Monday, November 30, 2009

Garlicky Lamb Stew

On Saturday, my friend had her annual celebration of garlic. It's a potluck party where every contribution to the feast must have garlic as an ingredient, including deserts. It's a fabulous evening and you wouldn't believe all the garlicky combinations that people come up with. Garlice cream anyone? It's actually delicious.

This year my contribution was a garlicky lamp stew made from local ingredients that are easy enough to find at this time of year. It was a big hit. Here is the recipe.

Slow-Cooker Garlicky Lamb Stew
1 kg local lamb or mutton (stewing cut)
ca. 1/2 cup flour
ca. 2 Tbs Epicure Tuscan Rub*
ca. 3 Tbs Champy sunflower oil
1-2 heads organic garlic (according to taste), crushed
1 bottle mild scotch ale, like LochNess
500 g organic red potatoes, cut
salt and pepper to taste

Combine flour and Tuscan Rub in a bowl. Cube lamb or mutton. Toss meat in flour mixture to coat it.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottom pan. Brown the coated meat over medium-high heat, in batches if necessary. Put the potatoes in the slow cooker on high. Add the meat, then add about half the garlic. Add the rest of the garlic to the remaining oil in the pan.

Reduce the heat for the pan to medium-low and stir-fry garlic for a few minutes, until soft. Add the scotch ale to the pan. Let it warm for about a minute and then pour the ale mixture over the meat and potatoes in the slow cooker.

Stir the mixture in the slow cooker. Make sure liquid covers the top of the meat and potatoes. If not, top up the slow cooker with boiling water.

Cover and simmer on low 2-4 hours, or until meat is tender, the potatoes are cooked, and the gravy is thick. Stir occasionally as the stew is simmering. Add more water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper towards the end of the cooking process.

Serve over a bed of greens, and with fresh crusty bread.

* I used this because it was what I had on hand. Originally I wanted to use rosemary, but when I looked in the cupboard I was out of it. I still think rosemary would work really well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Crafty Events for Great Holiday Gifts

Craft fairs are great places to pick up gifts that score low on environmental impact and high on supporting local business. Most of the fairs run through November and early December. Here are a few to keep in mind. As well, the Montreal Gazette has a pretty complete list for 2009 here.

Saturday November 28th

  • Fair trade sale and pancake breakfast at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 496 Birch St., St. Lambert, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sponsored by Dix Mille Villages. Breakfast is $6.

Friday December 4th to Sunday December 6th

  • TMR Craft Fair at Schofield Hall, 90 Roosevelt Ave., T.M.R. from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Artisans and tea shop.
  • Dorval Potters Guild Pottery sale at Sarto Des Noyers Centre, 1335 Lakeshore Rd., Room S014A, Dorval. , 10 a.m. to 9 p.m

Saturday December 5th and Sunday December 6th

  • Public Yule Fair At Le Mélange Magique, 1928 St-Catherine W, from 10am to 5pm. Artisans, workshops and storytelling. Free admission.

Saturday December 4th to Tuesday December 22nd

  • Salon des Metiers d'Art at Place Bonaventure. The biggest craft fair in Montreal, this with over 400 professional artisans under one roof.

Sunday December 5th

  • Holiday craft fair at Evergreen Elementary School, 2625 rue du Bordelais, St. Lazare. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thirty artisans and refreshments.

Friday December 11th to Sunday December 13th

Saturday December 12th and Sunday December 13th

If I hear of any other events, I'll update this list.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Top Five in Five #1: Recipe Books

With only five weeks left until Christmas and other holiday gift giving days, I thought it was time to offer up some gift suggestions for the amateurs chefs, entertainers and foodies on our lists.

Over the next five weeks, I plan to offer a weekly post with five ideas along a specific theme. To kick-off my new series, here are my top five recipe book gift ideas. In the spirit of buying local, if one of these books looks interesting, please consider buying it from an independent book-seller (like Appetite for Books in Montreal) close to home before ordering it on-line.

