Saturday, December 4, 2010

My pet peeves for the pen and pot

I’ve come to find that cooking and media relations are pretty similar. While one is a passion for me and the other is my vocation, they are both a source of enjoyment when handled properly.

But they are also a source of some frustration. I just don’t believe some m.r. practitioners and restaurant owners/chefs always do the right thing.

Food/message preparation and presentation require combining ingredients to make them palatable for your clients and public. So I present to you my top pet peeves for both industries.

1. Know who you’re doing this for:

M.R. pros: Stop writing news release and documents to please your boss or client. If you want your news releases picked up in the media, you have to first write it in the proper Canadian Press Stylebook format. The goal is to have new and relevant information and have as much of the news release in a story/coverage. But, if your first paragraph doesn’t follow standard writing skills you’ll often lose the editor or news director who reads through your news release or story outline.

All businesses and divisions within should practice the CP style of writing. Too many companies are laissez-faire with their employees’ writing skills and don't enforce a company-wide style.

Restaurateurs and chefs: 'Substitutions will be politely declined'. This was on the menu of a restaurant I went to recently for brunch. All I have to say is, “What? ... What?”. First to restaurateur – what are you thinking? The customer should ‘almost’ always be right. Of course you don’t substitute a potato with a lobster tail, but why can’t you substitute potato for broccoli? And if you really don't want substitutions just verbalize it, don't have it printed on the menu. To me, that’s the ultimate f*** you to customers.

And to you chefs, if this is your directive to the owner/manager well shame on you. You should be artists and innovators who adapt to what the client wants, within reason.

Again back to the restaurant where I had brunch: We wanted to order an item, but didn’t want the egg sunny-side up. Response? “No, you have to take it the way the chef prepares it.”. That’s just plain ludicrous. It wasn’t even changing an item.

2. Can’t find anyone:

M.R. pros: Especially in these uber digital age days, you must be available to your employer and the media 24/7. Yes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The key is to build relationships with your industry’s media. They will respect your time and use those late hours sparingly. As well, you have to respond quickly to inquiries, even if it’s just to acknowledge you received the voice-mail or email. Don’t leave any media contact unanswered.

Restaurateurs and chefs: Please teach or direct your servers to have their ‘head-on-a-swivel’ as well as keen peripheral vision. It's not acceptable for servers to walk around the restaurant floor with tunnel vision. They have to anticipate what customers may want or need to enjoy their meal.

3. Not sure where this fits peeves:

M.R. pros: Just the facts, ma'am in news releases has to be your goal, not hyperbole and superlatives. They're very, very bad. And always use a copy editor and a couple of people to proof-read your material. Unfortunately, this is a blog and I’m taking a chance going with this straight up.

Restaurateurs and chefs: I can’t believe any restaurant manager allowing a server to ask someone if they want change from the cash they’ve left in the bill folder. Servers should just pick up the cash and bill and say, “I’ll be right back with your change”. The server has to understand that the ‘service’ part of the evening doesn’t end when the customer puts the cash on the table, it’s when we leave the restaurant.

There it is – my top pet peeves of the restaurant and media relations industries. I have a couple of others, like the pretentious menus and poorly written news releases (not even considering style), but those can be for another day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Any guy can do this - Pork and pavée

To begin, I tip my hat off to Chef Jason again.

As a trained Cordon Blue and experienced chef, he was able to write out excellent instructions that a regular guy, and girl I guess, could follow and make a delicious meal that would make anyone proud to serve to friends. And that, to me, is what food is about.

I'm not going to take you through my 'usual' walk in this blog. This time, I've asked Jason permission to reprint the recipe and steps for all the elements of the meal. I've also added notes from both of us.

Jason specifically said that cooking the pork "sous vide" would be easy and a process that could be applied to other foods. After the one experience I've had, I completely agree with its simplicity and great flavors.

I also can't say enough about the port sauce and potato pavée.

Please enjoy the experience with me.


