Welcome to Da Local

4 kids. 3 dogs. 1 amazing wife. 1 great job. And a huge passion for food. Cooking it, tasting it, growing it. An abiding love and respect for the farmers, artisans and other individuals committed to bringing the best to your table and mine.

Come along for the ride. You can never be quite sure of where we're going, but it will almost always be delicious.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Spend a Day Off From the Kitchen

So, I have the day off............
Make ice cream base for cream cheese ice cream and chill in ice cream maker
Dice carrots for soup

Chop leeks for soup
Dice celery for soup

Dice turnips for soup

Dice parsnips for soup

Dice beef for soup

Julienne kale for soup
Finish making killer pot of Beef Barley Soup
Bake Double-Ginger Gingerbread and finish with completed Cream Cheese Ice Cream

Now, that's my kind of day off!!!!

Saturday, November 15, 2014


So, for the past month the blog has been.....quiet. |In that time we packed up the whole family and moved about 30 minutes north. We are all now proud residents of Cookstown, Ontario. And last night I learned how amazing a thing that can be.

Relatives came and joined us around 5 o'clock and we all bundled up for the walk to the Laestadian Lutheran Church just up the road for their annual Scandinavian Bazaar and Bakery. As we arrived, the bright lights and wonderful smells were an amazing welcome. Passing through the doors, young girls in traditional dress handed us gifts of chocolate and glogg(mulled wine). The scents of cinnamon and cardamom from the main hall were almost overwhelming.

The hall was filled with long tables, covered in sweet and savoury baked goods. All manner of Scandinavian specialties; from cinnamon coffee loaves and rich malt bread, to delicate shortbreads  and cardamom crisps. And a lovely heated case, filled with freshly fried donuts, from our old friend, Marjo Niemi. There were also displays of Scandinavian handcrafts, including a beautiful wooden Christmas star that had to leave with us.

At the far end of the room a dinner counter was set up and plates full of Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and apple beet salad were being loaded up, along with all manner of pies and sweets. Absolutely spectacular! (By the way, it's also running on Saturday the 15th from 9 until noon. If you have a chance you really should check it out!)

We zipped up our coats and donned our hats, and headed out, laden with all our sweet treats. 5 minutes later, were were on the main street, waiting with so many others for the lighting of the town's Christmas tree. This kicked off the Cookstown's Light The Night event. Vendors were giving away candy and hot apple cider and all the shops were open late for early holiday shopping.

We shuffled home for and hour or 2. A steaming pot of soup and thick slices of Finnish potato bread (fresh from the bazaar) made for the perfect warm-up. But by 8 o'clock, we were once again donning our winter gear. It was time for the Cookstown Santa Claus Parade!

There is an honesty and a sweetness to a small town Christmas parade. The local fire trucks and ambulance leading the way along with the police(who block off the whole town for the event). Next the floats from the local businesses; decorated pick-up trucks and lawn tractors. People earnestly showing their holiday spirit and commitment to their town. And last but not least, the jolly fat man himself. As we looked around, we realized that the whole town was out for the event. It wasn't about commercialism and big money advertising. It was about community, which seem like a great feeling to base a holiday season around.

Then along with all our neighbours we trundled off home. Time for the children to head to bed. Aunts, uncles and grandparents headed out for a slow and safe drive home. And Kris and I poured ourselves big glasses(ok, Mason jars) of red wine and tucked into a late "second supper" of Swedish meatballs with all the fixings. 

If I didn't get it before, I do now. Thanks for the welcome, Cookstown. You can't imagine how happy we are to be here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

From Market Trip to Dinner

As the trees turn to shades of red and gold, the local farmer's markets are beginning to close. With only a few market days left, and a Saturday off from work, I headed out with the boys to the Newmarket Farmer's Market in search of fresh vegetables and inspiration.

The produce at the market was absolutely spectacular!! This truly is the greatest time of the year for a lover of local vegetables.

So, when I arrived home, and took a look at my purchases, as well as what I had in the fridge, there was one dish that seemed like the perfect choice for a cool harvest weekend.....Chicken and Dumplings!!

Here is the step by step path, from my farmer's market harvest to my dinner plate.

1. In order to avoid any chance of cross -contamination, I do all my work with the chicken first. I break the chickens down into 8 pieces each. (2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 pieces from each breast) I take the rest of the carcass (wings, back) and chop it up. After browning it in a pot, I add some vegetables and homemade chicken stock. This strengthens the broth and makes it much more flavourful.

