Tuesday, July 3, 2012

summer road trip

summer arrives and wine country beckons me. each year oliver and i try to make a pilgrimage down to either niagara on the lake, or even closer, prince edward county. this time the latter won our hearts. spring and summer in the county is magical and this particular weekend did not let us down. honestly, i can't remember a weekend that has not given us glorious weather and that's just the icing on the cake when you are touring around such magnificent landscape.

so, the twist on this year's jaunt is now we have a toddler in tow. planning travel around naps, meals and bedtimes takes on a different approach but i was determined to enjoy as much of the county as we could!

truly, it's so easy to get to i wonder why we don't spend more time here. on the drive in we swung by our favorite take-out food shop, pan chancho, in kingston. picking up a few delicacies we pulled a blanket from the car and dined al fresco in a park not too far down the road. spontaneous summertime picnics are always welcome in our family!

what a breath of fresh air to find grey stone return - which fit the bill for our family of four - one of which being our furry family member. an addition to the century farmhouse, the suite has a separate entrance and boasts enough room for all so we don't go twitchy. ok - back to the food - we arrived to fresh banana muffins, farm fresh eggs, bakery bread, yogurt, fruit, the neighbour's freshly preserved strawberry jam and the owner's homemade granola. we were set.

(above: table for three at norm hardie winery)

the weekend took a slower approach than what we'd usually try to accomplish in 48 hours in the county (which would typically consist of whirlwind winery tours and extravagant food fests) - this year we had to pick and choose where we wanted to spend our time since we were sharing it with our young son. top of our list was norm hardie winery - he has built a beautiful patio complete with an impressive wood-burning oven. delicious pizza, freshly cropped greens, and wine - all with a beautiful vista in view. a little slice of heaven. we wanted to linger longer but the beach was calling... a short jaunt up the road and this is what we arrived to:

(above: does this say summer or what?)

dinner was take-out burgers and lamb kebabs at tall poppy cafe in the village of wellington - a return visit will next bring us to dine at east and main or at the newly opened pomodoro (same owners).

the next day it was all about the trek for peach cider at the county cider co (waupoos) and lunch overlooking a bay. en route was a stop at the black river cheese company for some aged cheddar, and their new artisan cheese edwardsburg. just minutes down the road from the cheese company turn left and venture to vicki's veggies - an endearingly adorable self-serve organic veggie "hut" - absolutely a must! i managed to nab the last bag of sugar snap peas - it was a sweet succulent bag of "candy" for the drive home.

(above: how adorable is this self-serve veggie shed?)

i think, however, most memorable for me this time was the driving and the time spent exploring. we went from north to south, east to west, up rolling hills, down into quaint hamlets, discovering rural roads, breezy county roads - with blue skies from end to end. names like cherry valley easily persuading me to want to own a slice of this heaven on the island. each charming home has its own special curb appeal. every single property perfectly tended to! it is a very magical place indeed.

so, this season, our trip to the county - where did it rank for us? well, it definitely was short, but definitely sweeter -we found that the county really does have it all - breathtaking scenery, warm inviting beaches, stunning wineries, top notch eats, and warm county hospitality.

see you again prince edward county, we're truly smitten.

Friday, June 22, 2012

guest blogger: larkin & carmichael mix & match

Mother of pearl.

What do you get when Chefs Trish Larkin and Matt Carmichael get together?
A gobsmackingly good meal!

That's right!  I said it ... GOBSMACKING!

It's the second time I've been asked to attend a mix & match event at the urban element - and am I just so thankful to have been a part of it!

I've said it before ... and I'll say it again.

Mother of pearl that was a gobsmackingly good meal!

The main focus for both chefs in creating this meal was seasonal.
They wanted the diners to enjoy what is currently in season, at it's most fresh.  Nothing was gussied up ... everything was simply at it's best.

Spotted Prawns.

Albacore Tuna.




The thing I enjoy the most about the mix & match events is the chance of trying the same ingredient, two different ways.  Once the chefs had decided on their "menu", they went off and created their individual dishes.

Larkin and Carmicheal also decided to shake things up a bit: they added a cooked vs. raw component to the dining experience.

