Tuesday, December 21, 2010

have a very merry and delicious holiday!

'tis the season to eat drink and be merry! we wish all our clients, friends and family a most delicious time of year...thank you for sharing your enthusiasm and inspiration with us; its been a fabulous year of food, cooking and collaboration.

we're winding down on the last few events of the season - i love the energy in the studio this time of year, spirits are high, people are festive and there is an outpouring of kindness and generosity to be shared....yes, its a crazy time of year for us in the food industry, but we are all well adjusted to it by now and bring a good dose of humour to the kitchen to help offset the frenzy!

we just completed another successful round of holiday baking classes with chef candice - this year the palmiers, drunken fruit cookies and coconut chocolate fingers were a big hit! be sure to watch for our newsletter this week if you missed the workshop as the palmiers recipe is included.

no matter what is on your agenda this weekend, we hope it is merry and bright...

see you in 2011!

carley & the urban element team

Friday, November 12, 2010

mix and match

sometimes its nice to mix things up a bit.

so we did.

this week we ran the first of a new series of exciting dinners featuring two talented ottawa chefs. chef steve mitton of murray street and chef charlotte langley of whalesbone (who, might i add, are both off to work their magic at gold medal plates next week) joined us for a night of mixing, matching and well, quite frankly, a bit more collaboration than competition!

the premise of these events are that the chef's duel it out on the plates - each interpreting their version of one common ingredient per course. our sommelier team groovy grapes then finds two interesting and out of the box wines to pair with each dish.

this particular challenge featured four starring ingredients: beets, arctic char, pork, and pumpkin. chef mitton and chef langley came up with a theme they called "in and out" - each using the featured ingredient from either its "inside" or its outer layer.

here were the results....

plating roasted beets, soft chevre, Ontario-sourced walnuts and local honey

heads and tails.... local arctic char from thistle springs

plating the main course - smoked confit shoulder of pork, mustard spaetzle, trotter broth....

the final plate... on the side: pork liver pate with calvados and peach preserves garnished with home-baked crackers (speckled with pork fat)

pumpkin "pie" with graham cracker crust and fresh marshmallow topped with brown butter pumpkin seed brittle

thanks steve & charlotte!

(watch for two more mix and match dinners to appear on our 2011 calendar)

“in and out”

Pickled beets/ walnuts vs.

Roast beets/ walnut shells/chevre


Marlborough, New Zealand

CLOS DU BOIS ROSÉ 2008, California,

United States

Arctic Char Roe vs. Whole Arctic Char


Congeliano, Italy


South Africa

Pork Liver Pate/ Calvados/ peach preserves vs.

Smoked confit shoulder/ mustard spaetzle/ trotter broth


Mosel, Germany


Rioja, Spain

Brown butter Pumpkin seed brittle vs.

Pumpkin pie/ graham/ marshmallow


Piedmont, Italy


Jerez, Spain

Monday, November 1, 2010

missing in action.....

you may have been asking, "where have we been"? well.... lets just say that we have noticed that summer quickly faded into fall... and now as we see the flurries begin, we realize just how fast time flies when you are having fun! being super busy also made us fall behind on capturing these past few weeks of activity and we're sorry we've been missing in action..... actually, at this very time it is the calm before the storm as we are just on the cusp of holiday festivities starting in about 2 weeks!

so, what have we been up to?

well, lets see...


shortly after our tomato tasting with matthew brearly (ahem, our last post) it was labour day long weekend and i was off to niagara on the lake to visit some family and tour some wineries. its a glorious time of year to be amongst the vines and breath-taking scenery in southern ontario. some highlight wineries included organized crime and thirteenth street winery (where the cuvee 13 rose is a definite must purchase!).

the good earth cooking school is a very good place to visit indeed. nicolette novak, owner and consummate hostess, has been friend and a mentor of mine for years. she opened both an indoor and al fresco cooking school in 1998 and has never looked back since. recent addition to the property is the 'good wine' aspect - which it certainly is! we sipped on some delightful riesling, chardonnay and my personal favourite, rose, over a little nosh of charcuterie and cheese. it was a bit too chilly to dine on their new covered patio but the warmth and charm of the dining area gave splendid views to the vineyards and offered the perfect place to relax. the school is located on a working fruit farm and so after lunch we wandered through pear and peach orchards and were invited to sample some of the goods - i can still taste those sweet, succulent peaches....you can't get any fresher than this.