  1. Farmers in Chef Hats by Linda Arsenault is a bilingual book featuring recipes and products from Île d’Orléans near Quebec City, where most of the farms are still family run. This book won the Gourmand World Cookbook for best local cookery book in 2007, and is a wonderful showcase for Quebec local foods.
  2. Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm by slow-food pioneer Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann is a stunning collection of recipes and articles organized by season. Many of the recipes come from the Ancaster Old Mill restaurant near Toronto, where Crump is executive chef and Schormann is the pastry chef. This book is equally at home on the cofee table as it is on the cookbook shelf.
  3. Along a similar vein, Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics, is also divided by season, but then it is also divided by vegetable. The goal here is to help folks cook with the produce from their CSA (or farm-share) baskets. Although Angelic Organics is near Chicago, almost all of the veggies have appeared in my local CSA basket. The book is also peppered with anecdotes and offers insight into biodynamic farming.
  4. In Fish, UK's Michelin-starred restauranteur and 'green chippie' pioneer Tom Aikens teaches us how to cook-up great seafood while keeping our impact on the oceans to a minimum. It contains over 200 recipes, as well as cooking and buying tips. Since this is a British book, a drawback for cooks on this side of the pond is that some species common to and sustainable in the U.K., may not be over here. It's nothing that a local seafood guide can't overcome though.
  5. Finally, for the baker or health-conscious foodie on your list, consider the Whole Grain Baking book by the folk at the King Arthur Flour company. Based in Vermont, King Arthur Flour is 'America's oldest flour company." It is also an employee-owned company that eschews GMO wheat and advocates sustainability.

Do you have a gift suggestion or did I miss one of your favourite books? Drop me a comment or a tweet and let me know!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coffee with a Conscience in Verdun

Every now and then I stumble across a real delight. Case and point: Baobab Café on Wellington street in Verdun. Verdun is probably not where you'd expect to find a thriving socially- and environmentally-conscious café, but there it is. They also offers their patrons free Internet access.

The coffee is good and reasonably priced, especially considering that it is all fair trade. A small filter coffee served at the table set me back $1.75, and it was hardly 'small.' Baobab also serves espresso ($2.35), cappuccino and cafe au lait ($3.15-$4.25), hot chocolate ($2.75-$3.75), and chai tea ($2); all are organic and fair-trade. For an extra $0.50 you can replace dairy milk with soy milk.

If you fancy a nibble with your coffee, they have croissants, chocolatines, and a selection of muffins and scones for about $2. At lunchtime, they also have a selection of sandwiches starting at $4.25 and going up to $9 for a trio.

Finally, Café Baobab sells Camino fair trade products, including sugar, cocoa, hot chocolate and chocolate bars. They also sell their coffee en vrac for $10/lb.

All around a winner, I think. I'm sure I'll be visiting again.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

DNA Delivers Ecogastronomic Delights

Earlier this week, some friends and I went out to DNA Restaurant to enjoy their special "Ecogastronomy" menu in honour of Slow Food week. Founded in 1986, Slow Food was started in reaction to the rise of 'fast food', and was perhaps one of the earliest promoters, although indirectly, of the farm-to-table approach to eating. Proponents of Slow Food believe that food should be more than sustenance in the belly. Food, in its full range of recipes and flavours, should celebrated, savoured, and enjoyed in the company of others.

Recently, Slow Food has added eco- and social responsibility to its gastronomic roots--hence ecogastronomy. According to the Slow Food Canada website, "Ecogastonomy is an attitude that combines a respect and interest in enogastronomic culture with support for those battling to defend food and agricultural biodiversity around the world. [...] It helps to safeguard local cuisines, traditional products, vegetable and animal species at risk of extinction. It supports a new model of agriculture, which is less intensive and healthier, founded on the knowledge and know-how of local communities."

The Ecogastronomy menu at DNA Restaurant was true to all these Slow Food principles. It was my first visit to DNA and my expectations were high. I'd been hearing good things about Executive Chef and co-owner Derek Dammann's culinary concoctions that honour heritage food traditions and use mostly local and sustainable-sourced ingredients, as well as the extensive Canadian wine list compiled with partner Alex Cruz.

