Sampling Some Great Cooking at Taste Ontario

by Joey deVilla on December 10, 2011

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Last week, I attended Taste Ontario, a cooking event hosted by my foodie friends Alexa Clark and Matt Kantor (pictured above). It took place at the Longo’s in Maple Leaf Square on Wednesday, November 30th, in “The Loft”, the demo kitchen that some of the larger branches have. Alexa had invited me and a number of Accordion City bloggers to attend this event, which was all about world cuisine cooked with Ontario ingredients.

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If you ever get an invitation to a foodie gathering hosted by Alexa and Matt, accept it! They’re two of Toronto’s best-kept secrets, putting together little foodie events that feature interesting ingredients and aren’t too hard on the wallet (Taste Ontario was free). Alexa and Matt are the people behind the Secret Pickle Supper Club, who put on amazing dinners, of which I’ve attended a few. Alexa’s also the founder and managing editor of the Cheap Eats restaurant guides, the cofounder of the charity event HoHoTO, social media person about town and one of my officemates at the Camaraderie coworking space.

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I know Matt through the world of computer programming, but he’s also a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who’s worked in kitchens in New York, Philly and Portland and the husband of my long-time friend from Crazy Go Nuts University, Marichka Melnyk.

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The idea behind the event was to show what’s possible with Ontario ingredients. “It’s tricky,” she said, “because it’s November.”

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Even though they were highlighting Ontario ingredients, the dishes Matt would prepare would come from around the world.

“All the ingredients, whether they’re from Ontario or not are available at Longo’s,” Alexa said.

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The first dish was trout cured in a salt, sugar and lemon mixture, which would be served over a salad made of pickled beets and apples.

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“I really don’t want to cook this fish,” Matt told me as I took pictures of him slicing it into portions. “It’s pretty good and is just fine fresh. I’d rather eat it raw, really.”

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He cut me a slice and I popped it into my mouth. Raw, but tasty. Good enough for sushi.

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“I’m going to warm it up a little in the oven,” said Matt as he cut himself a small slice and tasted it, “but I’m not going to keep it in for too long.”

The salad was made with beets and honeycrisp apples. “With honeycrisp apples,” Matt told us, “the bigger the apple, the sweeter it is. This is the most opposite of most other apples.”

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Matt had been prepping through the afternoon, so we didn’t have to wait too long to try the first dish. The beet and apple salad was placed on the plates first, then topped off with slices of trout.

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As with just about everything that Matt’s made that I’ve tasted, it was delicious. Here’s the recipe:

Lightly-Cured Trout with Pickled Beet and Apple Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 trout fillets, skin on
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 4 beets, about 1.5 lbs
  • 2 granny smith apples
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tbsp caraway seed
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 allspice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Beet Salad

Peel the raw beets and slice thin.

Combine the water, sugar, vinegar, clove, allspice and cinnamon in a pot. Bring to a boil.

Add the boiling liquid and remove the pot from the heat. Cover and let cool. Refrigerate for at least two days. Beets should be soft and taste pickled.

Using a mandolin or sharp knife, thinly slice the apples and red onion. Combine the beets, red onion, apple, sour cream and olive oil. Add salt to taste.

Trout

Rub the trout flesh (not the skin) with the lemon zest. Combine the salt and sugar in a bowl. Lay the trout skin side down in a tray and cover with salt and sugar. Let cure for 4 hours.

Remove the trout from the curing mix and rinse off the salt, sugar and lemon. Set aside the refrigerator.

Preheat the over to 300 degrees F. Remove the trout from the refrigerator. Portion the trout into 4 – 6 slices. Place the trout on a parchment-lined sheet tray, skin side down and bake for 12 minutes until just warm.

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The next dish was a Thai squash red curry, a recipe that Matt adopted from David Thompson’s cookbook, Thai Food. One of the ingredients is fish sauce, which plays a key role in many Filipino (we call it patis), Vietnamese and Thai dishes and adds saltiness and umami.

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Galangal, lemongrass, garlic, lime and coconut milk also add flavour to the dish. Alexa decided to take a test taste:

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Matt and Alexa talked about the “cream” in coconut milk cans: it’s the thicker layer that forms at the top of the can as the milk settles. You shouldn’t discard it or stir it back into the milk; it a very useful ingredient with a rich taste. Matt used both the cream and the milk in the recipe.

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The curry was paired with Duggan’s Number 9 IPA, a good choice for all sorts of spicy dishes. You can find out more about Number 9 and other Ontario craft beers in the Ontario Craft Brewers’ Podcast, where you’ll also hear Matt.

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The recipe:

Red Curry Squash

(Adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Food)

Ingredients

  • For the squash:
    • 800g squash, peeled and chopped into 1” pieces
    • 4 cans coconut milk
    • 1 tbsp palm sugar or light brown sugar
    • 2 tbsp fish sauce
    • 4 kaffir lime leaves or the zest of 2 limes
    • 4 long green chili peppers
  • For the paste:
    • 8 dried long chili peppers, soaked and drained
    • large pinch of salt
    • 2 tbsp galangal or ginger
    • 3 tbsp lemongrass
    • 4 tbsp chopped red shallots
    • 3 tbsp garlic
    • 4 tbsp pla salit or chopped, cooked fish

Make the paste. Blend all the paste ingredients until smooth. Add a little water to facilitate the blending process. Do not add oil or coconut milk and use caution in keeping the paste from getting hot.

Prepare coconut milk by opening the cans and scooping out approximately 1 cup of the thicker cream. If your coconut milk hasn’t separated, that’s okay: just reserve 1 cup.

In a large pot, add the remaining coconut milk to a boil. If there are any extra pieces of shallot, lemongrass, galangal or ginger, add those as well. Add the squash and cook for 10 minutes. Strain the mixture. Reserve the coconut milk and the squash.

Heat a saute pan on medium high heat. Add the coconut cream you separated earlier. When the oil separates. fry the paste for a minute. Add the palm sugar and fry for another minute. Add the fish sauce and 2 cups of the reserved coconut milk. Add the squash and cook for a few minutes until the squash is cooked through.

Add the lime and chilis and mix. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.

Next: chicken tagine with couscous. The Ontario ingredients in this dish were the chicken, honey, butter and flat leaf parsley.

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The chicken was served with a white wine: Tawse Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir 2008. Yolande, the Longo’s wine expert who helped with serving the evening’s dishes, explained that Tawse is a biodynamic winery: they see the vineyard as a complete biological entity. A biodynamic vineyard is self-sustaining and is set up with the view that it coexists with the soil beneath it and the plants and animals around it.

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The chicken was topped with a sweet sauce and served over a bed of couscous. Sometimes cooking is about being pragmatic; in this case, Matt used the boxed stuff.

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Here’s the recipe:

Chicken Tagine with Couscous

Ingredients

  • 6 chicken thighs
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 3 lemons
  • 1/2” piece of ginger, peeled and zested
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 stick butter (1/4 lb), diced
  • 8 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 white onion, sliced
  • Cold water, as needed
  • Salt, as needed
  • 1/2 bunch of parsley, washed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup silvered toasted almonds (optional)

The Chicken

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the chicken with salt. Place the chicken in a large saute pan, skin side up.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl (except for the parsley) with 4 cups of water. Mix thoroughly. Add the ingredient mix to the pan. Add more water until the chicken is halfway covered (some skin should still be above the water). Bring the liquid in the pan to a simmer, and place the pan into the oven. Braise for 45 minutes or until the skin of the chicken is golden. The liquid should be reduced by half.

Remove the chicken from the pan. Optionally, you can reduce the liquid here by simmering on the stovetop. Place the chicken on top of the couscous and pour the sauce over the top. Garnish with parsley and almonds, if desired.

The Couscous

Follow the instructions on the box! Smile

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Here are my fellow bloggers and social media types enjoying the chicken:

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Next dish: the lamb.