i got a little help from my nephew for this shot - now, isn't this perfection?

before we knew it, it was october.

october for urban element meant beau's oktoberfest in vankleek hill. boy, does this family know how to put on a festival or what! a fantastic weekend revolving around the delicious locally brewed beau's beer - you can feel good about buying a ticket as it all helps raise funds for an array of local charities. we were thrilled to take part in this year's two-day festival and together with 18 other ottawa and area restuaranteurs were there to dish up beer friendly foods to all attendees. on our menu was yummy pulled pork sammies topped with hall's apple and red cabbage slaw. i have to say, the combination of the music, the beer, the food and the amazing hosts kept smiles on our faces all weekend long. thanks beau's for a great event -until next year!

and we ended october with a truly intriguing class. rene rodriguez of navarra rolled out a special series he has coined "the secrets series". limited to 16 guests, this is your chance to get up close and personal with chef rodriguez and ask all your burning questions about food and the culinary world. for this first class, we were an intimate group of 12 and we started in the kitchen (bubbly in hand), reviewing a decadent yet rustic menu of butternut squash soup with braised octopus, papardalle with lamb ragu, and deliciously rich caramel bread pudding. half of the group started in the kitchen with sous chef brian, cooking and assembling the first course while the other group got to "grill" rene at the communal dining table with all their burning food (and non-food related) questions. after enjoying the first course, the group switched places. by the end of the night, guests reconvened around the kitchen counter, bellies full, swapping stories and sipping dessert wine. the premise is of this series is that in a short period of time you get access to a wide variety of culinary topics - that the questions and answers will be compiled (over 65 in all) and shared with all attendees though an email after the course. its a great way to rub shoulders with a professional over the course of three hours and learn something you maybe were curious about but too shy to ask.... come and share some secrets with us next time.

next class is scheduled for monday november 22nd.

hope to see you soon - and i promise -sooner than later on the blog!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Castlegarth Heirloom Tomato Tasting

It's been awhile, hasn't it?

It simply got busy here. Weddings. Summer shing-dings. Kids camps. Classes.

I promise to keep you all updated from now on. Promise.

We spent a beautiful evening in the company of Chef Matthew Brearley of Castlegarth restaurant. I have to admit that one of the perks of working here is meeting some extraordinary people, getting to see all the behind the scenes, the preparation and the satisfaction of watching an evening unfold. The misshaps. The surprises. The oh-so-perfect moments and the very memorable ones.

The tomato tasting fell into the last category. The colors. The taste. The beauty.

Chef Brearley took the time to present each course, talk about the specific variety of tomato and guided the tasting. Melon. Earth. Berry. Red wine. Pepper.

All these beauties (more than 80 varietals now!) are grown on a farm land next to the restaurant. From seed. Vulnerable to our weather, sometimes imperfect, sometimes overflowing and gorgeous. Feeling the weight of them in your hands, seeing how the flesh is perfect, not grainy, and so full of flavor.

Chef Brearley admitted to not loving tomatoes as he was younger - he simplyhad not yet tasted good ones. John Taylor was apparently the one that made him change his views on the fruit some years ago...

Delicious cod cheeks floating in a golden tomato dream.

Peach & scallop carpaccio, tomatoes and local hemp oil.

THE tomato tasting plate. Matthew stayed with our guests until they all finished their plates, asking what they thought they were tasting, talking about how they grow, knowing each of them by name.

I missed the last two courses in pictures... but we had wonderful homemade sausage as well as melting pork belly. And dessert? Cannoli with tiny bit of tomato in a creamy luscious disguise.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Our First Crew

It is week one of kids camp.

Jenna is all smiles.

Our first bunch is full of keeners. They butchered a whole box of chicken, different parts for differents meals - they now fully know how to do this at home properly. Can most of you say this with assurance?

Today, they were all making pasta for tomorrow's lunch. Get those arm muscles out!

28 recipes down (at least). 41 to go (or more!).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

a match made in heaven

when fine food marries fine wine, how can it get any better?

well, that is exactly what happened here last week when urban element played host to the always popular cave spring wine dinner series. this year, we were lucky to convince Executive Chef Kevin Maniaci of the Inn on the Twenty, home restaurant to Cave Spring Cellars, to join along in the fun and help re-create the passion behind their farm-to-table dining experiences.

allow me to walk you through a few of the exquisite dishes....
chef kevin maniaci places fiddleheads, morels and creamy C'est bon chevre in the shallow bowls, ready to be filled with creamy asparagus soup... how much more "spring" can you get?

