentioned a while ago), I’m helping to spread the word. You can check out a full description of all the personality definitions here, and get a badge to post on your site to let everyone know what your ideal burger type is.

After many years of trial and error, I’ve discovered that I’m a Naturalist when it comes to burgers. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy fancy, kicked-up burgers. My mom makes amazing chipotle burgers, and there’s a burger joint in Toronto that tops one of their burgers with foie gras and bacon. I haven’t tried it yet, but I definitely have to soon!

But of all the burgers I’ve made in my own kitchen or on my BBQ, the ones I made a couple weeks ago stand out to me as a revelation. I started with ground beef from Rowe Farms, an Ontario farming co-operative known for their quality product. To that meat I added… nothing. Well, almost nothing. A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce for a hit of that flavour that only Worcestershire can give you, a few grinds of black pepper and a pinch of smoked paprika for some heat and smoke flavour that would only enhance how the burgers would taste on the BBQ.

I also abided closely to two rules that I’d heard many times before about burger-making, but tend to ignore when I’m in a rush to cook. I only mixed the meat enough to blend in the ingredients, and when forming the burgers, I made sure to form them loosely. The more you handle the meat, the tougher it can be when it’s cooked. And densely formed patties don’t cook as well or release juices as nicely as loose ones.

Finally – and maybe most importantly, salt the outside of the patties generously just before putting them on the grill or in the pan. The reason for adding the salt at this stage is, again, to keep the moisture in the meat, making the resulting cooked burgers tender and juicy. Salt is important to creating a great, flavorful  burger. But if you add the salt to the meat before you form the patties, and it’s allowed to season the meat for an extended period of time before cooking, you’ll end up with dense, tightly packed patties – closer to the texture of sausage than a hamburger.

If you’re looking for great burgers made the Naturalist way, it’s as simple as that. So now… what’s your burger personality?

Advertisements

Smoked Potato Towers with Chorizo and Arugula Pesto

16 Jun

Smoked potato tower chorizo pesto

Here’s a little piece of info I’m not sure I’ve shared before with readers of Communal Table. A long time ago (about 10 years or so), in a land far, far away (Winnipeg, Manitoba), I was hired in my first job as a trade magazine editor. The task: create Canada’s first magazine devoted entirely to the potato. As a twenty-something from Toronto who’d never set foot on a farm, let alone pulled a potato from the earth, I immediately thought two things: one, the magazine was destined to be a spectacular failure; and two, my career in magazine publishing was going to be brief and disasterous.

A decade later, I can happily report that I’m still working in magazines. And, my colleagues and I managed to create a successful magazine (which is still publishing today, long after my reign ended). As dumbfounded as I was by the idea that some city kid should be running a magazine devoted to Canada’s most important produce crop, I really enjoyed the time I spent learning about all aspects of potato growing, production and marketing. So when Jenny and I were invited to participate in a food blogger competition, sponsored by Ontario’s own EarthFresh, to create a recipe using the company’s Klondike Rose potatoes for its Foodies for Klondike Rose Contest, I jumped at the chance to shine a spotlight on potatoes once again.

After brainstorming a few recipe ideas, my mind drifted to a barbecue we’d been at a couple weeks earlier, where a friend made smoked pulled pork. While I’ve smoked meats and fish a couple times, I’d never tried to smoke a potato. And since Jenny and I are always up for a new culinary challenge, the idea behind this recipe for smoked potato towers with chorizo and arugula pesto took shape from there.

Potatoes wood chips smoker box

This recipe is essentially a three-part process. While it’s time-consuming to prepare the homemade chorizo (which I did Mexican style, in that there’s no sausage casing, but using more Spanish flavours), make the arugula pesto and smoke the potatoes, none of the steps are difficult. This is a definite weekend dish, something to share with friends or family while sitting on a patio and enjoying summer.

Smoked potatoes on pan

Smoked Potato Towers with Chorizo and Arugula Pesto (Serves 4)

For the arugula pesto:
1/3 C grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 large handfuls arugula, chopped
1 handful parsley, chopped
1 handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan
1/4 C good olive oil, preferably Spanish
A pinch of salt

Add all ingredients into a food processor. Blend until  well combined, adding a few more drizzles of olive oil as you go to get the right consistency (you want it fairly thick, but more of a puree than a paste).

For the chorizo:
1 lb ground pork
1 large garlic clove, finely diced
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp fennel pollen or crushed fennel seeds
1/2 tsp cayenne
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water

Mix all spices in a small bowl, and stir in water to make a thin paste. Place ground pork in a larger bowl. Add spice paste and diced garlic and use your hands to combine all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight, to allow flavours to come together.