2. Next, I season the chicken pieces well and then toss them in a seasoned flour. I brown them in oil over medium-high heat until golden brown. Afterwards, I set them aside and discard any of the cooking oil that remains.

3. Now that the chicken is finished and my board has been cleaned and sanitized, I can turn my attention to the vegetables. Mushrooms...quartered. Leeks...quartered lengthwise, then cross-cut, and then washed very well. Parsnip and heirloom  carrots...peeled and cut in rough but uniformly sized chunks. Corn...simply cut from the cob. Kale...stripped from the stems, then cut in thin strips and then washed in 2 changes of water to get rid of an remaining grit.

4. A quick saute of the vegetables and then the chicken pieces are laid on top. The enhanced chicken stock is poured over top until all the solids are covered by at least 1" of liquid. Salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme go in, as well as a fresh bay leaf. At this point, I bring the mixture up to a boil, then cover and transfer to the oven (325 degrees) to cook until the chicken becomes almost fall-off-the-bone tender.

5. After about 1 1/2 hours in the oven, the dish is almost complete. I shake flour together with water to form what is known as a slurry. I then stir this into the stew while it simmers in order to thicken it. Some people prefer a more brothy stew while others tend towards a thick and hearty ragout. I tend to land somewhere in the middle of these 2 camps. 

6. Now that the stew is thickened, I taste and adjust the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Then comes the kale, which rapidly wilts into the stew.

7. It is now time for the dumplings. A simple batter of flour, salt, pepper, baking powder and milk along with some dried and fresh herbs comes together in seconds. With the soup simmering on the stove, I carefully scrape tablespoons of batter on to the surface. The lid goes back on and the stew goes into the oven for 15 more minutes.

8. With the wonderful aromas filling the house, it is difficult to wait for those last few minutes. As the pot comes from the oven, everyone gathers around to smell the delicious aroma as the lid is lifted. All that is needed is a sprinkling of fresh parsley and a generous dollop of mashed potatoes alongside to make this fall harvest specialty complete.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Soupfest in the Holland Marsh

Sorry it took so long to get around to posting this, but it's been a bit of a crazy week!

So, last Saturday, I headed up to the Holland Marsh Soupfest along with my co-worker Stephanie Dadd. We were representing the Omni King Edward Hotel (aka The King Eddie), where we both work.

The night before had been a lot of work. Peter Gaziano, our saucier, had made an amazing lamb broth from the bones we recieved and Stephanie spent hours hand-pulling sheets of Armenian crisp bread and dusting them with z'atar. For my part, I was cooking Israeli cous cous, cutting a mountain of beautiful Holland Marsh vegetables, and grinding lamb to turn into kofta meatballs. 800 meatballs!! Though my co-worker Mario did help with a few.

We arrived at the site in Ansnorveldt and quickly got set up. It's a good thing we did. It seemed that as soon as the soup was hot, the lineups were already starting.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get many pictures. However, I can tell you that it was an amazing day in the marsh. The comradery of so many chefs and cooks gathered together was great to see. I'm looking forward to coming back next year.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Heading to Soupfest!!

As you follow the wandering ribbon of asphalt that is Highway 400 north from Toronto, you'll notice an exit for Davis Drive/Newmarket/Bradford. Passing under that bridge, you are greeted with one of my favourite vistas in all of Southern Ontario.

Spread out before you is the Holland Marsh; one of the finest growing areas in the province. From celery to carrots, onions to lettuce, tomatoes to cucumbers and so much more, this region grows it all.

With its rich black soil, this 21,000 acre region is home to many dedicated farmers, growing the vegetables that you and I eat every day. However, so many people aren't even aware it exists and how close to home it is.

Everyone is talking about the need to better understand our food, to get closer to it. This weekend, there is an opportunity to do just that. This Saturday, October 4th, the Holland Marsh Growers Association is hosting their annual Soupfest.( hollandmarshsoupfest.ca/ ) Chefs from across the region are gathering to serve soups made from the goodness of the Holland Marsh in the spirit of friendly competition and out of  a desire to show off this beautiful and vital region.

This is the perfect chance to get in touch with where our food comes from and the people who grow it. And you get to eat some pretty incredible soups as well.

