Friday, March 29, 2013

Atlantic Culinary Exhibition

I don't know how these things happen to me but again I was lucky enough to be invited to yet another dinner. Last Friday I attended the Atlantic Culinary Exhibition hosted by the Nova Scotia Culinary Association of Chefs and Cooks. Junior teams from NS, NL, and PEI competed for the gold in a three course black box style competition. Though I am sure I am missing a few, the black box contained pork shoulder, beef tongue, shrimp, salmon, oyster mushrooms, beets, cauliflower, chocolate, strawberries, and blueberry juice. If you follow me on twitter or instagram, then some of you may already know the teams and even the winner but let's do this in true competition style, completely blind. Now, I'm no celebrity chef or even an expert for that matter, but here are my thoughts.

Course 1, Team 1: roasted red pepper soup, warm beet salad with pine nuts, open face beef tongue and Gahan Island red pulled pork sandwich, sautéed spinach, and comtomme. Though everything on this plate was tasty and I commend the creativity of the soup-salad-sammie combo, nothing really blew me away except maybe for that incredibly tender beef tongue.

Course 1, Team 2: seared salmon, oyster mushrooms, red pepper sauce, quinoa, braised celery and comtomme gratin, jasmine rice crisp, fish sauce and vinegar foam, tomato crepe, shrimp mousse, salsa verde. I know what you're thinking. So much going on. This seems to be the current trend in plating but sometimes I can't seem to wrap my taste buds around so many flavors on one plate. And I'll be honest, foam just isn't my thing. However, much on this plate was quite tasty namely the perfectly seared salmon and the shrimp mousse in the tomato crepe. Plus, I could eat salsa verde with a spoon.

Course 1, Team 3: beet and vodka cured salmon, shrimp and dill farce, mesclun salad, shrimp veloute, red quinoa cracker. Despite this appearing to be the simplest of the plates, this was easily my favorite starter. The salmon was perfectly cooked, had a great subtle beet flavour and made all the more delicious with the shrimp and dill stuffing. The shrimp sauce was also divine. Plus, best use of both the beet and quinoa.

Course 2, Team 1: Salmon roulade with tarragon and capers, red quinoa crusted salmon, citrus beurre blanc, basil and lemon agnolotti, seared shrimp, tequila tomato sauce, cauliflower puree, butter poached oyster mushrooms. One word, agnolotti. That pasta was easily the best part of the plate though I also enjoyed the puree, tomato sauce, shrimp, and beurre blanc. But how can beurre blanc be bad really. Unfortunately, the salmon was a tad overcooked athough we were one of the last tables to be served.

Course 2, Team 2: braised pork shoulder, parsley sauce, rosemary salt, pave potatoes, cauliflower puree, battered beef tongue, mustard emulsion, pickled beets and roasted shallots. I simply loved the pork shoulder on this plate. It was packed with flavour and was so different than the usual pulled preparation. The tempura beef tongue had potential but by the time it got to the table, all crunch was lost. I bet tempura beef tongue would be killer. The puree, pave and parsley sauce were also winners. This was my main course pick.

Course 2, Team 3: pork blanquette, blackened beef tongue, mushroom barley bar, stewed leeks, cauliflower puree, pickled carrot. This was by far the best beef tongue preparation. So tasty that I imagine it could convert many a beef tongue hater. Both the pork and puree were excellent but we didn't enjoy the chewy barley cake. How interesting that every group made the cauliflower into a puree?

Course 3, Team 1: Frangelico mousse, chocolate cake with raspberry jelly, strawberry sorbet in a brandy cup, blueberry sauce, mint macerated strawberries, white chocolate Grand Marnier truffle. Oddly enough, the best part of this beauty of a plate was the minted mascerated strawberries although the strawberry sorbet in the brandy cup was a close second. Despite being absolutely gorgeous, the delicious mousse and white chocolate couldn't make up for that spongy cake. However, I bet this one got big points for plating.

Course 3, Team 2: financier, blueberry reduction, sabayon, ice wine glazed strawberry mousse, peanut crunch, meringue base, white chocolate and cream cheese ice cream, crispy milk, salted caramel sauce. Once again, I'm all over plate 2. The white chocolate cream cheese ice cream with salted caramel and crispy mik (huh?!) was incredible. The rest of the plate was delicious but that ice cream...oh my.