For the smoked potatoes:

Cut potatoes lengthwise into slices roughly half an inch thick. Use one or two potatoes per person – you should be able to get roughly four oval-shaped slices from each potato.

Coat potato slices in olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Lay slices on a barbecue-safe pan that will fit across the middle of your grill.

Set up your grill to smoke over indirect heat. (I have a gas grill, so that’s the type of BBQ I know how to smoke on. If you’ve never smoked on a gas grill, here’s a good how-to video). Once your chips have started to smoke, place your pan of potato slices on your middle grate. Close the lid and let the potatoes cook at about 250 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes. Resist the temptation to lift the lid during the cooking process, since doing so releases smoke needed to flavour the potatoes. Do check the potatoes at the 30-minute mark to see if they’re cooked through. If not, let them cook another five or 10 minutes until they’re finished – the slices should have a nice brown crust on the outside without being burnt, and the inside should be cooked but still fairly firm. Remove potatoes from the BBQ.

While potatoes are smoking, brown the chorizo in a pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 C of red wine. Lower heat and let chorizo simmer for 10 minutes or so, until some of the wine has been absorbed.

To assemble, place one smoked potato slice on a plate. Spread a spoonful of pesto across the slice, and top with a spoonful of chorizo. Top with another potato, spread with another spoonful of pesto, then add another spoonful of chorizo. Top with another smoked potato slice, and sprinkle a pinch of smoked paprika over top to garnish.

Serve as an appetizer, or enjoy as a main with salad and grilled vegetables.

Smoked potato tower with chorizo and arugula pesto

Supporting Summer’s Bounty, and Those Who Grow It

10 Jul

pork chops summer dinner

It’s certainly taken a while to settle in, but we can finally say for certain that summer is here to stay for a while. Sunny skies and hot temperatures are an almost daily fact of life, and summer hours have kicked in for both Jenny and I at work, which means we (sometimes) get to leave the office early on Fridays to enjoy the season.

But the main reason I know summer is in full bloom is that farmer’s markets are teeming with amazing, fresh produce. I’ve written several times about the fact that one of the things I love most about living in southern Ontario is that we’re only an hour or so away from countless farms that produce a mind-blowing selection of fruits, vegetables, fresh meats and dairy. And in Toronto, we take advantage of this by hosting farmer’s markets in all corners of the city. One of our favorites is the Evergreen Brickworks Farmer’s Market, an oasis of farm freshness set in a lush landscape right in the middle of the city. Walking around farmer’s markets like this on a Saturday morning, looking at and smelling produce often picked just that morning and interacting with the people that actually grew what you’re considering buying really makes you appreciate the fertile land we’re surrounded by and the people who work it.

(As a bit of an aside, some of that land is currently being threatened in southern Ontario. A U.S. company called Highland Companies is currently planning to develop a quarry on farmland in Melancthon, Ont., home of some of the best soil in Canada. If the project is allowed to proceed, a key source of both food and water for residents of Ontario and Canada will be lost. Read more about the project here, and then sign this petition to voice your opposition to the Melancthon quarry.)

On a recent visit, I picked up some garlic scapes, oyster mushrooms and a spicy salad mix, which factored into a simple, flavourful summer meal of grilled pork chops (picked up from The Friendly Butcher on the Danforth) and a salad of sautéed mushrooms and garlic scapes. Here’s how I did it:

Grilled Pork Chops with Balsamic Cherries and Oyster Mushroom Salad

For the pork chops:

I rubbed the pork chops with some rub that Chef Roger Mooking was handing out to patrons at the recent Toronto Taste event; I’m not sure what was in the rub, but it smelled amazing and tasted great on the chops.

pork chops rub

I like grilling pork chops similar to steak, so that they’re cooked just past medium and retain just a little pink in the middle and are juicy. To do this, cook the chops on a BBQ over high heat. Place the chops on the grill and cook with the lid closed for about two minutes. Then turn the chops 45 degrees and cook for another two or three minutes. Then, flip the chops over and cook with the lid closed again for two minutes. Rotate 45 degrees again and cook for another couple of minutes. Remove the chops from the grill and let rest for five to 10 minutes.

For the salad:

Chop oyster mushrooms and garlic scapes into smallish pieces. Throw into a pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper over medium-high heat, sautéing for several minutes until everything starts to soften. Add a couple splashes of balsamic vinegar about half way through cooking. Plate mushrooms and scapes on salad mix and top with a generous splash of good olive oil.

oyster mushrooms and garlic scapes

For the balsamic cherries:

Jenny had picked up a jar of Composta di Amarene all’Aceto Balsamico (sour cherry compote with balsamic) from Eataly in New York City recently. It’s a jarred condiment imported from Italy that’s basically whole cherries preserved in balsamic vinegar. I threw a couple of spoonfuls in a heated pan with some more balsamic vinegar and chilli flakes, and let it simmer away for several minutes until it began to get jam-like and the vinegar reduced. Then I simply spooned this over the pork chops.