Frankie Phelan asparagus soup; fresh fiddleheads, morel mushroom and C'est Bon chevre
Paired with 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Estate

yum! fish and chips!

Cave Spring Brut-battered yellow perch, potato terrine, coleslaw and green goddess sauce
Paired with 2007 Chardonnay Estate

Ontario lamb duo: roast sirloin with sweet pea tendrils and oven cured kumato and 'shepherd’s pie' of braised shank, wild leek and parsnip with porcini gravy
Paired with 2007 Pinot Noir Dolomite

communal dining at its best...the group is captivated by winery principle, Tom Pennachetti

with an early strawberry season upon us, the answer for dessert is simple.....
Whitty Farm strawberry trio: parfait, sorbet and soufflé, paired with 2007 Riesling Indian Summer - absolutely delightful

if you have not visited the Inn, you must! plan a trip this summer, see the vineyards, taste the wines, dine in style. Cave Spring wine and food is simply stated, a match made in heaven.

(stay tuned for the next installation and our take on unique culinary road trips - niagara is our next destination!)


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

sheep as lawnmowers

Did you know that this is the latest fad in Italy and France? I just heard this on the radio.

This type of sheep is not ideal for meat, and apparently are very picky eaters. They love grass, they don't hop into your garden... A company in Lyon now "rents" them to mow your lawn. It has been such a success that their 220 sheep are fully booked until the end of August. Italy now has over 700 registered sheep-mowers. If you are a bit concerned about them getting adventurous and gastronome, you can also "rent" a shepherd.

I would *maybe* trade in my Gardena push mower for a little woolly friend...


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

prince edward county adventures

i love roadtrips and weekend getaways.

as a young child i think i was bribed into road trips by my parents with the lure that we would stop somewhere fun for lunch (yes, i was predisposed for this industry)

i look forward to-recapping a few of my most favourite food getaways over the last few months. first on the list: prince edward county - a wine haven in ottawa's backyard - and its no longer a well-kept secret!

put these places on your must visit list if you find yourself in "the county" this summer....

fifth town artisan cheese - if you have time, arrange a tour in advance and plan to spend a couple hours onsite canada's only LEED certified dairy. the cheese caves are just amazing. prepare for a sensory overload. (the dairy is now serving ottawa's own pascale's ice cream, too! we devoured her honey lavender combo made with fifth town goat milk).

the wine route offers endless possibilities for long leisurely drives through the county down winding country roads which open up a sea of blue to the bay of quinte. on our way back to picton, we drove through the region waupoos. i've been told that the county cider company (which specializes in hard ciders made from fermented apples) offers one of the most spectacular views from their farm and tasting site. indeed, on this clear and sunny day, we could see for miles!

the shop offers tutored tastings of all apple ciders including their award winning prince edward county ice cider (my chosen summer sipper is the peach cider - pressed with ontario niagara peaches, yum!) and a sunny outdoor patio offers a great spot to linger with friends over lunch.

we were delighted to come across some new wineries this year - hinterland wines (horray for sparkling rose!), and the old third winery, strictly concentrating on pinot noir. it just so happened that the day we visited, it was their first day open to the public and recently had a favorable review from respected wine journalist and educator, david lawrason. bruno and jens were gracious hosts and let us into their cellar for a few sneak peaks (and tastes!) of future vintages. as pinot noir fans, and from what we tasted, we'll definitely be watching the old third evolve... (here is bruno below, extracting a sampling from their next vintage of pinot)

and finally, after much anticipation, we finally made it to norm hardie winery during this trip. norm truly has to be producing some of the best chardonnay and pinot noir in this region. as gracious and hospitable as always, norm walked us around his grounds, excitedly sharing his future vision for a fully integrated and sustainable farm (think heirloom vegetable gardens that provide product for wood-fire pizzas - soon to come - and pigs that will one day provide proscuitto, amongst other efforts). in addition to sampling his spectacular chardonnay and pinot noir, norm uncorked some of his 2009 Melon de Bourgogne for tasting. this wine delivers lime and citrus notes with loads of minerality - a perfect summer wine served as an apéritif or with light summer fare. on this hot day, it definitely hit the spot!

this is simply a taste of what prince edward county offers, but they are some of our highlights from a recent spring road trip. feel free to email me if you wish for suggestions on where to stay and eat if you end up taking a roadtrip to the county of your own this summer - i sure hope you do!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Beef Fundamentals

Beef, beef, beef.
I think we pretty much did it all. Beef overload.