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Served medium rare, of course…

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…served with sweet potatoes and raisins…

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…and over yogurt:

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Here’s the recipe:

Run-e Bareh (Spiced Roast Lamb)

(Adapted for Saraban by Greg and Lucy Malouf)

Ingredients

  • Lamb
    • 1 leg of lamb, bone-in
    • 100g olive oil
    • 3 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled, large dice
    • 2 red onions
    • 1/2 cup sultanas or yellow raisins
    • 1/4 cup verjus or white wine
    • Spice rub (below)
    • Basmati rice (recipe follows)
    • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • Lamb Spice Rub
    • 4 cloves garlic
    • 2 shallots, chopped rough
    • 1 red chili, chopped
    • 2 tsp sea salt
    • 2 tsp caraway seed
    • 2 tsp fresh nutmeg
    • 1 tsp ground cardamom
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 tsp ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Basmati Rice
    • 1 cup basmati rice
    • 1 3/4 cups water
    • 2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

At this point, you can either:

  • Use a mortar and pestle to grind the garlic, shallot, chili and salt. Add the remaining spices and continue to grind, and finally add the oil, or…
  • Combine all the spice rub ingredients in a small food processor.

Rub the lamb with the spice rub. Place it on a baking rack and place in the over for 20 minutes, basting periodically with the olive oil.

Lower the oven temperature to 375 F and base the lamb. Add the vegetables (sweet potatoes, onions and sultanas) to the pan, toss in the juices and return to the oven. Baste the meat periodically and toss the vegetables so that they cook evenly.

When the meat in medium rare, remove the pan from the oven and let it rest for 10 – 15 minutes. Slice and garnish with the cooked vegetables and yogurt.

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In between courses, we were able to chat with each other, giving me a chance to catch up with friends like Stacey Fowler, whom I know through tech events (she works for Rogers) as well as Emma Waverman, whom I know from our days at Crazy Go Nuts University.

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They even managed to sneak in an extra course: a couple of Ontario cheeses, served with slices of honeycrisp apple.

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In addition to Alexa and Matt, we had Yolande, who made the wine and beer selections that were paired with the food, explain the drinks. She explained that Longo’s send their employees to their suppliers to learn more about the food they’re buying and then selling to their customers.

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Finally, it was time for dessert: crème catalana, a Spanish version of crème caramel:

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Matt needed to buy some time to work on the dish and asked me to provide a little accordion entertainment. Good thing I’d brought it with me; it comes in quite handy more often than you might think.

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Without a blowtorch or a broiler up to the job, Matt had to come up with a way to make the classic “brulee” top. He improvised by heating up some sugar, which has a lot of stored energy and is tricky to handle when molten, but he pulled it off…

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With the sugar caramelized, he poured it over the tops of the ramekins…

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…where it formed a hard shell. It was a little thicker than the typical “brulee” top and more like the “sugar glass” that you sometimes see in Food Network competitions, but it made for a good substitute.

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Here’s the final recipe:

Crème Catalana

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 4 cups milk
  • peel of one lemon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Dissolve the corn starch in 1/4 cup milk to make a slurry.

Heat the remaining milk with the cinnamon and lemon until boiling. Remove from the heat.

Mix the eggs and sugar in a mixer until pale. Add the cornstarch slurry. With the mixer on “low”, slowly add 1 cup of the hot milk to the eggs.

Remove the lemon and cinnamon from the remaining milk. Add the egg mixture back to the pot and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Pour into bowls and chill.

Once chilled, sprinkle with sugar and torch.


At the end of the evening, we were sent home with grab bags with Longo’s magazines, the recipes and a selection of Ontario cheeses.

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I’d like to thank Alexa for inviting me to Taste Ontario and Matt for preparing such great dishes! I enjoyed the food and know a little more about Longo’s, which has been off my radar apart from my knowing it as “the grocery chain behind Grocery Gateway”. The Maple Leaf Square store, along with Corks, its craft beer and wine bar, have piqued my interest and I’ll be checking them out soon.

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