If you don’t have preserved cherries from Italy, I’m sure you could easily create a similar condiment with some pitted cherries cooked down in a pan with some balsamic and chilli flakes.

Enjoy summer!

pork chops plate

Summer School In Session at the Drake Hotel

24 Jun

Drake Hotel Hot Dog

Jenny and I make no secret of the fact we love Toronto’s Drake Hotel. It’s a great place to see a band, or meet friends for a couple of drinks, or go for a great brunch (I could eat their southern-fried chicken and waffles every day if not for the fact it would probably eventually stop my heart), or for dinner. Aside from the talented staff behind the bar and in the kitchen, the Drake has a vibe that just makes it a special place.

We’ve always loved the look and feel of their dining room. So it came as a surprise a couple months ago when they announced they were going to rip out the current dining room and start from scratch. The trigger for this drastic change was the Drake Hotel’s Dining Road Show, a series of here-and-then-gone concepts that are scheduled to be introduced throughout the rest of 2011.

I was lucky to get an invite to a preview dinner this week, where the Drake unveiled its first stop on the Dining Road Show: Summer School Dining Hall. The concept, which in true summer school fashion will run from now until September, saw the dining room completely transformed. Tables are made from old bowling alley lanes, walls are lined with old bookshelves, school photos, trophies and other academia memorabilia. I was too busy focusing on the food (and having camera issues), so I didn’t get any good interior shots, but check out this review for a look at the new digs.

Both the food and drink menus have been revamped as well. Chef Anthony Rose designed the new food offerings to remind diners of some of the food they may have eaten in the school cafeteria, but he’s presenting the dishes in the “grown-up comfort food” style he’s mastered over the years. We were served a rather shocking amount of food (I’ve actually left photos of a few dishes we tasted out of this post), and there were some definite must-order items: the rather-phallic-yet-delicious veal footlong dog pictured above; a lobster roll full of big chunks of lobster meat and substantial enough to share between two or more people; meaty dungeness crab cakes that are big on flavour and low on filler; and an insanely good 32-oz cowboy steak from Cumbrae’s that’s meant for two but easily able to feed at least double that.

Drake Hotel Lobster Roll
Chef Anthony Rose’s 1 lb. lobster roll. Awesome, if maybe a bit heavy on the mayo.
Drake Hotel Crab Cakes
Drake’s crab cakes, full of dungeness crab meat. Yum.
Drake Hotel Cowboy Steak
One piece of the massive 32-oz Cumbrae’s cowboy steak being served at the Drake Hotel’s Summer School Dining Hall. Check out that line of delicious, delicious fat. To paraphrase one famous cowboy, I wish I knew how to quit you, awesome steak.

The Drake’s talented mixology team has introduced a number of new drinks to fit the Summer School theme, from spiked juice boxes to something called The Nurse’s Office, a combination of Famous Grouse, Laphroaig and ginger honey syrup that blew my socks off and made me reconsider my “good scotch doesn’t belong in a cocktail” pretense.

Nurse's Office
This is one Nurse’s Office I’d like to visit on a regular basis.

Once September hits and the kids go back to real school, the Drake’s grown-up summer school session ends and the Dining Road Show’s next stop – Chinatown, 1940s L.A. style – moves in. Until then, check out the great grub being served in their Summer School Dining Hall. 

Tomato Alphabet soup
Tomato alphabet soup. No amount of letters could fix my hatred of tomato soup as a kid, but this one (served tableside out of an old-school thermos) may have changed my mind.

 

Drake Hotel Flaky
Nothing beats a real Vachon Passion Flaky, but chef Rose’s take is a good way to end a meal in the Summer School Dining Hall.

Baked Zucchini Blossoms

27 Jul

Baked Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini blossoms (a.k.a. zucchini flowers) are things of beauty – small, fragile, and in Toronto only available for a brief window of time around July/August. While I’ve enjoyed them in many restaurants over the years, I’ve never attempted to buy and prepare them at home. But our recent trip to Italy – where the growing season is longer, the blossoms are sold in markets everywhere you turn, and they’re as prevalent on most restaurant menus as pasta – allowed us to go zucchini blossom crazy. So when we had the chance to buy a bunch last week, we didn’t hesitate to do so.

The most common preparation for zucchini blossoms is to cover in a light batter and fry them. This is also my favorite way to eat them. But for my first foray into cooking zucchini blossoms, I decided I didn’t want to get into the mess and extra calories associated with frying them. Instead, inspired by Jenny’s sister’s recent success with preparing baked kale chips, I decided a quick trip to the oven was in store for these babies.