Every course (with the exception of the dessert - rhubarb) was divided up between a cooked plate and a raw plate.  Larkin took the raw plate for the spotted prawns and the asparagus.  Carmichael went raw for his albacore tuna and the beef dishes.

They started us off with spotted prawns.
Larkin presented a crudo with yuzo, avocado, cucumber and a black pepper buttermilk (and a sprinkle of diced chives).  I asked Trish about using the avocado since I assumed that the chefs were aiming for local and seasonal ... but as she explained, avocados are in season (just not regionally), and she really wanted something rich to offset the light freshness of the rest of the dish.  It worked beautifully.

Carmichael knocked my socks off with his fresh pasta and prawn dish.  The "sauce" was made of the spotted prawn broth and some dry white wine (with a *dollop* of butter) and diced tomatoes.  It was ridiculously delicious.  To me ... the fresh pasta and prawn dish was the winner of the night - perfection at every level.
We then moved onto the second course: albacore tuna.
Carmichael presented the raw dish this time round.  A sashimi with olive oil, coriander cress and maldon salt (and radish, not pictured).  It was simple and elegant ... the albacore was light and fresh, and the olive oil just gently dressed it, while the radish added a little crunch to the dish.

Larkin did a take on a deconstructed nicoise salad.  She poached the tuna in a little olive oil, then added black olive *dirt*, butter lettuce, haricot vert, a lightly boiled quail egg, and a crispy potato crisp. 
The asparagus pairing made up the third course.
Larkin was all about simple and fresh when she presented her asparagus salad.  Oh my.  A million sighs of happiness.  The asparagus was shaved and then dressed in lemon, olive oil, shallots and tomme des demoiselles (currently my favourite cheese, and this was my second favourite dish of the evening).    

Carmichael lightly cooked up the asparagus and paired it off with a rich and slightly sweet morel (madeira) sauce.
While everyone tucked into their asparagus dishes, Larkin and Carmichael went to work plating their fourth course, the beef dishes.

Carmichael diced up his striploin and lightly seasoned it with argon oil, red chili and black tomato. 

Larkin's seared striploin made my mouth and tummy happy. I know ... I should probably come up with a better description ... but that's what you get.  This dish made me happy.  Seared striploin, mushrooms, bordelaise and herbed butter.  Paired with the tartar you got the best of both worlds.

After eight plates of raw vs. cooked dishes, it was time to round out the meal ... with rhubarb.

Oh what a lovely and perfect dessert: strawberry - rhubarb cheesecake.

A cheesecake filling was topped by graham cracker crumbs, rhubarb curd, graham cracker crumbs, diced rhubarb, cheesecake filling, fresh strawberries, whipped cream ... and a strawberry on top.

The Larkin vs. Carmicheal mix & match was a pretty spectacular foodie event.  An informal dining experience, paired with outstanding food.

I'm so glad I was able to be part of this urban element experience.

I can't wait until next time!

ps.  I've posted other pictures on my own blog - thetwistedchef.ca ... so be sure to check that out too!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

overheard in the kitchen at march break kids culinary camp: “you guys never update your blog!”

I hate to admit it ... but this social media-savvy kid was correct in his assessment. it seems as though i blinked and last november turned into june!

one of the things us event planners never get around to doing is documenting our events, whether it be photographs or blogging (seems we are always running around putting out fires instead)! but carley and i are determined to change our ways. as summer approaches, we are committing to a new blogging schedule; each week we will endeavor to add - at the very least - a snippet of ue happenings.

and so my catch-up begins!

it’s been a busy first half of the year with classes and private events. we’ve been riding the spring-wedding-wave as of late with three in the last six weeks. it’s been an absolute pleasure to get to know these wonderful couples and their family and friends.

in ‘people-news’, lots to report! urban element assistant chef tara rajan started her wildly-popular series of indian cooking classes in january– everything from vegetarian to regional fare to spice blends. chef kyle macneil is back at ue, sharing his excellent teaching skills and good vibes. covering a wide range of subjects including family dinners, flavour profiles and arabian cooking, kyle’s classes always wow ue clients. ben shewelt, having arrived at our doorstep a few months ago from london, england, has also become an inspiring addition to our team. as i sit in the kitchen writing this, ben is prepping for ‘pass it on’ – a celebratory class saluting jamie oliver’s food revolution day. ben spent five months at jamie’s restaurant Fifteen working under the renowned chef and food activist.