Course 3, Team 3: orange custard with chocolate chiboust crisp, raspberry puree, lemon cream cheese donut, blueberry curd, frozen lime chiffon, strawberry basil salad. How funny that the last plate of the night was the most underwhelming. The crisp was odd although I can't say I've ever had a chiboust crisp before. The saddest part, however, the donut was overcooked. I would have been all over it.

So, who exactly were the teams? Introducing, Team 1: PEI, Team 2: NS, and Team 3: NL. And the winner is...

Best appetizer: Team NS
Best main: Team PEI
Best dessert: Team NS
Gold: Team NS

I'll be honest. I felt a little proud with my fellow Nova Scotians taking the gold. But as you can see every one of these young chefs is extremely talented and all deserve to be congratulated. Big thanks to Heather and NSACC for inviting me and allowing me to be part of such an exciting-and delicious-evening. One thing is for sure; our culinary future is in good hands.

Be sure to keep an eye on their facebook page for upcoming events. I know I will.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Imbibe, it's what we do best

So we're well into March and with this ridiculous virus pretty much out of my body (four weeks, really?), it's time to get those old posts finished. First up, the Savour Food and Wine Festival.

Those folks at the Restaurant Association of NS were on to something when they chose February for  the Savour Food and Wine Festival. A month long celebration of food and drink is the perfect way to get us through the dead of Winter, especially this Winter. While I didn't participate in Dine Around this year, I did attend Imbibe: A Cocktail Story. As soon as word got out that a new cocktail evening was being added to the Savour line up, I knew I had to be there. And man was I right. The Casino NS Schooner Room was packed full of the city's best and brightest serving up some amazing and rather inventive cocktails. And not just a small taster either. Full on cocktails. (Although I am told they were sample size, with less alcohol than a full cocktail). Needless to say, I had quite the sleep in the following day. In fact, over a cocktail (or two!) this past weekend, Brent and I decided to figure out just how much we had imbibed that night. Brent had, get ready for it, 14 cocktails and I, the big 13. But it gets better. When we got home that night, we had two more. Crazy, I know. When we imbibe, we really imbibe.

So of those 13 cocktails, what you ask were the show stoppers? First up, Gio. Both their cocktails were creative and tasty. The Cinote rocked my taste buds with jalapeno, tequilla, cilantro, white cranberry juice, cucumber, and lime. Then they upped their game with the Sea Smoke: smoke infused vodka, habanero shrub, pureed yellow tomatoes, clam juice, lime and BBQ peach as a garnish. While I don't know if it was really my thing, Brent would easily choose it as a light, more refreshing Caesar any day. Well played Gio. 

But onto the top three. In the number three spot, the 'Tosh Punch by Jenner Cormier of The Middle Spoon. Auchentoshan Three Wood whiskey, beet juice, grapefruit, lemon clove syrup, orange bitters and dry vermouth. Though quite sweet, it was complex and I simply loved the use of the beet juice. It's got me thinking how I too can create some beet magic. Challenge? 

Next up, The Bicycle Thief's Jeffrey Van Horne's Aperol Passion, a blend of Aperol, Appleton Estate rum, lemon, passion fruit syrup, and orange bitters. Perfectly balanced and oh so refreshing. Aperol is easily one of my new favourite drinks so there's really no surprise this bad boy makes it in my top three. Plus, I'll pretty much drink anything JVH puts in front of me. Check out his blog for some great cocktail advice or, even better, head on down to Untitled Eats every Wednesday where he mixes up new spins on the old classics. 

And the big winner of the night, the Oxford Circus by Morris East. Citadelle gin, Grand Marnier, rosemary syrup, Coleman's English mustard, egg white and lemon. Mustard in a cocktail? Damn straight. That Katrina Roberts really knows her stuff plus she's lovely to boot. Their other absolutely delicious cocktail The Patsy, a cocktail with gin, elderflower, rosemary. lemon, and sparkling wine is on their cocktail menu at present. Just another reason I need to get back down to Morris East asap.