Ontario, this is your garden. Come and check it out. 

I'll be at Soupfest this Saturday with my fellow chefs from the Omni King Edward Hotel. Be sure to come by and say hello!

Friday, September 26, 2014

It's Almost Over!!!!!

I was given some sobering news yesterday at the East Gwillimbury Farmer's Market. There are only 2 market days left until it closes down for the winter!!!! So needless to say, we made the most of this week's trip.

If for no other reason, you have to go to this market to try the breads and pastries coming out of Marjo Niemi's rolling bakery. There are so many to choose from, and we have yet to be disappointed. (Our personal faves are the Coconut & Cardamom and the Finnish Rye.) This week we went with the Fennel Seed & Buttermilk and the Cheddar Bread. But the sweet smells caught us. We ended up getting cinnamon doughnuts, sticky buns and a truly spectacular blueberry cake square. Sitting down on the curb, we devoured every last bit. Wonderful!

I have come across markets in the past that seem like outdoor food courts; filled with snacks and treats, but lacking much in the way of...well...farmers. That's what I love so much about the East Gwillimbury market. Everywhere you turn, there are farmers, proudly presenting the "fruits" of their labours. Not only does the market help reinforce our connection to our food, but also to the men and women that work so hard to produce it. And produce they have! What a beautiful array of autumn fruits and vegetables. The market has never looked more beautiful. Every stand:
Willow Tree, Back To Basics , Forsythe Farms, Summerside and Cooper's CSA; each more inspiring than the next. By the time we had finished our shopping, I couldn't wait to get home and start cooking.

This week's haul was pretty spectacular. In addition to Marjo's wonderful breads, there were lovely purple beets complete with beautiful leafy tops, French icicle radishes, delicata squashes(also known as sweet potato squash), two-foot-long European leeks, some of my favourite meaty cremini mushrooms and a giant green zucchini. (Grabbed the zuc for just $1!!) Oh, and of course, the last few ears of the summer corn.

As soon as I got in the kitchen, I decided that I actually had a couple of different meals planned out. First I started on lunch for the next day. I put a small pot of rice on the stove and started sauteing chopped leeks, thyme and mushrooms, while the corn steamed. Once the vegetables were tender, I stirred in the corn and the rice. A few handfuls of grated cheese and a large egg finished my stuffing. I split the zucchini and scooped out the seeds. After seasoning it well, I packed both halves full of the stuffing and transferred it to the oven. An hour or so later and we had a beautiful vegetarian meal, ready for the next day, needing only a salad to finish it off.

Time to turn my attention to tonight's supper. I decided to focus on the beets as the centerpiece of the meal. It always seems like such a shame when I see people throw away the tops of beets. Those leafy greens are just as delicious as any kale or swiss chard you will find. And if you're buying beets, the greens are basically "free". So both the tops and bottoms were going to take center stage.

First a beet risotto. I pureed the peeled beetroots with some vegetable stock and strained them to remove any large pieces. The mixture had such an incredible colour.

Before I started to cook the rice, I sliced up the delicata squashes and scooped out the seeds. Seasoned with salt and freshly cracked pepper, they headed into the oven to roast. Now to begin the risotto. I sauteed off minced onion and garlic in butter, taking care to not let them brown.

 In went arborio rice, stirred quickly to ensure that every grain became coated with butter. I kept cooking the rice until I could smell the nutty, toasty aroma that lets you know it's ready.

Now, normally, you would add white wine to the rice. Instead, I added a cup of Niagara red wine. As soon as the wine evaporated, I stirred in the beet puree.

Stirring constantly, I continued to add more stock, until the rice was almost fully cooked. Meanwhile, I browned a few Italian sausages in an oven-proof pan, and then transferred the pan to the oven to finish cooking. Now the challenge became getting all the parts of the dish cooked, all at the same time. I took the sausages from the pan and covered them to keep them hot. I took the beet greens, which I had washed and chopped and threw them into the pan with the fat and crispy bits from the sausages. Before long, they were tender and delicious.

The squash rounds came out of the oven, caramelized and tender. I stirred a very generous portion of butter into the risotto and spooned it into the squash rounds. A bit of Woolwich goat cheese crumbled over top made for a great counter-point. The beet greens made a lovely bed on which I rested the sausages.

So many lovely flavours, and a fitting tribute to the farmers who inspired the meal.