Feb 27, 2009

Festival of Chefs 2009: Starfish

Next in the Festival line-up is Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill proprietor Patrick McMurray, making an appearance at CheeseB on May 3. This will be his second appearance at the Festival.

Breemer and O-reagano go on a field trip...
Walking into Starfish we were immediately taken by the all-encompassing warmth. Warmth from the cozy atmosphere, warmth from the satisfied feeling after eating, and the hospitality emanating from everyone who worked there.

Proprietor and personality Patrick McMurray proved he inherited the Irish gift of gab when he pulled up a seat beside us and chatted about his love of cheese, philosophy of food and his new venture, The Ceili Cottage.

“Cheese is the answer!” That was the statement that began the relationship between McMurray and CheeseB. His love and enthusiasm for cheese is so great he confessed a dream of his to retire out to a farm and make cheese. In fact, rumour has it Afrim may be working on a special whiskey cheese which may become the house cheese for the Ceili Cottage. Whiskey and cheese? What could be better!?!?

Patrick McMurray: man of many hats, including the CheeseB Trophy "Chef Hat" from last year's Festival.

McMurray holds a number of philosophies on food. First and foremost he insisted you have to “have fun with what you’re doing, because if you do it shows on the plate.” This was clear both from the lighthearted nature of everyone we met in the place, but also in the food we devoured. His more practical philosophies have to do with responsibility and sustainability. With an increasing interest in localization he’s taking a very personal approach by buying direct as often as possible and getting to know exactly where the food’s coming from. In fact, he was able to rattle off the names of each farmer or fisherman who grew or caught the ingredients on our plates, even down to the flour used in the bread. He enjoys the close working relationship with artisanal growers and farmers and tries to keep everything as natural as possible.

The localization emphasis is sure to be carried onto his next venture, The Ceili Cottage, which is McMurray’s stab at creating a true Irish local. Located in Leslieville the establishment will be half pub, half Irish dance studio, and oh so much more. McMurray has so many plans for the pub it could be another article entirely.

Seated by the window we were treated to a nice view of a park and the Cathedral Church of St James (which, we learned, is the only church in North America boasting a peal of 12 change-ringing bells… I have a sinking suspicion that McMurray may kick butt in Trivial Pursuit, maybe he’ll have a quiz night at the Ceili Cottage to put all those facts to good use).

Flavourful, luscious, peat-smoked Salmon

For a starter we selected the peat smoked salmon with horseradish crème fraiche, watermelon radish and pumpernickel. Smoked at a higher temperature, the peat gave the salmon not only a lovely fragrant smoky flavour, but a nice texture.

Wild Irish Mussels: Small and Fiesty

The fact that I was able to indulge in Irish mussels was due to about five years of paperwork in which McMurray fought to be able to import oysters in from Ireland, with the oyster ordeal over he proceeded to obtain permission to import other Irish shellfish. As Patrick pointed out, though these wild mussels are smaller in shape, they’re bigger in flavour (who said size mattered anyway?). The mussels were immersed in white wine, garlic and cream, and served with house-cut frites.

Rainbow Trout of remarkable freshness and texture, and fingerling potatoes, mushrooms, veggies for O-reagano

Sticky Toffee Pudding accompanied by a good coffee

On the dessert menu there’s Cheese Boutique’s selection of cheeses with granny smith apple and homemade quince jelly. The List, at the time of our visit, is as follows: Reblochon, an unpasturized cheese from the Savoi with a Brie like consistency and the flavour of an Epoisse, Piave, a cow’s milk cheese from the Piave Rover Valley with a dense texture and a slightly sweet flavour, and Benedictine Blue, an unpasturized cow’s milk blue from the St Benoit du Lac region of Quebec which has been cured for five months.

However, we decided to treat ourselves to the Sticky Toffee Pudding, and boy, are we glad we did. It was at once both delicately fluffy and intensely rich. Savouring every spoonful, the dessert was divine right down to the last bite.

Scooping out the delectable Urchin interior

For an extra special treat we taste-tested sea urchins which had just arrived-- care of Harold Cassaboom in White Head Island, Grand Manan, New Brunswick. While dissecting this spikey, globular guy McMurray commented that it was like doing microsurgery. Inside was a vibrant orange flesh that had a distinct taste. Apparently the taste is something people generally either love or hate, which we proved as O-reagano fell in love with it while Breemer was satisfied with just a tiny taste.

Weathervane Scallop post-operation: Row, Muscle, and Mantle

Our next lesson was with weathervane scallops where we learned that what we normally see served as scallops in restaurants isn’t all there is. In addition to the abductor muscle which is typically served, there’s also the roe (which tasted fresh and sweet) and the mantle (quite salty and crunchy).

O-reagano highly recommends the custom-made Oyster Stout-- it truly does contain Oysters!-- which you can read about on the Starfish blog . Check out this blog for updates on such things as Sea Urchin arrivals and the stories behind fishes and dishes.

All in all, the experience at Starfish surpassed expectations. Come by on a Monday for a good ol’ fashioned session with good food, good tunes and good times. We know we will.



Feb 26, 2009

Honey, You're Special

There is something new buzzing at CheeseB, a display of small blue jars stacked up at the front of the store-- jars of New Zealand honey. These are the finest Haddrell's of Cambridge Manuka (from the Tea Tree plant) and Rewarewa (from the honeysuckle plant), renowned for their healing benefits as well as their rich, complex flavour. There is an abundance of online material and research on the benefits of this type of honey and its active compounds. This, I believe, puts it in a category above other "natural health" products which may or may not work. In an age where overused antibiotics are becoming decreasingly effective, it seems smart to consider alternatives like this.

But I don't want to be too clinical here, after all this is a blog about foods and flavours! I took home a jar of the Rewarewa honey and a nice round of Paillot De Chevre from the Cheese counter. My goal of course was just to make something tasty. I was thinking of using a standard, plain unripened chevre, but it was suggested that I use the Paillot. This is a Quebec goat's milk cheese, medium strength, aged six months, with a firm, creamy center and a delightful ooziness just beneath the rind.

Paillot De Chevre

I decided to put the honey and cheese on top of traditional Latkes (recipe here), which would usually be topped with sour cream and apple sauce. Compliment this with an accompaniment of sweet navel oranges slices.

Latke with the Cheese and Rewarewa Honey

The result was completely delicious, the caramel drizzles of honey with complex creamy cheese. I had some with dinner and some more for breakfast with the warmed leftover latkes!

There were other recipe ideas on some of the honey websites, such as creaming honey with butter and adding orange zest, to spread on bread or even steak.

If you want to take the honey as medicine, have a teaspoonful 30 min before meals.

Feb 23, 2009

May Festival of Chefs 2009: Canoe

Announcing our new contributor to the blog, "Breemer." Breemer and O-reagano (and sometimes even the big cheese) will be collaborating on weekly features on the fine establishments of all 10 participating Chefs. And by "collaborating" we mean enjoying nice meals, imbibing in gourmet experiences, taking a few pictures, and posting about it here. It's tough work, but... you know.

Cheese Boutique Festival of Chefs: Mission Statement
Invite Toronto’s 10 finest chefs to Cheese Boutique for cooking demonstrations, every Saturday and Sunday in May. Let them cook with our ingredients, and pair their complimentary sample dishes with wine for our festival patrons. By taking these celebrated chefs out of their kitchen into the public, the foodie is able to interact with the chef, and the chef is eager to hear the input of the consumer.

The first in the Festival line-up is Canoe Restaurant Executive Chef: Anthony Walsh, appearing at CheeseB for the first day of the Festival of Chefs on May 2. This would be his third attendance at the Festival.

The view from up here

Ploughman's Lunch topped with CheeseB's Thunder Oak Gouda

Oreagano's lobster club sandwich

Soma mousse and hazelnut dacqouise with apricot and ice wine sorbet

Canoe Kitchen from the Chef's rail

After wading through the Financial District's sea of suits on BlackBerries, pop into the TD building where a quick (though shaky) elevator carries you up to the 54th floor. Upon exiting the elevator pleasant aromas blend with the strong sterile office building ambiance. If you turn one way you end up at the TD Executive Dining Room; turn the other and you find Canoe.

Boasting a fabulous view of Toronto, the backdrop of the harbour serves as a feast for the eyes (why should mouths have all the fun). Luckily we had clear weather and were able to thoroughly enjoy the scenery of the harbour scattered with snowy accents. If you don't get front row seating in front of the lake, another fun option is the Chef's rail where you can perch on stools and watch the goings on in the open kitchen. Despite what one might think, this area (the whole restaurant in fact) was surprisingly quiet, due to the use of induction in the kitchen, which cuts down on noise. We were told that in the summer sitting at the chef's rail is a front row seat for spectacular sunsets.

We started off with the Ploughman's Lunch where proscuitto, Ontario asparagus, Canoe field pickles and Cheese Boutique Thunder Oak Gouda (a pasteurized cow's milk from Thunder Bay that's been aged four years) were artfully arranged on a round plate. The fresh flavour of the greens juxtaposed with the sharp aged cheese was a wonderful combination. My mouthwatering main was the Truffle Ricotta Ravioli with Northern Woods mushrooms, basil and Thunder Oak Foam. I will surely be dreaming of the sinfully rich flavour that, perhaps due to the cheesy foam, was creamy without being heavy. The mix of the mushroom, pasta and sauce blended together nicely and lightly.

Options for dessert included a selection of Cheese Boutique cheeses. Our very pleasant server shared with us his favourites: Bleu d'Acadie, a raw sheep's milk from Ste-Marie-de-Keut, New Brunswick that has a delectable creamy flavour that lingers; and Tourelle de Richelier, a raw goat's milk from Montreal that has an incredible contrast of textures from creamy to grainy. However, that day there was indulgence in a chocolaty treat: the Soma chocolate mousse, hazelnut caramel dacquoise, apricot and Cave Spring Riesling ice wine sorbet.

Canoe is conscious of responsible sustainability and focuses on regional cuisine, everything being sourced from Canada with the majority of ingredients coming from within a 100 km radius. Highlighting the best Canada has to offer through traditional Canuck cuisine with a modern twist.



Feb 19, 2009

Mango-Ginger Pork Tenderloin

Specifically, Marinated Mango Ginger Spice Pork Tenderloin with a Quinoa Swiss chard Pilaf and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes... a.k.a: Sunday Dinner. A tasty departure from your average meat n' potatoes.

Fingerling potatoes are silky smooth and flavourful, roasted in olive oil and salt, and the vegetable-laden quinoa pilaf is a perfect bed for the meat.

The marinade/sauce was something whipped up on the spot, based around the classic orange spice glaze commonly applied to pork roasts.

Rather than orange, I used mango juice, and lots of grated fresh ginger. Heat up some oil in a pan and cook a spice mixture of ground cumin, coriander, a small amount of cloves, cinnamon, a little curry powder, and pepper. Wash out the remnants of the aromatic spice mix with a dollop of dark rum. This warm mixture is perfect for quickly dissolving a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar. Add a little apple cider vinegar and grain (or other) mustard. Brown the roast on all sides and let it sit in the marinade a couple of hours, or even better overnight.

To cook, heat the oven to 375 F or so. Remove the meat from the liquid and as it cooks put the liquid in a pot and simmer gently. As the roast cooks spoon some of this sauce over it a few times, and when it is reduced whisk in just a little it of cornstarch dissolved in water to get a subtle thickening. The roast should cook until it is slightly pink in the center and about 140F on the meat thermometer.

Slice, top with the sauce, and enjoy!

Feb 15, 2009


Valentine's Day beckoned a need to indulge a visit to CB as well as sample from the featured guest, Tutti Matti, Chef Alida Solomon.

Served up hot---crepes filled with sauteed leeks and pear, with a mixture of 3 Italian cheeses--Gorgonzola (dulce), Marscapone and Taleggio, topped off with black truffle shavings.

One word.
Second word.
mmmmm. (I'm submitting that word for Oxford entry in 2009)

The experience though was a warm reminder of what is just 10 weeks away. The May Festival of Chefs is back for its annual 6th year. I have now received the committed 10 chef roster. This year in the buildup to the event we're going to introduce a new feature to the blog, a profile in the order that the chef's will be in attendance, each week for ten weeks.
More details forthcoming but for now, the list....

The 6th Annual-May Festival of Chefs lineup:

May 2 --Anthony Walsh-

May 3 --Patrick McMurray-

May 9 --Massimo Capra-

May 10 --Anne Yarymowich-

May 16 --John Higgins- George Brown College

May 17 --David Garcelon-
Fairmont Royal York

May 23 --Robert Bartley-
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE)

May 24 --Donna Dooher-
Mildred's Temple Kitchen

May 30 --Mike Steh-
reds bistro

May 31 --Jonathan Gushue-
Langdon Hall

Feb 11, 2009

Schmidt Valentine

Hand made in small batches from top quality ingredients, get Joseph Schmidt gourmet truffles from CheeseB's-Chocolate Boutique-- upstairs at the back of the store. Row upon row of the finest imported chocolate brands such as Caffarel from Italy, exotic spiced and flavoured chocolates, and fine candies such as fruit jellies and Turkish Delight. There are cute "Chocolove" bars, marked with XOs and containing a love poem inside. How romantic is that?

I took home a box of six Joseph Schmidt Truffles: Pecan Praline, Double Latte, Black and White Chocolate, Extra Dark Black, Champagne, and Raspberry. One of these large truffles is perfect for splitting in two and sharing-- and they taste very, very good. Need I say more?

One more thing: a reminder that there is a Valentine's Day event on Saturday from 12-4pm. Alida Solomon of Tutti Matti. Hope to see you there!