Pork with sweet potato and Yukon gold pavée with candied walnuts
by Chef Jason Laurin, Essence Catering (Sticky Fingers blog)

1 lb pork tenderloin
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Ground black pepper
Kosher salt
1 tsp honey
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Port sauce
1 orange
1/2 cup reduced chicken stock
1/2 cup Port
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 dried figs
1 tbsp butter (very cold)
salt and pepper to taste
1 fig per person
Sweet potato and Yukon gold pavée
2 sweet potatoes
2 large Yukon gold potatoes
2 cups 35% cream
2 cloves garlic minced
Grated Parmesan, approximately 1/4 cup.
Thyme leaves 2 tbsp or so
Salt and pepper
Candied walnuts
1 cup walnuts
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp water

The pork preparation

Remove any silver skin from the pork and trim up the tail part so the meat is roughly the same dimension all around.

At medium setting, heat one tablespoon of olive oil and butter in a pan large enough for the pork. Sear the pork on all sides until nicely browned – about three to four minutes. Chef Jason note: careful to not burn; roll with tongs to get color even all over. Place pork on a cutting board and allow to cool slightly. Rub honey, salt and pepper, cinnamon all over. Personal note: it should have been evident to me to rub honey first then rub on the dry ingredients – very important two-step process. Allow to cool completely.

The pork after searing, before seasoning.
After allowing the pork to cool completely, place it on 18-inch square piece of plastic wrap. The wrap can be doubled to achieve the size. Start wrapping up and over with the pork placed at the lower half of the sheet. Press plastic very tightly against the meat. Trying to avoid any air pockets and tie off the ends if needed. You can tie the plastic directly or use some string. Refrigerate overnight.

Fill a large pot with hot water from the tap. Temperature should be close to 120F – 140F. You want to experiment with your stove to find a burner that allows the water to stay at 135F – 145F. Practice with the temperature setting for a while until you can keep it at 140F or so for an extended time.

Take pork, which has been in the refrigerator overnight, and place in a Ziploc freezer bag. Roll the bag up, releasing as much air as possible. A straw can help you to suck out as much air as possible from the bag. Use rubber bands to secure the bag. The key is to not get any liquid in direct contact with the pork. Personal note: I used a vacuum-seal appliance for this purpose. Two bonuses: it worked very well; and, I got to play with my toy.

The pork beginning its sous vide process.
Submerge the pork in the water for the sous vide cooking. Twirl it around every now and again. The pork can stay in the pot for an hour and half. Chef Jason note: Time is somewhat irrelevant after an hour. As the water is no higher than 145F the meat cannot cook anymore than that. The joy here is that after the hour or so, you can turn the heat off and leave the pork in the water. It will stay warm depending on pot size for up to two hours. Personal note: I found the pork not quite pink enough for our liking. I would have timed it so that the pork was in the water between an hour and 75 minutes.

The port sauce

Take half the zest from the orange, making sure to remove as much pith as possible. Place the zest in a sauce pot with all other ingredients except butter and salt/pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Allow to cook for 30 minutes or so until reduced to a sauce. Personal note: this is an extremely good sauce that I would use for any meat.

Sweet potato and Yukon gold pavée with candied walnut

In a baking pan roughly 8 x 8, grease or spray the bottom and sides. Cut a piece of parchment to cover the bottom and spray or grease this as well.

Peel the  potatoes and slice on a mandolin as thin as possible. Place all of them in a metal bowl with the cream. Mix all around to get the potatoes well-coated. Lay them out one level at a time making sure the cover the entire layer of the pan. Sprinkle with cheese and thyme every other layer, and season with salt and pepper on alternating levels. Try to get six or so levels done. Top with cheese and thyme, salt and pepper. Cover with foil. Personal note: I forgot to add the minced garlic, but added too much ground pepper. Nonetheless, it was very good.

Bake at 400F for roughly one hour – a toothpick inserted should meet no resistance. Once you let cool, turn it out and cut individual portions. Personal note: too funny – I just noticed I was supposed to turn it out! But, we did cut them in nice hockey-puck size portions.

Candied walnuts
Roast the walnuts slightly and cool.

Cook the sugar in a pan with water on medium heat until a nice light amber color.

Prepare a pan with a silpat or parchment paper and place the walnuts on top. Pour the cooked sugar over nuts and cook at 350F for about five minutes. Let the candied walnuts cool and break into smaller pieces. Take a small handful at service and pulverize in a mortar and pestle to a rough powder. Sprinkle on top of the potato pavée at plating and dust the plate.

Personal note: this makes too much, but it's great to snack on late at night.

Overall timing

Personal note: I found that timing was quite important for this meal as you had three elements to combine -- four if you count the broccoli. The easiest is the candied walnuts. You can pretty do these at any time, so do fret here. The pork and potato pavée are a different story. The potato pavée cooks for an hour, then another 20 minutes just before serving. The pork, not counting the day-before prep work, cooks for about 75 to 90 minutes.
Et voilà!


Pork: Take the pork out of the water, remove bag and plastic wrap and cut in medallions - preferably three per person. On a big tenderloin you should have plenty for four or two really hungry people. Personal note: we served three portions and had leftovers for two.

Sauce: Swirl the butter into the sauce until it has emulsified. Spoon sauce around the meat and plate. Place the quartered figs and orange segments around the plate for the final touch.

Potato pavée: Just before serving, reheat the potato pavée at 350F for about 20 minutes and finish off under the broiler if the top isn't brown.

Serve this dish with Swiss chard, but any cooking green would be great. Personal note: we used broccoli because that’s what we had.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Food, well, by us

Our Sunday Thanksgiving dinner was put on hold until today to do a squash ravioli with brown butter and sage sauce and salad with pomegranate, goat cheese and pork belly confit (lots left over from last week).

Jason Laurin, mentor chef and owner of Essence Catering, wisely left me with enough squash from the recipe challenge to repeat the butternut squash ravioli – a pasta dish.

Enter my forte … my domain

So with the free range turkey, we bought at Aubrey Meats in the ByWard Market, brining for an extra 24 hours, fresh pasta and salad was now on the menu.

Making pasta isn’t difficult, but finding the right recipe is key – and it took a long time to figure that part out. The Jamie Oliver method is the easiest and most flexible that has always produced nice light dough: eggs for as much as you want to make, splash of olive oil, pinch of kosher salt and white flour.

Combine these ingredients in a food mixer until granular yet holds together when pinched. Dump on the counter and work lightly to form into a ball. The dough doesn’t need to rest, but it works better if it sits in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Separate the dough into reasonably workable sizes. Pass through your KitchenAid pasta attachment (get one) until thickness (or thinness) “5”.

Before the pasta making step, the butternut squash was chopped in small cubes, sautéed in butter with fresh thyme, kosher salt, ground pepper, honey … and friggin’ bacon.

The addition of bacon was my stupid move of the day. Thinking that bacon would add nice flavor to the squash, it was added to the squash while it was cooking. Well, it didn’t crisp up – duh.

Once the squash was tender enough, it was taken out. The bacon was left in the pan to crisp up with more Maplewood bacon, for good measure. As the two bacons combined in the squash grit, a quarter cup of white wine was used to de-glaze the pan.

The squash was returned to this mix, and left to cool until putting it through a mix food mixer for the ravioli filling.

The ravioli sauce was a Dianna-combination of browned butter with homemade chicken stock sauce, topped with sautéed sliver almonds and fresh sage.

The ravioli and salad were absolutely delicious and, I humbly believe, could be served in any restaurant we enjoy so much.

Today, we’re preparing the turkey and a never-made turkey stuffing with cranberries ravioli.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A good beginning … a tasty one, anyhow

My first recipe/meal challenge ended last Sunday evening around 7 p.m. when it was plated with Dianna’s artistic flair.

Believe me, there was a heavy a sigh of relief when we took the plates out of the dining room table to the dishwasher.

Here’s the observations from this experience:
  • Professional chefs can combine foods and ingredients like there’s no tomorrow.
  • Professional chefs have a sense of humour.
  • Professional chefs can be cruel – this I actually knew from watching Gordon Ramsay’s many TV shows, but didn’t expect from Jason.
  • I’m no pro chef… no kidding.

The final hours of this 203-hour ordeal on Sunday was spent getting the rest of meal items. And that was by driving around the city looking for three ingredients – black rice, farro and champagne vinegar.

All the other ingredients, listed in a previous blog, were quite easy to find.

To make a long story short – farro was never found. It was replaced with Jasmine rice. The black rice and champagne vinegar was located at stop number four (Byward Fruit Market). As an aside, farro couldn’t be found at stores in the Glebe, most of the Market and Westboro.

The meal worked out well in the end and was quite enjoyable and entertaining to prepare. Jason Laurin, my mentor chef, did though throw me to the wolves, or pigs in this instance.

Jason, like those TV chefs, is outstanding and makes it look easier than it is. That’s a good and bad thing. It made me think I could prepare most anything.

The reality of preparing ‘certain’ meals is, it’s no different than watching your favourite team/players. On TV, in the stands and press box, it all looks so easy. You chuckle at the fourth-liners who get five and six minutes of ice-time, but the skills they have can’t compare to the best player you ever played against in your youth and beer-leagues.

But, like “The Secret Life of Walty Mitty”, being the hero in my daydreams meant donning a chef’s chapeau like a pro in my kitchen and doing my best.

My next recipe challenge hasn’t been determined yet, but this blog will next present some simple steps to making squash ravioli and a variation of Michael Smith’s easy-to-prepare frozen biscuits.

Until next time.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Death by fowl and swine with a hint grain, wheat and veggie

My first recipe challenge from Chef Jason Laurin, actually a meal, is going to take a week to prepare. It’s pork belly confit with farro and black rice with roasted autumn squash.

There are multiple steps in this meal. There’s making the pork belly confit, the farro, black rice and roasted autumn squash. I’m afraid to see how Jason is going to follow this one up.

As an aside, and commercial moment, I invite you to visit Jason’s own blog (Sticky Fingers), his company’s website (Essence Catering) and follow him on Twitter (@chefjayl).

I started off with the pork belly confit, because if did the farro, rice and squash, they’ll be cold and stale after a week – which is how long the confit has to sit.

The confit, as I note, will only take a week to complete and has 11 ingredients. The ingredients include black pepper, ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice, bay leaves, sprigs of fresh thyme, garlic, salt, skinned pork belly, white wine and duck fat (first photo).

Most of this doesn’t intimidate too much, but I do know one thing: get the right ingredients from the right locations and keep it fresh. I also made an attempt to be sustainable in the making of all this.

Call me observant, but even I know the skinned pork belly is the central piece. I head straight to Aubrey’s Meat Merchants on York Street in The Market. Without question owner Brian Kennelly and his butchers offer great product.

In another commercial moment, Dianna and I have shopped at Aubrey’s in the past, but a walk-through The Market in July with Paola St. Georges (C’est Bon Cooking, @cestboncooking) gave us the opportunity to chat with Brian. It was very interesting and I invite you to take Paola’s tour to find out.

Step 2 with the pork, after gathering all needed, was making the dry cure rub by mixing all those ingredients. I then placed the pork belly in a bowl and thoroughly rub the dry cure all over (second photo). I cover and let sit eight hours in the fridge.

Special mentions now about the pork belly: 1. I didn’t notice until I got home that the sticker on the brown paper said “side of pork”. I panicked! What the heck is side of pork? I sent quick note to Jason, figuring he’d now be pulling his hair out wondering why he got involved with me. I also decided to call Aubrey’s. The butcher who served me said he meant to tell me it was pork belly, but he printed the wrong sticker. 2. The piece of pork has ribs in it. Jason told me to make sure they take the skin off, but didn’t mention there would be bones. He was surprised too. So now I had to take out the bones.

I’m now on my third pot, because I couldn’t find one that made sense. The third step involved pouring in enough white wine, one that I would actually drink, over the pork enough to cover it (third photo). This now sat for 24 hours.

In the fourth step, I took the pork out of the marinade and patted it dry with paper towels. I then melted enough duck fat to cover the pork belly (fourth photo). I placed it in the oven at a low temperature for three hours (fifth photo). I left it to cool in the pot and then placed it in the fridge for a week (sixth photo from the next morning).

Now we wait until this Sunday -- one week -- before plating the pork belly confit with faro, black rice, roasted autumn squash and a simple broth.

I’m actually quite pathetic at making rice, as easy as that is, so that will be interesting. I’m also curious for the squash and broth.

That will be next week’s entry.

See you then.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tools … The kitchen conspiracy uncovered

Doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do, unless you have the right tools you just can’t do it.

Backgammon, chess, cards – maybe you can get away with it. But try to compete in the Olympics without the best swimming suits, or downhill skills, skates, curling rock, and so on.

Alas, that’s why I never made it past junior B hockey – I just didn’t have the proper equipment growing up. Sure, some might point out that I was 5-9, 140 lbs (soaking wet with equipment on), or that you could read the puck label when I took a slap shot… But if I had had the best pair of Tacks tube skates, who knows? I could have been dishing out saucer passes instead of news releases and hors d’oeuvres.

And your tools in the kitchen, it’s no different. Surely you’ve seen the cooking shows with all those gas stoves, perfect pots and pans, those suitcases with chef’s knives. They got the touch and tools.

But it began with a conspiracy

But of course, the genesis of having the proper tools/toys in the kitchen is a conspiracy born by the female gender.

Think about it: Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima and Julia Childs – cooking’s early heroes were women (no offence to today’s Giada De Laurentiis, Ina Garten, Rachel Ray, etc., but it’s my conspiracy). And today it’s Ricardo, Michael Smith, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Bobby Flay, Chef Boyardee – men.

So how did those crafty women pioneers of the pots get men in the kitchen? Toys.

And I’m a sucker for it, too. Year two or three of my now 24-year marriage, my wife Dianna brings home a coffee grinder and pasta maker. The indoctrination began then, the brainwashing… and I went for it.

Of course, you’re talking about a guy who uses five battery-powered units just to go for a run (Nike+ and Polar HRM), who has one of those awful converters that unifies all the components’ converters into one. So, getting me to use hand-powered and electrical tools in the kitchen was the easiest way to get me interested in sauces and soups.

Our tools

I believe we’ve got a great kitchen. Not too big. Good working areas. Large Subzero fridge (came with the house). I would love a gas stove, but I played without those Tacks tube skates, so I’ll have to make do.

We have several categories of cooking toys: books, pots and pans, knives, cutting boards, spoons, etc., small electric appliances, computer (for internet), iPad (for internet) and television (for ideas and inspiration). I’ve pictured some of them here and rate them as follows:
1 – Television: Can’t tell you enough how much inspiration I’ve had from watching all kinds of cooking shows. And the more cooking shows I see, the cooler I believe cooking is. And the less intimidating it is, too.
2 – Cutting boards: Only slightly ahead of our knives in importance, but that’s because I got in trouble for cutting raw chicken on a plain counter. I must have washed that counter for an hour. We’ve got wood cutting boards, black hardboard, and some kind of plastic.
3 – Knives (and wet stone for sharpening): Don’t mess with our Misono knives. We’ve got a longer and shorter Chef knife and a paring knife. We also have some Henkels and with my sharpened sharpening skills, they are still pretty sharp.
4 – Cookbooks: The masthead above is a photo of most of our cookbooks. They are certainly our most used ones. They are invaluable companions to prepare meals. I believe they are not only the best in paint-by-number cooking, but also give you a chance to cook like Picasso. We use they them regularly as resources, for ideas, for direction, to swear at. But I wouldn’t do without them.

5 – Pots and pans: Picture me coming back from a trip to the US with a hockey bag full of All-Clad pans I bought at Macy’s. Now, I’m all for supporting local businesses, but I bought an 11-piece at a great price. We’ve since kept Grace in Kitchen and C.A. Paradis in business. I’m not going to get into the sizes and number of pots and pans you should because I really don’t know. It depends on how you cook.
6 – Small electrical appliances: I couldn’t live (in the kitchen) without our KitchenAid mixer and food processor. I can whip up a batch of pasta (linguine, ravioli, spaghetti) in less than 20 minutes with these two appliances. We have other ‘electrical’ units that are quite useful: scale, grinder, juicer, etc.
7 – Spoons (wood and measuring ones), measuring cups, salt and pepper grinders, ladels, spatulas, etc.: Just get some good ones and use them.
8 – Computer and iPad: Both of these are great for resourcing recipes, ingredients, finding great people and making some cooking friends. Also extremely important when you’re sick and tired of cooking and you’re looking up the phone number for Betcka, Navarra, Murray Street, Town, Saint O, Black Cat, Manx, Mellos, etc.
9 – Cooking classes: I throw this one in at the end. I love going to cooking classes and learning something different with hands-on classes or just observation. We’ve had some great classes at Urban Element and other locations. They have always inspired and influenced in the kitchen.
1A – Wife: Oh boy, could you image if I forgot to mention Dianna! She has dragged me kicking and screaming in the kitchen – thank goodness. I learned a lot from being told what to do, ah, in the kitchen.
1B – Parents: Now, I’m just going for brownie points. My parents always like to see us in the kitchen. I remember being 13 or 14 years old making pizza from those Kraft Pizza boxes that provided you with the flour for dough, pizza sauce and cheese. My dad, being an chef in the army, was a master at using everything, and I mean everything. It’s probably why to this day, I enjoy making all kinds of stock (chicken, venison/moose/beef, vegetable, fish) – nothing goes to waste.

So there it is. I may have been brainwashed by this dastardly conspiracy to bring me in the kitchen but I have the tools to make great food and have fun in the kitchen.

I’m hoping my next blog will be a recipe challenge from Chef Jason Laurin of ‘essence catering’. Jason looks to be so busy lately, that I may need to figure something else until he’s available. Maybe I’ll walk you through my favourite Michael Smith recipe for scone-like biscuits from his first cookbook.

Remember, the best food you can eat is the ‘Food by you’.


Updated Monday, Sept. 20: I forgot to mention a special event. Capital CupcakeCamp 2.0 will be held at Ottawa's City Hall Sunday, Sept. 26. The event is an "unconference" that aims to gather together local bakers (professional and amateur) and cupcake enthusiasts and raise funds for a pair of local non-profit organizations: Woman Alive/Femme Active Program and The Youth Services Bureau. Please visit this website for details - Capital CupcakeCamp 2.0.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Welcome and thanks for reading this first post.

As my brief outline above notes, I love all things food. So, it goes without saying, that I will share with you my humble happenings with "all things food".

What prompted me to start this sharing forum was the many times I've heard friends, females and males alike, young and old, say that they couldn't cook.

I believe you chose "not to cook". Preparing a meal, anyone of them you should have at least three times a day (that's the extent of my nutrition and fitness contribution), can be easy, can be complex, can be quick, can be time consuming ... But most of all, the "Food by you" has to be fun.

So, my goal here is to share a lot my experiences with food. It may be Chef Jason Laurin's (Essence Catering, Sticky Fingers blog) recipe adventures, a walk through the Byward Market with Paola St-Georges (C'est bon cooking), a visit to some of our favourite restaurants (Beckta, The Manx, Town, Play Food and Wine, Navarra, Murray Street), a critique of a new kitchen toy, or just how I follow my wife Dianna's directions in the kitchen.

I hope to make food a fun four-letter word experience for you.