After preheating the oven to 400 C, I tossed my cleaned zucchini blossoms in a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Then I laid them out on a non-stick baking sheet and popped them in the oven for 15 minutes or so. They came out lightly crisped and lightly salted (though I did end up adding another grind of salt to the finished product). Easy and delicious.

While I’ll probably attempt to make battered and fried zucchini blossoms before the season is over – perhaps stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy, as we had them in Rome – it’s nice to know that I can bake them in a pinch and they still taste great.

Last-Minute Meal: Salmon Burgers with ‘Faux Tartar Sauce’ & Romaine and Dill Salad

7 Jul

You know those nights when you’re pressed for time, your fridge is basically empty and the thought of cooking makes you want to cry? Tonight was one of those nights at our house. They seem to be plentiful lately.

But it’s quite the coup when you figure out how to overcome those shortcomings and still end up with something healthy and delicious. Hence this post! I wanted to share a little last-minute meal that was a combination of convenience and inspired innovation.

It all started when we remembered that we had a package of salmon burgers in the freezer. We usually don’t like to buy packaged burgers and prefer making our own, but who’s kidding who? That’s just not possible sometimes so it’s always nice to have some backup ready to go in the freezer. I bought PC brand Blue Menu ‘Wild Pacific Pink Salmon Burgers’ a while ago and was a bit skeptical about how they would turn out. I feared they would taste scarily reminiscent of cat food or at least like canned salmon (I know, why did I buy them in the first place?!), but I’m happy to report that they were surprisingly delicious and full of real chunks of salmon that tasted great. I highly recommend them and will definitely buy them again.

We needed a quick salad to go with the burgers and I decided to try my own version of a fantastic salad we recently had at an amazing new Greek takeout restaurant in the east end called Folia Grill.

Their food is so fresh and clean tasting – which to me is very impressive for a fast food Greek place. Nothing leaves you feeling greasy or heavy, the ingredients are fresh and you can tell it’s all been cooked and devised with a lot of thought and care. The owners bring in a special olive oil from Greece that you can really appreciate in their salads and on their grilled peppers. Honorable mention to the chicken gyro (the first I have ever eaten that hasn’t made me feel sick by the last bite; it’s non-greasy and full of smoky paprika flavor) and the pork souvlaki, which Neil absolutely adored.

But the pièce de resistance was Folia’s Romaine and Dill salad. So fresh and delicious, I had to try to make it at home. I’ll admit, mine wasn’t nearly as good as theirs – I don’t have the dressing quite right yet, but just the idea of this simple salad is so wonderful and such a great melding of flavors.

And then I needed a little sauce to go along with the burgers so I came up with my own healthier version of tartar sauce, completely inspired by what we had in our fridge. It came out pretty good, I have to say!

All of that paired with some grilled peppers and eggplant that I cut and tossed in olive oil and balsamic in about 5 minutes and then BBQ’d, and we ended up with a killer last-minute meal.

The whole thing took about 20 minutes to prepare and cook, leaving me with ample time to enjoy my prized backyard hammock, pictured below.

The hammock was my 30th birthday present last summer from my amazing husband, and it is pure bliss. My ‘happy place’, as I call it. There’s nothing like coming home after a stress-infused day (every day!) and surrendering yourself into the comforting embrace of a hammock.

If anyone out there is actually reading these blog posts (hello? Are you out there?), feel free to chime in and share your favorite last-minute meals or even an anecdote about your ‘happy place’ that keeps you sane and helps the stress of the day melt away…

In the meantime, some quickie recipes from tonight’s meal:

Dill and Romaine Salad:

Make sure you buy some really green and crisp romaine leaves, and cut them into thin strips. I rolled the leaves up like I usually do with basil and cut strips from there.

Chop up a ton of fresh dill (no measurements – it’s a quickie dinner!) and add it right into a bowl with the strips of romaine.

Drizzle with a good strong olive oil, some white wine vinegar, coarse sea salt and I drizzled on a bit of honey for sweetness. Mix and enjoy!

(side note: I rarely make a vinaigrette in its own bowl anymore… who has the time? I always drizzle my ingredients right onto the lettuce leaves and usually toss by hand. Yes, sometimes the proportions don’t work out perfectly, but sometimes good enough is good enough…)

Faux Tartar Sauce for burgers:

Mix in a bowl: low-fat sour cream, hot white horseradish, lemon juice, a bit of dijon mustard and 1 chopped dill pickle. Again, no proportions, just go with it!

This meal was enjoyed outdoors with a view of my aforementioned ‘happy place’…

%d bloggers like this: