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, 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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Apple a Day........

Carrying on family traditions is important. Whether it's making my Nan's Molasses Cookies (the best cookies in existence. If you ask nicely I might even share the recipe) or gathering for coffee and cake on birthdays(always the same cakes, from the same bakery, plus Oma Ellen's Mandarin Quark Cheesecake. Another killer recipe worth asking for!), these are the moments that tie families together. For me, one of the most special traditions is an annual jaunt to our local apple orchard.

For the past few years, my orchard of choice has been Pine Farms Orchard in King City, Ontario.(pinefarmsorchard.com ) At first, it was just the most convenient. But as time has passed, I've come
to realize that they truly are a great operation. The orchard is always well maintained and looked after. The apples are plentiful and beautiful. There are plenty of varieties available, and the orchard is good at keeping you up to date on what is available on what date. Additionally, the dwarf trees they have ensure plenty of low hanging fruit for the smallest of pickers.

As soon as the boys arrived home from school, we loaded up the car and headed off. A quick stop in at the front building to pick up bags and find out which apples were ready for picking and we were on our way.

Today's targets were Macintosh and Cortlands. They make a great "freezer mix". I peel and roughly chop all the apples and then pack them in medium Zip-Loc bags and freeze them. It's the perfect quantity for a pie or apple crisp. Just pull out a bag, thaw and you're ready to go. The mix of the two varieties ensures a great flavour and a nice mix of textures as well. In addition, we were in the hunt for a few Honeycrisps as well, for the boys to eat.

In a matter of minutes we had found all the apples we needed and the kids and Kris headed off to the small playground for a quick romp and to say hello to the ducks. I met up with them there and took a look through the small gift shop and cafe they have there. Definitely worth checking out. (The hot apple cider is definitely worth sampling. Perfect thing on a cool autumn afternoon.)

Minutes later we were in the car, driving away, with no sounds from the back seat other than the delighted chomping and slurping of two happy boys and two very large Honeycrisp apples.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Back to The Market

Thursday afternoon off from work, so there's only 1 place to go....EAST GWILLIMBURY!!!!! Ok, so I know that might not be everyone's response, but it should be. The Thursday night (3pm-8pm) East Gwillimbury Farmer's Market never fails to fill me with happiness and passion for cooking great Ontario produce.

I love going to farmer's markets, and especially at this time of year. With the last of the summer specialties still around as well as the beginnings of an amazing Autumn harvest, it truly is a wonderful time of year.

There was so much beautiful product to choose from! While my wife Kris checked out the local artisans and one of my boys went off in search of a freshly grilled sausage(had one last week...SPECTACULAR!!), I went to visit the stalls from the many local farms. As always, everyone was enthusiastic about their products, and ready with suggestions and recipes. Picked up a great vegetarian filo pie recipe from the guys at Back to Basics Farm that I plan on trying soon.

In the end I settled on strawberries and heirloom tomatoes from Willowtree Farm; European leeks and spaghetti squash from Back to Basics Farms; mushrooms and heirloom carrots from Forsythe Farms; and of course a couple of loaves of Marjo Niemi's wonderful breads. This week we grabbed a Garlic Basil Round and a Cheese Bread Loaf. I almost forgot one of my favourite finds. As always, I stopped in to see the ladies from Coopers Farm C.S.A. and Maze. They had some delicious late-season raspberries as well as some amazing potatoes called Adirondack Reds. They have both red skin and red flesh, and it keeps its colour when cooked.( WIKIPEDIA - Adirondack Red Potato ) Can't wait to try these in a mashed potato or a soup!

So, with a couple of hours to myself in the kitchen it was time to get going on supper. A quick chop and wash on the leeks before getting them sweating down with butter and fresh thyme from the garden. More sprigs of thyme went into the hollowed-out spaghetti squash that I had rubbed down with olive oil, before tossing them into a hot oven to roast until tender. And since I had the oven on
anyway, I sliced the mushrooms thickly and tossed them in some melted butter, salt and pepper and rosemary before laying them out on a tray and tossing them in. I love the texture of roasted mushrooms. They come out so firm and dense, you'd almost think you were eating meat. The multi-hued carrots were peeled, and set to slowly cook in a mixture of water, salt, honey and butter.

I steamed a few of the red potatoes and marvelled at how well they kept their colour. Delicious flavour as well. With them cubed up and set aside, the last prep item was to just quarter the heirloom tomatoes. With mixed shades of red, yellow and orange, as well as my personal fave, green zebra, they looked amazing and tasted even better. As soon as the mushrooms were done in the oven, I tossed them with the tomatoes along with some olive oil and seasoning. The warmth of the mushrooms brought those beautiful tomatoes even more to life. A quick shred on the spagheti squash and it was almost time to eat.

