Posts Tagged ‘Outstanding In The Field’

Around The World In 80 Bites

It’s been a while since the Everyman and I went on vacation.

We started our relationship by going on a roadtrip to Ottawa for a concert, then to Cuba for a friend’s wedding, but the last true vacation was to Panama in 2007.  Last year we did a few 4 day jaunts to the US, but they’re kind of a tease because as soon as you start getting relaxed you have to turn around and go home again.  We’ve been meaning to take some time off this year, but between the two of us starting new jobs within the last 9 months, it never seemed like the right time.  We’ve done a few long weekends this summer, but haven’t gone any further than our recent drive to Bradford for the Outstanding In The Field dinner.  This year, it’s been all about the staycation thus far, unfortunately.

We’ve been discussing a few potential places for several months, having narrowed it down to a long weekend in the Carolinas, a 7 to 10 day journey to Spain, and the decadent CuisinArt Spa in Anguilla.  The Carolinas might still be possible this year, but Spain requires a bit of advanced planning, since I’d have to visit El Bulli and the reservation wait list is notoriously long.  I’ve been thinking I should put our names down now for next year, even. On the other hand, the CuisinArt Spa is prohibitively expensive, so I don’t think we’ll be going there any time soon, but it’s certainly nice to dream.

Earlier this summer I wanted to take a short sojourn to Montreal or Ottawa during some time off, but the Everyman claimed ignorance once the time came, so we didn’t end up going anywhere.  When he happened to come home last week and tell me that we were going to go to Quebec City for Labour Day weekend, I was ecstatic.  Before even contemplating any sites to see or things to do, I hit up the Quebec Chowhound board to mine for edible recommendations.  I do enjoy travelling, but realistically, tourism is just something I tend to do between meals, which are really the star attraction for me.  One thing I’ve come to realize about myself is that no matter where we’re planning to go, the first thing I have to nail down is where I’m going to eat.  It’s the mark of a true foodie, I suppose…

We’ll be arriving on Friday around lunchtime, and returning to Toronto on Monday around the same time, so that leaves us with 9 whole meal opportunities!  So far, I’ve managed to gather 7 recommendations in the vicinity of our hotel (Chateau Frontenac) from haute cuisine to café fare, but I imagine we’ll just be stopping in to random places that we find.  Because we both have allergies and very rusty French, we have to be somewhat vigilant about not patronizing restaurants that do not provide English menus, because there’s always the chance that we’ll miss something and fall ill.  I had wanted to go to either Restaurant Toast! or L’Utopie, but the Everyman wasn’t a fan of the menu at Toast, and L’Utopie’s website does not have anything listed in English, so we’ll have to see once we get there.  It’s sort of a drag, because I was really looking forward to going to one of them, but I hear the food at Le Clocher Penche, Le Pain Beni, Cochon Dingue and Le Billig is fabulous, so hopefully I won’t be missing much.  The Everyman’s brother and wife did a trip to Quebec City for their anniversary recently, and they said the food was fantastic, but everything was over the top rich, to the point that by the end all they wanted was salad.  I’m hoping to mitigate that excess by sourcing a few vegetarian options for lunches, or alternatively packing an impromptu picnic or two.  Regardless, I’m sure the easy access to poutine and pain au chocolat will mean I’m 10 pounds fatter by the time we come home, but sacrifices must be made.  It’s a good thing I’ve been eating all this vegetarian food lately, I guess!

Of course, if any of you out there on the interwebs have recommendations, I am all ears!  Just drop a line in the comments, it would be much appreciated.

Until next time…

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.

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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.

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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.

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Exclusivity

There seems to be no shortage of fringe dining events and clubs in Toronto lately.

In many cases, the exclusivity of it all really equates to expense.  By that I mean that most of these private dining parties and secret events aren’t really all that exclusive, you just need to be willing to pay (sometimes through the teeth) for them.  From secret supper clubs, to private dining, to charitable events and associations, when it comes down to it, it’s all about money; even when the people preparing and participating in it aren’t.

For example, from what I’ve been hearing lately, the only private dinner club that actually is somewhat exclusive is the supper club that Karen Viva-Haynes of Viva Tastings puts on twice a month.  It’s called 6* (Degrees) Underground and basically in order to score an invite, you have to know someone who knows someone yadda yadda yadda who knows either Karen or Anne from Viva Tastings.  After reading more about it on their own website, I wonder whether having met Karen in her store while shopping there would count.  In the future I just might try to test that theory, since before they decamped from their College St storefront, I did enjoy shopping there.

