Posts Tagged ‘Cowbell’

Not Too Late To The Party

Leaves Of Plenty

Though it’s not yet May, this year I’ve often worried that I might have missed the window for Ontario ramps and wild fiddleheads.

With a warmer than normal March and April, these edible delicacies have been popping up much earlier than usual, which leaves me without farmer’s markets to buy them from, since all of the markets in my area don’t start up until mid May or June.  Last year we found them at The Cheese Boutique several times, but given my tendency to grossly overspend every time I cross their threshold, I wasn’t keen on the idea of heading over there just to get a couple pounds of ramps.

But then, on the way home from the Green Living Show yesterday, the serendipitous happened.

As I was walking along Dundas West, huddled against the wind and the rain, I noticed a lone sandwich board announcing a grand opening.  It turns out that Provenance Regional Cuisine has rented out some space in the existing Palmerston Cafe and is now a mini pop-up style grocery store.  I walked in to investigate, but since the Everyman and I were about to hurry off to a Cowbell brunch, I only made the most cursory glance of the products on offer.  Promising the counter staff that I would return, several hours later the Everyman and I did.

And what a bounty we found.  Not only is the place gorgeously curated, but it finally offers a place to buy local, sustainable meat that’s only a 3 minute walk from our house, as opposed to the 20 minute jaunt it takes me to get to The Healthy Butcher.  After a few minutes I managed to procure a bundle of ramps, as well as some homemade crostini, dried cranberry beans, sweet potato flour and more.  With the ramps firmly in hand, all that was left was to devise how to use them. (more…)

The Butcher, The Baker (The Candlestick Maker?)


Last month before my birthday, the Everyman admitted that he was at a loss for gift ideas for me.

Since I’m the type of person who will generally buy anything I need for myself as I happen to need it, at first I couldn’t think of anything to tell him.  Aside from that, I hate suggesting to people what to give me, because a) it ruins any semblance of surprise and b) if you want to buy me a present, you should know me well enough to pick something out on your own, otherwise you shouldn’t be giving me a present in the first place.

But, as the date continued to approach he didn’t seem any closer to coming up with an appropriate gift, so I threw out a couple of thoughts, one of which was to attend a butchery session at Cowbell.  I did want to go, but I wasn’t really expecting him to take me up on it because it would mean there wouldn’t be anything for me to open (which is what I find most fun about presents to begin with), but shockingly, he did.  He even opted to leave the gift open ended, so I could choose the butchery session that most appealed to me because they offer classes in just about every kind of animal the restaurant uses on a rotating basis.

For those who aren’t in the know, Cowbell is one of Toronto’s premiere local food bistros, who not only preach nose to tail, but practice it as well by buying whole animals and employing an in-house butcher to break them down in the restaurant’s basement.  Since they bring in a whole animal nearly every week, approximately once a month they offer a class where you can follow along as butcher Ryan does his thing.  There was a class being held on my birthday to break down a red deer (one I would have loved to attend) but we didn’t find out until it was too late (while we were there the day of for my birthday brunch).  Several weeks later we visited with the Everyman’s brother and wife for dinner, and when we enquired we were told that the next session was going to be a Tamworth pig.  It sounded interesting (and we love pork), so the Everyman signed the 2 of us up.

Fast forward to this past Sunday, when we (and the other participants) assembled in the dining room at 7:30, while the restaurant was offering Sunday roast dinner.  After being introduced to Ryan, we were led on a tour of the restaurant, making a quick stop at the kitchen to meet that nights’ staff, though unfortunately chef Mark was not in attendance.  After the brief hello, we descended to the basement to get started.


One Upping Rusty And Jerome…

The R&J

As I’ve surely mentioned here many times before, I’m a huge fan of breakfast.

Unfortunately, the Everyman is not, and mostly prefers to eat his first meal of the day around noon-ish on the weekend, which typically leaves us at a frustratingly inedible impasse.  Due to our differing opinions on the matter we don’t go out for brunch all that often, either.  Our first few visits to The Hoof Cafe when it opened were a noticeable exception, but that was mainly because the Everyman trusts Grant and also knew he could get un-breakfasty items if it came down to it (and it often does).  After we went to Cowbell brunch for my birthday, the Everyman was visibly smitten with the Rusty and Jerome I ‘d ordered (pictured above in its combo plate of apple pear compote-topped waffle, meatloaf, beans and sausage, bacon, toast and eggy glory) and beermosas too, but the simple fact is no matter how good the food is (and it IS fan-freakin-tastic) some days you just don’t want to travel across town to eat.  We’ve returned for brunch several times since then, but I still occasionally get intolerable cravings for breakfast that won’t quit in the interim.

One such yen hit me with full force just the other day.  Being that it was the middle of the week, it was unlikely that I would have the chance to go out for brunch the following day, so I contemplated the next best option; breakfast for dinner!  Growing up, I had a friend whose dad would make breakfast for dinner one day a week, and whether it was pancakes, waffles or eggs I always loved eating dinner at their house on that day.  We never really did anything like that in my home, so dinnerfast felt a little bit foreign and strangely like luxury.

After rummaging around in the fridge and finding the remnants of a carton of buttermilk, I began searching the internest for a decent buttermilk pancake recipe.  My gaze immediately gravitated towards this, but was also enticed by this, too.  Knowing the Everyman as well as I do, I was certain that if he chose the buttermilk pear option I’d have to find a suitable side dish to go with it to counter the sweetness, since he’s not a great lover of sweet breakfasts especially.  As I wracked my brain over possible complements, out of nowhere an idea came to me.  Why not make a salty hash with his favourite meat (prosciutto)?

Once I ran the options by him, he immediately began salivating over the potential of what we began referring to as who hash (a la The Grinch).  When we arrived home from work I mixed up the pear pancake batter so that it could rest, and began grating potatoes and onions and dicing prosciutto.  The whole meal came together quickly, and before I knew it I was serving up a beautiful puffy pancake that resembled an upside down cake with a side of crispy, crusty prosciutto speckled hash.


Cowbell, To The Power Of 3


Today I am leaving you with a picture of a recent vegetarian supper I concocted out of couscous, lentils and roasted root vegetables in a tarragon cream.

The reason for this is that I am currently coming down from a meat hangover after having been to Cowbell twice in the last 36 hours, and needed something lighter and plant-based to inspire me.

We visited for dinner on Saturday night and enjoyed a meal of all of the usual delicious suspects, including the charcuterie platter, a consomme, some red deer and variety pork dishes, and a pot of chocolate rillettes.  Chef was kind enough to serve our dinner himself, and at the end of the night he even brought out some wonderful ice wine and wished me a happy birthday.  It turns out his birthday is also this week, so I wished him many happy returns.

On Sunday morning we came back nearly 12 hours later to enjoy the mother of all brunches.  I ingested what they call the Rusty and Jerome, which is a TV tray laden with just about every item on their brunch menu, including a melange of bacon, toast, waffles with fruit, meatloaf and gravy, eggs and baked beans and sausages.  It was quite the impressive feast, and I enjoyed it all the more when they brought it to our table and assumed the Everyman had ordered it.  Instead he had a Belgian waffle with the aforementioned fruit, a side of home fries and a few links of chorizo.  After behaving like a pair of gluttonous beasts, we left Cowbell once again and continued on with my birthday, albeit in a food-addled stupor.

The third instance of the equation is actually part of my present.  The Everyman and I will be participating in one of their private butchery classes (I just have to pick which one) which basically means that I received the gift of 3 Cowbells for my birthday.


New Beginnings


Tomorrow is my birthday.

So, it seems only fitting that as I prepare to spend another year in this skin, I should reflect on what it is I’m planning to do in the coming months, particularly in relation to gardening.

With the exception of the various forms of root stock I ordered (potatoes, sunchokes and asparagus) all of my seeds have arrived.  I spread them out on the kitchen table last night and simultaneously felt surges of fear and excitement.  There’s something rather exhilarating about the potential of this year’s garden with the many unknowns I’m introducing into the equation, but at the same time I can also see the immense amount of work all of the seed packs represent.

Of course, the few months between receiving the seeds and actually planting them into the ground is excruciatingly painful for someone as impatient as I am.  There is the distraction of starting the seeds in the basement, but that is just a temporary solution, which is why I invariably end up going back to the seed catalogues that keep showing up at my door and ordering more.  In fact, immediately after I placed the orders for all of the seed packets that you see above, another Richter’s magazine (ironically) showed up, attempting to entice me into purchasing again.  To date I haven’t caved, but only because I’m not sure whether I realistically have room for all of the things I’ve already bought.  Regardless of that concern, I’m sure before May rolls around there will be a few more seed orders arriving at my door.

As an added bonus, the company that sent me the seeds on the very left (Heritage Harvest) included a free package of tomato seeds with my order, and I’m very intrigued by them.  They’re called Henderson’s Wins All and apparently this heritage variety grows grotesquely massive 2-3 pound specimens.  While some of you may be aware of my fascination with all things tiny and squee, I’m also (surprisingly) amazed by those biggest vegetable ever contests that people hold every harvest season.  Between the Sicilian Saucer (another 3 pound beast) and this new Henderson’s I think I’m going to have giantesse all wrapped up this year.  I’m expecting it’ll be a very Alice In Wonderland-esque garden with all of the tiny cherry tomatoes being dwarfed by these 2 oversized plants.


Silencing My Inner Critic

I grew up in a restaurant family.

While other kids got to have play dates and scheduled outings with their moms and dads, I enjoyed an absentee relationship with mine; 2 of 3 being terminally addicted to their kitchens.  In the years that my parents were together I barely saw my mom because she’d leave for work while I was still at pre-school and not return until 2 or 3 in the morning.  After my parents separated, my mom and stepdad were too busy chasing their restaurant dreams to worry about things like family all that much, so I lived with my dad and only saw them a couple times a year.

Despite many wonderful things I learned and was inspired by during my time in their restaurants, the one thing that continues to irk me to this day is the overly critical nature that they’ve imbued in me.  It was never more evident in them than on the rare occasions when we would go out to eat as a family.  Rather than enjoying the brief time we had together, they would categorically pick apart whatever we were eating, regardless of whether it was a cheap trattoria or a fancy French bistro.  They’d then move on to analyzing whether they could make a particular dish better, and consequently discuss how to do so.

It drove me nuts.  Had I been older it probably would have driven me to drink, but at that young age all I could muster was a withering roll of the eyes.  I didn’t see them often, so all I wanted was to make the most of our time, but they never let up.  For years I vowed I would never be like them, determined to be happy with whatever was set before me, instead.

But, over the last few years I’ve found their somewhat unsavoury trait rearing its ugly head more and more in my demeanour.

Between working in their kitchens and stints at culinary school I’ve had plenty of time to develop an overly picky palate.  In a lot of ways it’s been for the best; I’ve gained a certain level of disdain for junk, fast and pre-packaged food-like substances in favour of slow (or what I like to call real) food.  On the flip side, it also makes friends and lovers (unnecessarily) nervous wrecks when feeding me, and coworkers assume I’m some sort of snob because I choose not to eat their hydrogenated oil filled crap or corn syrup laden goodies.  Even though I’m relatively quiet about my beliefs and standpoints on food (preferring to internalize rather than proselytize) most people assume I’m some sort of elitist crank or cow hugging moon maiden, anyhow.  That I don’t care what anyone thinks of me or my habits seems to stymie them all the more.

I often try to rationalize that I’ve only taken on the best parts of this annoying habit from my parents.  Instead of critiquing things for how bad they might be, I strive to only indulge in tastes of ridiculously good food because I think it satisfies your body, soul and cravings more.  Of course, that’s a mantra that’s easier said than done…


Rabbit; The Final Frontier

Joli Lapin

When I was growing up I wasn’t exposed to much in the way of game meat.  Aside from the occasional curried goat roti (a nod to my mother’s Caribbean heritage) or a festive Cornish rock hen (often my father’s answer to preparing holiday meals for 2) I didn’t really develop a taste for wilder fare until I was in my early 20’s.