Overall my dining companions and I were impressed. We all agreed that the $45 set price for the four-course menu was a steal for the quality and quantity of food. Far too often, farm-to-table dining is out of the price range for the average person. For this event, DNA makes it reasonably affordable. Good on them! In contrast, the $45 optional wine pairing offered to accompany the meal was a huge disappointment and grossly overpriced. Only three services were accompanied by wine and the quantity was very meagre compared to other wine-paired meals I've experienced. Instead, consider ordering your wine by the glass or bottle with help from the sommelier. The extensive wine list offers some affordable choices (as well as some luxury ones!) and a very exciting selection of Canadian wines.

Now, on to the food! Overall the ecogastronomy menu is ambitious and varied. Our waiter was fabulous at explaining everything on the menu, even offering insights into the ingredients themselves and how some of the dishes are prepared. In keeping with the celebration of food in all its ranges and flavours, much of the opening appetizer and pasta course options include ingredients that many of us are not used to, such as heart and testicles (Yes, you read that correctly!). This was a turn-off for some at our table, and the source of great excitement for others. It was really interesting to watch the range of reactions.

Some of the appetizers on offer included zupa di pane (bread soup), porchetta di testa (a charcuterie made from a pig's head), veal heart tartare with brioche, fresh oysters, and Kamouraska lamb carpaccio. The carpaccio, which was delicate and flavourful, was a big hit at our table; as was the heart tartare for the more adventurous and the zupa di pane, which was full of chard and beans and very rich. Appetizers were served with a variety of fresh-baked breads and olive oil, which stayed on the table until the main course.

Moving on to the pasta course, selections included ravioli al sole, kamouraska lamb cavatelli, and spinach pasta with fresh lobster and Matane shrimp, among others. The ravioli was stunning. Upon cutting into it, the barely-cooked yolk of a duck egg spilled out onto the plate. I'd never seen that before, although some of my dining companions had encountered it in their own culinary gallivanting, and even tried to reproduce it themselves(!). Aside from the egg, the filling of the ravioli contained duck liver, heart, tongue, testicles and foie gras, in a refreshing example of leaving no part of an animal to waste. The cavatelli was also well-received. The lobster and Matane shrimp was tasty with generous portions of seafood and married well with the fresh spinach pasta, but was very, very salty. This was a shame because the delicate flavours of the seafood were not allowed to come through on their own.

Main courses included boudin noir (a blood sausage), kamouraska lamb, veal loin, milk-fed piglet, wild coho salmon and striped sea bass. All were tasty, well-prepared and well-presented. The only missing element was vegetables, which were there but you had to hunt for them. There is still a lot of seasonal produce available at this time of year, so I'm not sure why the veggies were so starkingly absent; although it is in keeping with the bistro style that seems so popular among trendy restaurants these days.

Wrapping up the meal, the salted pine nut tart with ginger and olive oil gelato was the perfect finish. I highly recommend it. Other options included apple cake and a chocolate panna cotta made from a traditional recipe (Ask the server about the secret ingredient.). This was followed by almond cookies and coffee.

Overall a very pleasant night. A few final notes: Almost everyone commented on the decor, which is high-tech, modern, tasteful and inviting. The layout also feels very private and helps keep the din of surrounding diners to almost non-existent (A feat well-worth mentionning!). However, the service for the four-course menu was very long. We were in at 7pm and not out until well after 11pm. At that point many of us were rushing out the door, even leaving early before the coffee, weary of long drives back to Vaudreuil and the North Shore. Finally, this is no place for a vegetarian, although I suspect that non-meat-eaters could be accommodated with advance notice.

Sorry, no pics. I decided to sit back and immerse myself in the experience of the evening.

PS. The Montreal chapter of Slow Food is offering a 10% discount on annual membership upon presentation of the restaurant bill from the this week's Ecogastronomy menu. for more details contact them at info(at)slowfoodquebec(dot)com.