On the other hand, there’s also Charlie Burger that’s being marketed as an anti-restaurant.  Basically once you sign up on their website they’ll forward you a questionnaire about your opinions on food-related things, and then they vet your answers.  The funny thing about it is that I’ve never heard tell of anyone not being accepted into the fold.  It’s possible that the whole selection process is a gimmick, but the very nature of the events ensures they are semi-exclusive.  We’re not talking about massive banquets serving hundreds of people here, rather 20-30 diners breaking bread in a small, intimate setting.  Since I signed up in February I’ve been invited to 2 events, but have been unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.  From what I heard of the March event, there were only about 30 seats available but they received over 250 RSVPs (as it’s a first come, first serve operation).  Here’s hoping that the third time’s the charm…

Being a longtime advocate for the pleasures and benefits of slow food in my own quiet way, I finally looked into membership in their Toronto Consortium.  I’ll admit that my decision to sign up was spurred on more by a banner ad for their Do It Slow Banchetto that’s happening next weekend at U of T, than anything else, as I tend to walk to the beat of my own drum.  I don’t really feel I need to be part of an organization to believe in something or practice it in my own way (you too, organized religion), but in this case I think the membership donation not only supports a good cause, but gives me access to attend exclusive dinners like this one.  And it turns out that because the Everyman and I are under 30, our couple membership is almost half the price of the standard one… I guess they’re trying to encourage a new generation of slow food activists to take up the cause, and you can count on me, brother!  If there are still tickets left, I’d be really interested in attending this one next week, even though they run $125/head ($150 without membership).  Past posts over at Charcuterie Sundays have made reference to the fact that The Black Hoof crew are preparing some special charcuterie offerings for the event, too.  Plus Cowbell will be there, and we all know how much the Everyman and I heart them.

And lastly, there’s also the somewhat exclusive nature of events like Outstanding In The Field or soon, Eigensinn Farm.  For Outstanding In The Field, this will be their first dinner in Ontario, but from what I gather it’s expected to host upwards of 200 guests.  So really, it’s more like an open air banquet, and the exclusivity is dependent more on people’s willingness to travel overnight in the middle of the week for interesting food, I think.  The Everyman and I will be there with bells on because Mark Cutrara happens to be cooking for the Ontario installment.  And Eigensinn Farm is supposedly drastically cutting back on the number of dinners they’ll hold a month, in order to focus on their new, low(er)scale venture Haisai.  The place was already exclusive enough what with only taking reservations for 12 diners a night, but now that they’re scaling back to hold only a few nights a month, the waiting lists will probably be astronomical.  At times like this I’m very grateful and happy that the Everyman and I got out there last year (again, best Christmas present ever!).  But it sounds like it will probably be a long time (if ever) before we manage to get out there again.

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Tee Hee Hee Oops!

I must admit, I’ve been somewhat lax in updating our web content this week.  Work has been busy, which tends to leave me drained, and unfortunately I’m not at the point in my life where I can afford to blog full time either.  Perhaps someday…

I will be honest though, I’ve spent a great deal of my free time over the last few days on the Foodgawker website.  I think this little break has been for the best too.  It’s given me a chance to recharge my culinary batteries per se, and gotten me intrigued about joining a group called the Daring Bakers who participate in monthly baking challenges and then post pictures and descriptions of their results.

One thing I have been meaning to get around to blogging about is my wrap-up from our dinner at Cowbell last week.  For the better part of this week I was debating whether or not I wanted to write about it, but have since decided that if I start censoring the content of my experiences, I’m no longer running an objective website.  And that would be wrong.  So in the spirit of that, let’s dig right in!

Anyone my age or older probably remembers Kevin, the annoying mascot for Rainbow Chips Ahoy! who permanently etched those 4 words into our collective consciousness.  Our dinner at Cowbell last week contained several rather distinct tee hee hee oops moments.  I must preface my account by saying that I do still love this restaurant and do not fault them in the slightest; if anything, the experience reminded me that they’re human after all :)

To wit, the decision to visit Cowbell came about rather quickly during a wildly spiraling bad day at the office.  When I called to see about a reservation at 2pm on a Thursday, I was not overly hopeful that we would be accommodated.  I felt it a stroke of good luck when I was advised that not only were there seatings free, but the only thing the reservationist wanted to know was whether I thought we’d be longer than 2 hours with our dinner.  I hung up the phone happy and excited for nibbles, but also mildly confused – isn’t the time required controlled by the speed at which the kitchen can provide my food?

When we arrived, we were greeted by a server who remembered us as semi-regulars; always a nice feeling.  We were given a four-top, even though it was just the two of us, and there were other 2 seaters available.  When the server mentioned that the menu might contain other items not listed on the chalkboard the Everyman’s imagination went off on a tangent that a private party was happening at 10 (hence the 2 hour question) and perhaps there was a secret menu.  After a subsequent probing of our waitress, we learned that there was only the one menu, it just happened that they were already sold out of one of the options.  Dang, no secret food for me tonight!  I guess I’ll have to get my fix at Charlie Burger instead.

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Bits And Pieces, Odds And Ends

I’ve got a lot of concurrent projects on the go right now, so instead of wracking my brain to come up with enough time and material to write 5 or 6 posts, I’ve decided to aggregate my updates into one smaller post.

Firstly, I finally managed to get my shit together garden-wise and inventory what’s growing in the basement.  I was able to determine what I needed to replant, and what had not been planted at all.  By the time I went to bed last night, all tomatoes had been started or were already sprouted (with the exception of the Sungolds) and the artichokes, celery root and chili peppers were planted too.  Hopefully I still have enough time to get them to seedling stage before it’s time to go outside.  I even managed to give West Coast Seeds a call to find out what was going on with my Sungold tomatoes and Ambition shallots; it’s been almost a month and a half since I ordered my seeds from them.  Turns out that my back order was just shipped on Tuesday (finally), so any day now I should be able to plant the rest.  I definitely feel like a weight has been lifted now that the majority of it is done.  All I have to do now is wait for warmer weather and pick up my kiddie pool, hanger bags and strawberry vines and let the nature handle the rest.

On the baking front, I’ve been nurturing the Bride of Frankenstein for several weeks now, and her progress has been quite promising.  Now that I only need to feed her once or twice a week it’s been much easier to manage.  I imagine she must’ve attained some depth during that time, so I am eagerly awaiting this weekend for another chance to make bread.  I also broke one of my ironclad kitchen rules and am anticipating the results of that decision.  Recently while reading Local Breads, I came across a list of somewhat essential tools for successful bread-making.  Typically I shun single-use kitchen gadgets because I hate clutter and have already completely filled our decently-sized kitchen with stuff.  Yesterday I caved and ordered myself a baguette pan and bench scraper from Golda’s Kitchen.  I can make a case for the many uses of a bench scraper, but the baguette pan as far as I can tell has one purpose only; alleviating my laziness.  You see, one of the techniques that my book recommends is “couching” your loaves while they proof and bake in order to obtain the correct size and structure.  The manual way to do this is to create an accordion out of parchment paper and then slip it between the loaves so that they are supported on each side.  While it rises, you slip a few kitchen towels under the folds to further support the dough.  This is not only time-consuming but annoying, so I bought a pan shaped for the purpose instead.  I intend to make lots of baguettes from now on, so rationalizing the cost/benefit was slightly easier.  I just don’t know where I’m going to be able to store it since I’m completely out of room.  I made myself feel better by not also purchasing a banneton and proofing box; two other things I wanted but don’t have room for.  D’oh!

Project guanciale has been coming along nicely too.  Every time I peek in, they’re slightly smaller than the time before.  I am continually amazed by how much of the marinade coating  has adhered during the curing phase.  The only things I’m not quite sure about is whether I’m supposed to rinse it off before serving and if I should’ve removed the “rind” before marinating.  Until this past weekend all the guanciale I purchased came pre-sliced.  While we were at the Cheese Boutique obtaining cottage provisions, we managed to score a hunk of guanciale; it just had to be sliced at home.  Whenever we go there I leave the meat to the Everyman and I tackle the cheeses, so he bought the chunk (which I later realized was a bad idea considering how much I have hanging at home).  Ah well.  They’ll be plenty of meat at our house!

The majority of our food comes from an organic grocery delivery service called The Clean Food Connection.  In the summertime they provide us with a fresh, local farmshare from Zephyr Organics and in the winter we leave most things to chance with something they call a vegpak.  A vegpak is a bundled order of fruits and vegetables that comes in several different sizes, and is assembled based on what’s in stock at the store that week and a list of our preferences.  Year-round our grocery deliveries are a sort of culinary roulette; you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.  Our vegpak last night included a handful of lemons, which were hastily thrown in my chalice (current housing for a glut of multicoloured citrus).  Staring at the lemons and lamenting how to use them, the Everyman came up with the perfect solution; lemon curd!  I still have half a jar left from the last time I made my version of the lemon/lavender/white chocolate Black Hoof dessert, but I really don’t think you can ever have too much.  Kudos to the Everyman for a brilliant suggestion!  I’ll be curding it up while the bread bakes this weekend.

Making it two for two, the Everyman also had another fantastic idea that I can’t believe he heard about before I did.  While perusing Cowbell’s website, he noticed that they will be participating in Ontario’s first Outstanding In The Field dinner.  If you’re not familiar with Outstanding In The Field, I suggest you check it out.  It’s a roving, open-air dining experience that pairs farmers, chefs and the dining public for a not-to-be-missed culinary adventure.  I purchased their cookbook last year and was captivated by it, but never realized that they organized dinners in Canada as well.  Apparently they’ve done some in BC to great success, but this will be the first Ontario event.  It’s sort of Stadtlander-esque, but on a grander scale, as dinners can include as many as 200 guests.  The Everyman and I have decided that we’re going to go, so I now have something else that’s fun to look forward to this summer (aside from his birthday).  Plus, it’s being held at Dingo Farms so I bet there’ll be cows to hug too!  If you couldn’t tell, I’m very excited.  Now I just have to find somewhere to stay in Bradford that isn’t a B&B.

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