Without a doubt, the one meat I’ve been an exceptionally slow adopter to is rabbit.  This is partly because the skinned carcass of a whole rabbit too closely resembles that of the small felines that share my home.  I make no bones about eating cute, fuzzy animals if they taste good, but the possibility of questionable provenance has held me back in the past.

It’s taken a few years, but I’ve gradually warmed to the idea of rabbit.  It may have started during a meal at Cowbell or perhaps tasting a terrine from The Black Hoof, I’m not quite sure.  While we were in Quebec City in the fall I enjoyed shredded rabbit confit linguine at Le Lapin Saute, and for our anniversary I consumed a similar dish at Splendido.  I’m still not a fan of rabbit rilettes, but I think I’ve made substantial leaps and bounds (har har!) towards getting over my mental distaste for it.

Recently, I even went so far as to buy a saddle of rabbit at Fiesta Farms, a place I know I can steadfastly trust not to sell me skinned kittens.  But for several days the packet of rabbit sat on the bottom shelf of the fridge, taunting me.

At first I’d considered using the Ratio app to make another batch of dough for tagliatelle, but pasta seemed an awful lot of work, and also not very far outside of my past 2 rabbit experiences.  I briefly toyed with confit as well, until I realized the duck fat was frozen. (more…)

A Local I Wish Was My Local

Since moving to Little Italy a few years ago, the Everyman and I have been on the hunt for a local haunt.

Paramount to him has always been a decent beer list and classic, pub-style fare, but I’ve been searching for something more.

I don’t drink beer, so that’s never been a consideration for me, and I prefer food that’s slightly more thoughtful than your run of the mill wings and veggie sticks, or chicken fingers.  The Everyman’s just as easily satisfied by a club sandwich as he is by a steak, so it can be challenging at times for us to find common ground.

The closest we’ve come to having a regular spot would be Czehoski, where the comfort food is fancified, the drinks are top notch and the staff are hip, but the furthest thing from pretentious.  I also have a soft spot for chef Leor Zimerman, who always has a kind word for us whenever he sees us sitting at the table in the window, and even comes out to deliver our meals occasionally or ask how we enjoyed his specials (note to Leor, please please please put that delectable tamale on the regular menu!!!)  Czehoski excels at simple, delicious edibles, makes a fantastic homemade burger (those milk buns!) and also serves a decadent brunch, with a croissant bread pudding that is not to be missed.  The menu is small, and the room lends itself to lounging, and considering we have not found a true brunch place in the area that isn’t overrated, it’s where we typically head when we want to get our morning weekend eat on.

But sometimes, you really do just want someplace you can go to have a well made cocktail (or in the Everyman’s case, a beer) where the staff are friendly, and the food (if you want it) is good.  A place that has ambiance, that is more like a bar.

Recently, we found that place.


Outstanding In The Field, Out Sitting Under Stars

Before Sunset

It was a night to remember, as close to 100 guests descended on Dennis and Denise Harrison’s Dingo Farms in Bradford West Gwillimbury yesterday evening.

Though the rain initially sought to dampen the spirits of all those who’d come together, after a short burst of showers it was smooth sailing ahead, for what promised to be one magical night.

Pretty Roosters

Under the shade and shelter of a stand of trees overlooking the family’s garden, sparkling wine from Fielding Estates was passed around, a bubbly accompaniment to chef Cutrara’s beef and beet salami, mortadella, chorizo, farinata triangles and pates topped with cornichons and radishes, respectively.  After an hour of dribbles and passed hor d’oeuvres, the farm tour ensued, including a trip to see cows (a personal highlight and favourite of mine) a massive 3 year old Berkshire pig, some very contented and beautiful roosters, concluded with a horse-drawn cart ride around the perimeter of the farm with one of Dennis’ sons and his mother. After the sights were seen and the stories told, it was time to head out to the middle of the field so that everyone might begin the journey towards dinner.