At $50 per ticket plus the cab ride home, Imbibe was certainly a very affordable night out, well for us anyway. Other than the food (where were all the carbs to soak up the booze?), the night couldn't have been better. Lia and Crad, Imbibe 2014, it's a date.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

the buzz: Mar 21

Ok, here's the deal. I've been to all the fancy gourmet burger joints and while they're all good, one stands supreme. That, my friends, is Ace Burger Co, the lil bro to Brooklyn Warehouse. And I'm on a mission. If the reigning champ for The Coast's Best Burger is not dethroned by Ace this year, I may just lose all faith. So, I'm taking it upon myself to get the spread the burger word. Ace's simple yet perfectly prepared all local burger beats the unnamed champ hands down. No competition. And you're all in luck because today is day one of The Coast's Burger Week, the first to hit our fine city. That means you can get the best burger in the city for 5 bucks. So, get out there, eat an Ace deluxe, tell me I'm right but, more importantly, VOTE. Do it for Ace. Do it for me. Do it because it's high time a burger made with local love gets the recognition it deserves. Oh, and while you're clicking those 'best of's, might as well send a little love eatHalifax's way for Best Local Food Blog. Many thanks. 

In other local news, the Nova Scotia Association of Chefs & Cooks is hosting the Atlantic Provinces Culinary Exhibition this weekend at NSCC Akerley. Friday night sees the Juniors competing while Saturday is host to the Senior Team. At $35 for three courses or $50 for four respectively, it's sure to be a steal.  For tickets email 

I should also remind you there's only two weekends left to enjoy the Acadian Maple brunches cooked up by D Town's own Feisty Chef, Renee Lavalee. At $20 for all you can eat pancakes, scramby eggs, Oulton's bacon, Cavicchi maple sausage, Renee's own pork belly fuelled baked beans, and the maple-iest, sweetest dessert going, her pudding chomeur. We're finally hittin' it up Saturday and this girl is gonna eat her maple lovin' face off. 

Over at Food Bloggers of Canada the news is awesome. FBC2013, the first food blogging conference in Canada, is officially sold out! It's going to be one hell of a conference. I mean just take a look at this line up. With my ticket paid for by one of the sponsors, Jane's Family Foods, I'm feeling pretty damn grateful. Plus, another sponsor Nordic Ware just sent all participants a dutch oven, a braising pot and a neat drumstick grilling pan. Grateful indeed. Big thanks to all the sponsors and the FBC team for making it happen. 

And while it's only March, there are a few events to mark in your calendars this coming May. First, the 4th annual Slow Food Spring Supper is happening Saturday, May 4th. Once those tickets go on sale, run, don't walk, to secure yours. We went last year and what a feast of local food and wine and beer it was. It will actually be the one year anniversary of meeting the awesome Lia Rinaldo and I can't think of a better way to celebrate our friendship. Plus, Brent and I have recently joined Slow Food NS so no doubt I'll be helping out in one way or another. Secondly, Local Connections is hosting a Spring Gala Thursday, May 9 at the Halifax Club. With over 30 local partners, it's sure to be one of the top experiences of the year. Early bird tickets are on sale now but stay tuned for a post that'll confirm you want in on this. Also, Saturday, May 11th brings us the second annual Open City, a celebration of all things local. Have a look at my Open City and City Harvest posts from last year and start getting excited. If there was one day all year to love your city, it is Open City. May is certainly shaping up to be amazing. 

Lastly, in a joint effort between two local food bloggers, Kelly and Laura, Pinterest is now home to a Halifax Food Bloggers board. If you're looking for recipe inspiration or resto recommendations, head on over, click that follow button, and let the drooling commence. 

Until next time, Run to the Grills and get your burger on.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Southwest Quinoa Salad

It is some cold out there today but at least the sun is shining. You'd think I'd want to wrap myself up in some warm Winter soup but not this gal. Instead, with local greenhouse tomatoes hitting the market stalls this past weekend, I was craving some Summer flavour. Packed full or protein, fiber and a load of vits, this salad would be even better at the height of the summer when those local tomatoes and corn are fully in bloom.

Southwest Quinoa Salad

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
pinch sea salt
1 1/2 lime, juiced
3 tsp chipotle puree (or more to crank up the heat)
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 1/4 tbsp sesame oil
1 tomato, diced 
1 avocado, diced
1 cup corn
1 cup black beans, rinsed
4 green onions, diced
salt and pepper

Combine quinoa, salt and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover until water is absorbed, about 10 min. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steam til tender. Let cool. Combine with remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. And if you happen to have some cilantro, might as well throw that in too. Ole. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

the buzz: Mar 6

Ok, so lately the weekly buzz hasn't been so weekly. But with the Summer Fresh five recipe challenge, two jobs, and a nasty two week cold, it was all I could to get out of bed and write a single word.