I tossed the squash with more olive oil, fresh basil and seasonings. As a child, my mom tried convince me that it wasn't a vegetable and was just a simple pasta. I may not have fallen for it then, but I've fallen pretty hard for those lovely tendrils of squash today. Topped with the mushroom and tomato mixture...what a starter!

I fried up the cubes of potatoes with some minced onion and a generous amount of double smoked bacon from my local butcher. As much as I enjoy vegetarian food, this dish was just begging for a bit of pork. This went onto the plate and was topped off with the now meltingly tender leeks. Rich and buttery, with their subtle onion flavour; truly delicious. As a finishing touch, a pair of poached eggs. A few of the vibrant and sweet carrots on the side and the dish was complete. Except of course for a slice of Niemi's Cheddar Bread. So dense and flavourful!
A spoonfull of sweet whipped cream atop the last of the season's berries was the perfect finale to a wonderful harvest meal

What more could I possibly ask for? The best produce, and fresher than you'll find in any grocery.

P.S. The following morning, the left-over leeks were mixed up with roast potatoes and eggs to make a wonderful frittata, beneath a snowy pillow of Ontario goat cheese.

Note: Every chef needs a sous chef. Someone who is there beside him providing unwavering support. I would be remiss if I didn't introduce mine. He is with me every step of the way, never leaving my side. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you...Boots.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Another Thursday, Another Trip to the East Gwillimbury Farmer's Market

With just an hour to spare before my boy's martial arts class, the two of us headed off to the farmer's market. I enjoy taking him, as he seems pretty open to learning about how important farmers are to us. I like to believe I'm getting through to him. I think a trip to a farmer's market is a vital thing for kids in all urban centers. We need to cure them of the disconnect between farmer and supermarket and impress upon them the importance of the farmer in our society.

Despite the drizzle, the market was going strong as we arrived. We headed straight for the Niemi Family Farms stand for some of their incredible baked goods. Today it was another of their stellar Coconut Cardamom Twists and a rustic looking loaf of oatmeal bread.

Then on to sampling some lovely honey from a local beekeeper. I couldn't resist picking up a jar. I was sorely tempted to pick up a piece of honey-comb from him as well. But seeing as I'm working the next few days I decided to hold off. I adore topping a stack of fresh fluffy pancakes with butter and a slice of fresh honeycomb. It is a treat that you really need to try.

While my boy ran off to explore the rest of the market, I stopped in to see my favourite farmers. Cooper's had beautiful garlic and perfect crisp leeks. Chris at Back to Basics  had some lovely butternut squash and onions, as well as some beautiful heirloom tomatoes. Other stalls yielded some gorgeous celery root and tiny brussel's sprouts. As I made my last few purchases, I was surprised by the appearance of an amazing Polish sausage on a bun. My son had bought it for me because he wanted to say thanks for bringing him along. It was the first time I had a sausage at the market, but it won't be the last. An excellent sausage on a great fresh baked roll.

Time to head for home and start cooking!!

With it being a cool and drizzly day, I had already decided that a soup was definitely going to be the plan. But what kind to make? Celery root? Butternut squash? So I made the only decision possible....BOTH!

I quickly peeled and chopped the squash and put it in a pan with onions, carrots and garlic, along with a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme from my herb garden. I tossed it all together with a touch of oil, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of that delectable honey and set it to roast in the oven.

Meanwhile, I sweated the celery root with the leeks and some garlic. A few small peeled potatoes and then a top up with water. In went a bay leaf or two and another sprig of thyme. After a 20 minute simmer, a quick puree in the blender and then through the strainer. (To take out any seeds or fibers. I heartily recommend it for any pureed soup.) Once the vegetables in the oven were well roasted, I transferred them to another pot along with a few more potatoes and cooked everything until tender. Another trip to the blender and my soups were done.

As much as I love the silky texture and smooth richness of a pureed soup, I always enjoy a flavourful garnish to elevate a soup to another level. In this case I separated the leaves on the brussel's sprouts and blanched them quickly in boiling water, before shocking them in ice water to stop the cooking process. I then sauteed onions together with diced smoked sausage. Once the onions were beginning to caramelize and the sausage had rendered down, I threw in the leaves and continued cooking until they were heated through and well coated in the onion sausage mixture.

I realize that making 2 soups and serving them together is a bit of overkill, but for a special night, why not? The trick to serving the 2-tone presentation is to ladle both soups into the bowl at the same time. As long as both soups are roughly the same consistency, they will give you a great look. Then a bit of the brussel's sprouts on top, making sure to get some of the sausage and onion as well.

A simple salad of the sliced heirloom tomatoes with salt, pepper, fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil and a thickly buttered slice of Marjo's oatmeal bread were the finishing touches on what turned out to bean amazing meal and a great tribute to the farmers who support us all.

Never Trust Me! (When I say I'm going to just do something simple in the kitchen.)