Going To The Country, Gonna Eat Me A Lot Of Peaches

Today the Everyman and I are heading to the country, West Gwillimbury to be exact.

Our purpose is simple; we are travelling to Ontario’s first Outstanding In The Field affair.

OITF is hosting a farm dinner in conjunction with Mark Cutrara of Cowbell restaurant, and a farm he works quite extensively with, Dingo Farms.

For some reason there’s been quite a bit of derision directed towards this event by the media, from sneers about its elitist nature, to referring to it as nothing more than a glorified art installation, to complaining about the high cost of admission when there is no indoor plumbing (it’s a farm, people!), there has been no shortage of opinions levied on the matter.

I, for one, prefer to think of it as a movable feast.  I have no personal opinion of founder Jim Denevan, and at the end of the day am just attending for the love of good food.  I see this as an extension of the farm dinners that Mark Cutrara already puts on regularly at Cowbell, it’s just that this time you’re actually viewing and interacting with the source.

To counter the concerns about the high cost per plate, the tickets may be $200 per, but that includes a multi-course meal complete with wine pairings.  None of the money is going to charity, but I don’t see how this is any different than tasting menus at other high end restaurants.  We went to a tasting at The Millcroft Inn in Elora once, and the bill was around $200 apiece once you added in the wine pairings, too.  It’s just the cost of business.  Even Charlie’s Burgers, whose initial mandate was to keep ticket prices in the $60-$80 per person range has seen the last few events more than double that figure.  Let’s face it, good food isn’t cheap, and while it may be a little ostentatious to flaunt such extravagance in this economy, this is not an everyday occurrence for me, but a special occasion that I’ve been looking forward to for months.


The Foodie 13 – Least Favorite Foods

Well, it seems it’s about time again for another edition of the Foodie 13.

As much as I’ve tried to avoid writing this list for several months now, preferring to turn a blissfully blind eye on my own food phobias and dislikes, eventually I had to admit that there are some foods that I just won’t eat.  In Jeffrey Steingarten’s book, he tells us that in order to be a proper foodie, one cannot have aversions to eating, and while I try, there really are a few things I just can’t manage to wrap my head (or lips) around.

So, this week I give you the top hate-ons from that list.  You’ll probably find them more surprising than you’d think.

1 – Oranges – Ever since I was a very small child I have hated the taste of orange, whether in full fruit, flavoured items or juice form.  Out of everything on this list I can say with certainty that it is the one thing I disdain the most.  I’m not really certain how or why it all started, but I recall I had a problem with the pulpiness of it as a wee one, and found it distastefully bitter.  To this day, when people try to peel and segment oranges around me (as one reviled ex-coworker used to do all the time) it literally makes me nauseous and I find I have to leave the vicinity.

2 – Soy Milk – One of the primary reasons I’m convinced I could never be a vegan is that I can’t seem to stomach soy milk.  And believe me, over the years, I’ve tried.  For some reason, no matter what variety, flavour or brand, it always seems to have an unpalatable chalkiness and viscosity that I just can’t get over.  If they ever manage to make soy milk that doesn’t actually taste like soy, I’ll be the first one to sample it.  But for now, no dice.

3 - Kiwifruit – I find this unpleasant on so many levels.  The fur for one, is off-putting.  The texture is slimy.  The flavour is too astringent.  One of my biggest pet peeves about my beloved ice cream establishment, Dutch Dreams, is how they arbitrarily plop a kiwi-laden scoop of fruit salad on top of every ice cream order.  I’ll sometimes bother with the other fruit, but the kiwi is always the first thing that gets jettisoned or fed to the Everyman.


Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me, When I’m 64?

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time then you’re probably already well aware that the Everyman and I are huge proponents of Mark Cutrara and the magical meat he puts out over at his charming Parkdale bôite, Cowbell.