Shortribs two ways, tartare, tenderloin, striploin, tongue, liver, oxtail, bones for stock, kabobs, skewers, brisket, prime rib, hanger steak, bones for stock, tasting marrow, stews, shin beef... the list goes on.

Kyle from Aubrey's and Piggy Market really charmed us all and will be back for other classes. Here he is with Candice showing off the beautiful roast.

Lovely tartare.

Yorkshire puddings!!!

The roast, cooked to perfection.
A surprise for the evening, tongue!

...and last but not least, asparagus. We need at least one veggie portion right?


Friday, May 14, 2010

Sustainable Seafood

Whalesbone Oyster House definitely has changed the fish and seafood scene in Ottawa. Before their arrival, it was possible to make a smart and sustainable choice, but you had to ask a bit more questions to your fishmonger (given that there was one and that you were not speaking to a frozen package...)

Whalesbone has taken all the guess work out of the equation. All sustainable, all the time.

Chef Jenna Durling came over last Tuesday. The catch of the day? Many.

To start, fresh oysters. East Coast please.

Pacific cod for fish tacos.

4 lovely mackerel to be maple smoked.
Arctic char gets a crispy coating to eat with a Celery Root Remoulade.
Tuna melts anyone?

How else would you eat your lobster than butter poached?

Clams and mussels for a bouillabaisse.

And we had more. Halibut. Striped bass. Scallops.

Learning about many spices...

...and reconnecting, finally, with spring vegetables.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life Without Plastic

Last evening was a wonderful class about portable summer meals. I don't know about you, but picnics are a must for me in summer!

Chef Tanya Skeates from Soupcon restaurant in Wakefield gave tricks and tips on creating lovely lunches to go with Thai and Vietnamese flair. One thing I noticed as soon as she stepped in the Kitchen Studio was a little lunchbox - stainless steel, stackable, easy to wash... I have to get my hands on some!!!

You can purchase these lovelies at Life Without Plastic.

If you cannot drive up to Wakefield to buy some, you can always order online, yay!


Monday, April 19, 2010

Taste For Life

What are you doing next Wednesday? Maybe you should eat out!!

April 28th is Taste for Life.
Selected restaurants donate 25% of the bill to support the HIV/AIDS organization in your community - well worth eating out with friends! What a great opportunity to try out new restaurants...

We had the great pleasure of hosting the media launch yesterday, look at these beautiful bites from participating venues:

Lovely vegan bites from Zen Kitchen, the first being a crispy lotus root chip with sauteed mushroom, carrot and pineapple glaze (Opening picture for this blog post) and a very precious edamame bite, so pretty!

Lapointe obviously showcased what they do best, fish! A gigantic piece of tuna was coated in sesame seeds and served with a spicy mayo and roe.

And last but not least, delicious fluffy marsmallows. These had me dreaming. Go to Thyme and Again and buy some, buy a ton, they are perfect little host gifts. Or a caring thought to brighten up a day!


Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Mediterranean Diet

Like a little mouse, I stayed hidden behind the class and listened to what Chef Larissa Beznaczuk-Smyrnew had to say about the powers of the mediterranean diet.

She started by declaring her love of wine and cheese, but... all in moderation. This is one of the secrets behind the Mediterranean Diet. Not holding back from all that seems forbidden, but rather eating small portions of it.

Slowly, we should all shift our mindsets to the Europeen way of eating, smaller portions, quality ingredients in their most natural form. Raw vegetables and fruit more often. Natural fats. Incorporating more nuts and grains into our meals.

By now, we should all know to stay away from processed foods and be aware of what processed foods are! Some say that all your food items your grandparents and great grandparents should be able to identify, so they should be wholesome, in their most basic form.

This class has been such a success that we will run a 4th quite soon, we'll keep you posted!

...wishing you all a food-filled weekend!