if you’ve found yourself dining at the urban element lately, you may have also noticed a few new (and fabulous) hosts kicking around. joanne joined us earlier in the year – she’s a cook, nutritionist, gardener and all-around-food-lover. hospitality-wiz lynda (former manager at metropolitan and play) has also been pouring wine and charming guests behind the ue bar. all of us feel pretty lucky to welcome these like-minded individuals to our team!

lots of events to talk about as well ...

february 27th was an exciting day at the kitchen. the larger-than-life duo of david mcmillan and frédéric morin, co-owners of montreal's beloved bistro Joe Beef, paired up with shawna wagman from ottawa magazine’s citybites to present an evening of great food and storytelling. some well-known local chefs were on-hand to pay homage to the guys and their art of living according to joe beef cookbook including matthew brearley from castlegarth restaurant and food shop, steve mitton from murray street cafe, marysol foucault of gatineau’s edgar and odile, along with ue’s own candice butler. an unforgettable evening of delicious food and conversation!

the talented chefs of the Whalesbone Catering and Whalesbone Oyster House led an amazing dinner on march 26th. our mix and match series had them lending their unique style to a scrumptious four-course menu of shrimp, scallops, beef short rib and banana ‘goodness’. kate klenavic, chef of catering presented an hors d’oeuvre version while chef chloe berlanga created the plate ‘a la whalesbone restaurant’ style. chloe’s banana cream pie in a mason jar was over-the-top! kate’s short rib spring roll was an unexpected delight. the food was paired with some great ‘dueling’ wines courtesy of sommelier derrick ruston. his informative yet fun presentation was the cherry on top of the evening!

the california wine dinner on may 9th with ‘pooch’ pucilowski and scott adams of Benny’s Bistro was a spectacular wine and food dinner that educated, entertained ... and had guests wanting to lick their plates (actual words heard at the table)! a five-course dinner was paired with mcmanis family vineyards wines (chardonnay, viognier, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon). pooch was a real treat to listen to as well – along with co-sommelier lauren hayes, he presented a very down-to-earth, captivating and engaging presentation.

ted reader blew into town in may and fittingly, seemed to bring a wicked but fleeting spring storm with him (we almost didn’t get the bbq’s lit)! the weather however, didn’t dampen any moods. ted was in fine form in the kitchen sharing recipes from his newest book, along with his no-holds-barred philosophies of cooking and life. the menu was all about meat and beer. the big wheel buttered smoked brisket, served with fresh tomatoes and a charred birds-eye chilli sauce (the most sought-after condiment of the evening!) was my favourite. the amuse was a tasty surprise ... pork tartar. it was made from local tenderloin, and served in a tasting spoon atop a chunk of cheddar smokey. six different beers were available for sampling and each guest received a copy of beerlicious – the art of grillin’ & chillin’, which ted graciously signed at the end of the evening. we are already looking forward to next year’s ‘ted-event’!

enough reminiscing about the past ... let’s talk about what’s coming up!
this week (june 11th), mix and match is back with chef trish larkin (Black Cat) and chef matt carmichael (formerly Side Door and Ei8hteen). these two will present a ‘raw versus cooked’ menu, and derrick ruston will be back with some unique wines and wine-chat.

in celebration of ontario craft beer week (june 17th to the 23rd), ue presents beau’s beer dinner on monday, june 18th. six of beau's craft beers will be paired with an equally awesome menu. brewery co-founder steve beauchesne will be on hand to answer your most sought after beer questions.

the cave springs wine dinner scheduled in july promises to be a memorable event – sommelier tom pennachetti and lauren hayes will pair wines with frank romano’s (executive chef of Jordon Village’s Inn on the Twenty) sure-to-be-exquisite menu.

we are bringing back our grilling classes again this year, including a ceramic grill class with michael shannon, the ‘grateful griller’. and the pitter-patter of little chef-feet will once again be heard this summer as we host our much-loved culinary camps for kids.

these are just a few of the upcoming urban element events we're looking forward to.

i’d go on ... but i better save something for carley to write about!

happy start-of-summer!