Every time we go for dinner, we invariably end up mentioning to the Everyman’s parents afterwards how amazing the food is and how much they would enjoy it, and generally encouraging them to go.  Being freshly minted Torontonians, they’ve been slightly overwhelmed by all of the variety available at their doorstep now, and have only slowly been taking the city’s eateries by storm.

After months spent growing jokingly (but increasingly) impatient, we finally gave up trying to get them to check it out on their own, and invited them to come out to dinner with us.  Thus begins the tale of my latest dinner with my “outlaws”…

Upon our arrival, we proceeded to walk them through the menu like it was old hand, which I suppose it was.  While his mom found the chalkboard menu quaint, I could tell his dad was getting frustrated by his poor line of sight to the menu, and having to squint in order to read it.  Luckily our waitress stopped by just in time, and gave a long, drawn-out tutorial on each component of the menu, for the benefit of our parental newbs.  Lulled into submission by the numerous descriptors, we requested a moment to take it all in.

During that time I gently nudged my mother in law, (who is gluten intolerant) towards the Cowbell hot pot, which I’d sampled on our previous visit and had been quite taken by.  This week however, it happened to be the one dish on the menu that contained bread (in a Jesus sausage) so with a quick substitution she was placated and thick as thieves with our smiley, happy server.  She opted not to have an appetizer, while the Everyman chose a boar broth with belly meat and ramp pistou, and the Mr. Everyman and I both decided on the house charcuterie.

When the appy plates came out, it didn’t take long before Mrs. Everyman began to regret her decision.  Mr. Everyman and I both shared our platters, but in the end it was not enough and she sheepishly called our server over to ask if it was too late to add a third platter to the mix.  Luckily for her it wasn’t, so in mere minutes she was happily nibbling on a veritable meatavore’s paradise.  The platter consisted of 8 selections, plus some mustard and house pickles.  That day it ranged from finocchio, cotechino, two kinds of chorizo, chocolate elk salami, venison with meritage, plus 2 others I no longer remember.  It was awesome and we were all more than pleased, none moreso than the Everyman, who I was slipping slices to throughout the meal.  Overall winners included the venison with meritage and the chocolate elk salami, to be certain.  The Everyman quite enjoyed his soup with ramp pistou, exuberantly extolling it’s garlicky virtues to his parents, while distributing spoonfuls across the table.  The bite I had was a wonderfully spring-like blend of some of my most favourite flavours; yum!


The Foodie 13 – Desert Island Fare

I probably spend more time than is normal thinking about what I would do if I ever became stranded on a deserted island.  I can assure you there’d be no montage of Castaway or Blue Lagoon moments, but if there were other people trapped with me, I imagine it would quickly devolve in a similar manner to Lord Of The Flies.

Because of that, I keep a mental list of comestibles I’d want to have with me if that were ever to go down.  The ironic thing about that statement of course, is that if (heaven forbid) it really did happen, there’s no way I’d be prepared enough to have all these good eats with me.  But a (slightly delusional) girl can always dream, can’t she?  With these 13 paradigms of culinary excellence to keep me company, I’d never be wanting for more.

So without further adieu, but in no particular order…

1- Czehoski‘s bacon poutine - There’s nothing better on a grey and blustery day than digging in to a bowl of this salty, creamy, crispy perfection.  If you’ve never tried bacon gravy before, you’re probably asking yourself, what’s the big deal?  Can it really be that different?  Trust me hombres, it can and is.  This poutine is what dreams are made of… decadent, curd-filled dreams.

2- Fat Willy’s ribs - Fat Willy’s is a little hole in the wall barbecue joint in the suburbs of Chicago.  I never expected we’d fine transcendent barbecue in Illinois of all places, but ever since we came home, I’ve had vivid dreams about the smoky tang I experienced there, sometimes to the point that I’m awakened from chewing on my own pillow.  Delish!

3- Terroni‘s mezzo mezzo - This appetizer platter is constantly changing, but always includes some meat, some cheese, some bread and some fruit or veg, plus a small dish of honey for dipping.  My favourite has always been the roasted pear that’s often a mainstay of the dish, and marries well with so many things.