One of the great things about knowing your way around the kitchen, is that you can make a quick meal and make it tasty. Leftover baked potatoes and a few slices of black forest ham? Crispy Ham and Potato Hash with Fried Eggs for breakfast. Crisper drawer full of veggie bits and pieces? Vegetable Minestrone with Pasta and Parmesan and Garlic Toast for a quiet dinner for two. So, simple meals are definitely possible. But when Kris told me last night that a friend was coming for lunch today, and I said I'd make a simple pasta, this may not have been quite what she had in mind.

During the thunderstorms and gales of last night, I made a quick trip to the grocery store for a few supplies. The eggplant and zucchini looked especially good, so I decided on a grilled vegetable pasta. Some red onions, tomatoes, peppers and goat cheese finished off my shopping, along with a bag of farfalle. I came home wet and bedraggled from the storm, but at least a plan was in place.

After breakfast, I turned my attention to lunch(one of my favourite ways to spend the latter part of the morning). As I sliced the vegetables and diced the tomatoes, I had a nagging feeling that I was missing something. Then it occurred to me, there was nothing green going in this pasta. Whether spinach, escarole or even collards, I always like a little green. So I quickly headed over to the grocery store. I was thinking perhaps some baby arugula or baby spinach might do the trick. But I was in for a pleasant surprise.

As I reached for the tub of washed baby spinach leaves, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a beautiful display of black kale from Riga Farms in Bradford. The leaves were nice and thin, but crisp and beautiful. I was almost giddy as I headed out of the store. This was going to be good.

I got home and looked over my ingredients. Time to get started.

 I made a quick balsamic vinegar and olive oil marinade for the vegetables and got them onto the grill. I trimmed the kale from the stems and gave it a thorough washing to get rid of any sand. Flipped my veggies on the grill and then started cooking the kale in some olive oil with a generous amount of garlic. I didn't want to cook it too far, since I love my greens with a bit of chew. Now the veggies were done, the kale was done, and the tomatoes were diced. Almost time to eat.

Farfalle went into  a pot on the stove while I roughly chopped up all the vegetables and put them in a mixing bowl. In went the tomatoes and the sauteed kale. I drained the farfalle and tossed it in, along with some more olive oil, some fresh basil and  spoonful of sambal oelek (Indonesian chile paste) to add a touch of heat. A quick mix and taste. Still needed a bit of salt and pepper. Taste again. Perfect.(Tasting your food constantly is one of the biggest things that separate home cooks from professionals. If you want to be a better cook, TASTE!) Off to the serving dish and a snowy crumble of fresh Ontario goat cheese and it was done.

Simple....?? No,

But soooo good!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Thursday's Market Revisited (Or Why Culinary Inspiration Can Be a Pain In The ASS)

With the kids away today, I gave some thought to a nice dinner for the two of us. I still had a few things left from my trip to the East Gwillimbury Farmer's Market on Thursday, most notably some beautiful rainbow swiss chard from Cooper's Farms.

At this point, an idea popped into my head. What about making a potato cake, or something like it, with a filling of sauteed swiss chard and ham? My first thought was, "That's a hell of a lot of work for a light supper on your day off. Just cook the chard and make potato cakes and be done with it."  I probably should have listened to that thought. But I didn't.

So, off to the kitchen to try and make this dish a reality. (What follows really isn't a recipe per se, and you won't find any measurements included. This is simply documenting the ridiculous lengths I sometimes go to to satisfy my culinary curiosities.)

1. I sauteed off the washed and chopped swiss chard leaves with garlic, onions, butter and a bit of diced smoked German ham. It was important to cook the leaves until no more moisture was being released. Any excess water would have made for a soggy cake. Once the mixture was completely dry, I stirred in a bit of fresh Ontario goat cheese and then chilled the mixture in the fridge. When it was completely chilled, I placed it between 2 layers of cling film and rolled it out to a disc, roughly the same size as my pan, and transferred it back to the fridge.

2. Now on to the potato cake. I steamed some potatoes until 3/4 cooked and let them cool before peeling and grating them. I tossed in an egg and some fresh picked rosemary and thyme from the garden. A few grinds of black pepper and some sea salt and our mixture was ready.

3. Time to execute. I fried up 1/2 the mixture, taking care to press it out to the full size of the pan. Once it was golden brown, I placed a plate on top of the pan and flipped out the cake. I then slid it back into the pan and cooked the opposite side.(An old trick I learned making tortilla espaƱola in an unlicensed tapas bar in beneath a convent in London.) I set this cake aside and prepared another in exactly the same way.

4. Now, I slid the goat cheese disc onto the 1st cake and topped it with the second. Another 5 minutes on the stove to heat through and it was done.

It took an awful lot of work, but I have to admit it was absolutely delicious. It would have been a lot easier to make something simpler, BUT WHERE'S THE FUN IN THAT?!?!?!