First, the big news this past week: Fid Resto is closing it's doors at the end of May. While the news has hit Hali hard, the owners, Monica and Dennis, maintain they're simply moving forward. Sounds hopeful to me. And if Dennis' food truck take over of The Food Wolf at Savour last week was any indication, it's not the last we'll see of him. Stay tuned for exciting dinners and events at Fid before they bid us adieu.

Speaking of Savour (post coming soon), with February now over, so too has Dine Around and the Savour Food and Wine Festival come to an end. But don't think that means you can stop eating. March has a whole world of events to help you through the last few weeks of Winter. Events like The Grill, Halifax's first burger week. Despite having eaten my way through all the new burger joints, I'll gladly do it all over again especially if it means there's a chance to win a Big Green Egg. And with my winning streak back (I just won a tasting journey for two from MODA Urban Dining AND tickets for four to a St Cecelia concert from Local Connections), that egg has got my name on it.

If you love food as much as I do then you'll be all over The Coast's Best of Food Survey that hit the web today. There is a slightly new format this year which you can read about here. I was one of those "incredibly wise food bloggers" so here's hoping my nominations made the cut. Oh, and would you look at that. I am nominated for best local food blog! Feel free to throw a vote my way or to one of my girls: Lia (Se7en's a Banquet, 9ine's a Brawl), Kelly (Kelly Neil), Aimee (Food Je T'Aimee), or Sheena (Butter versus Burpees).

Lastly, this weekend, well starting today actually, marks the 25th annual East Coast Music Week. So why not grab some dinner at a local resto and take in some awesome East Coast music. Sounds like a killer combo to me.

Until next week (or the week after!)...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Summer Fresh Challenge: Cranberry Madeira

Last but certainly not least, the final submission for the Summer Fresh recipe challenge. I will admit my mind immediately went to pork when thinking about the recipe for the Cranberry Madeira sauce. Then I was thinking chicken stuffed with goat cheese. Then I had this crazy idea that the sauce with it's tart cranberries and sweet wine would be perfect for some squash ravioli. But alas with the pasta maker sadly gone to appliance heaven, I had to go back to the drawing board. And so was born...

Cranberry, Ricotta & Brown Butter Squash Lasagna

1 buttercup squash, quartered
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp cream
1 container Cranberry Madeira fresh sauce
1 tbsp sage leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cream
1 cup ricotta
1/4 cup parmesan
1 package fresh lasagna sheets

Preheat the oven to 400. Roast the squash until soft, about 40 min. Meanwhile brown the butter and nutmeg, being careful not to burn. Once the squash has roasted, puree in a food processor with the brown butter and cream until smooth. Reduce the oven temperature to 375.

Simmer the Cranberry Madeira sauce, cream, and sage leaves until thickened.

To assemble, spread half the sauce in the bottom a 9 X 13 dish. Cover with two lasagna sheets. Spread on half the pureed squash followed by two more pasta sheets. Spread on the ricotta, sprinkle with the parmesan and cover with two pasta sheets. Spread on the remaining squash puree, the last two pasta sheets, and finish with the sauce. Cover with foil and bake 1 hour. Serves 4-6.

And there you have it. Five fresh sauces, five recipes. Good luck to the other participating Food Bloggers of Canada members. May the best recipe win.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Summer Fresh Challenge: Thai Curry

Next up in the Summer Fresh recipe challenge: Thai Curry. With great depth of flavour including strong lemongrass accents plus a nice chilli bite, this sauce may very well be the best in the new line of fresh sauces. There's really no need to do anything but simmer with some meat and/or vegetables and serve over rice. So, that's exactly what I did.

Thai Sweet Potato Curry with Coconut Quinoa 

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup coconut milk
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom
1/3 cup raisons
1 tsp coconut oil
2 shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 cup sweet potato, cubed
1/3 cup peanuts
1/2 cup green beans, diced
1/2 cup red pepper, diced
1 cup Summer Fresh Thai Curry fresh sauce
1/3 cup coconut cream (the thick part of the coconut milk)
lime, cilantro to garnish

Combine spices, coconut milk and quinoa and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer til liquid is absorbed, about 10 min. Stir in the raisons, cover and allow to steam an additional 5 min. Remove spices. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat coconut oil and sauté shallots, garlic, and ginger for 3 min. Add sweet potatoes, peanuts, and Summer Fresh Thai Curry sauce. Simmer on medium until sweet potatoes are tender, about 20 min. Add remaining ingredients and simmer an additional 5 min.

Serve over coconut quinoa garnished with lime and cilantro. Serves 2.