{ Archive for the ‘food’ Category }

Frozen pesto cubes for winter pasta

Last weekend I had a tall, beautiful columnar basil plant (courtesy of President’s Choice) nestled beside my tomato plants (to help their flavour). It was almost up to my waist. Rather than let it go to seed, which hadn’t happened yet thanks to my consistent pruning, I decided to make pesto.

I found an easy pesto recipe online from Whole Foods and then did a little research to see how to preserve it. The easiest way I found was to freeze it in an ice cube tray, wrap it in saran, being sure to let out all the air, and then pop the frozen cubes into a freezer bag (again, letting out all the air). I left out the cheese from the recipe because I wasn’t sure how it would freeze.

Now throughout the winter, when I want to make a quick weeknight meal–say shrimp with brown rice pasta fettuccine–I can just grab a cube or two, let it thaw a little and then stir it in! No more jars of store-bought pesto required.

I’m feeling ambitious about my herb saving, so this weekend I intend to clip some tarragon, oregano, sage and thyme and dry it out. Charmian Christie wrote a great article for the site that I posted this week called 5 ways to preserve your herbs in 5 minutes. If I get the time, I might also try to create some herb-infused vinegars.

I want to learn to carve these flower garnishes for summer dishes!

Before I left for Amsterdam, I learned that my tourism board contacts wanted me to appear in one of a series of videos they’re creating for internal use. One of our shoots was at Puri Mas, an Indonesian restaurant not far from my hotel in the museum district. They wanted to record me being overwhelmed by all the dishes you receive upon ordering their traditional Rijsttafel. In English, Rijsttafel means ‘rice table’ and is an assortment of meat and vegetable dishes in different sauces accompanied by a couple of different kinds of rice. All the hot ones are placed on a type of tray that is heated underneath by candles. And not that anything needed extra flavour, but there were also several edible garnishes, like toasted coconut, spicy potato sticks and a hot sauce called sambel. I slowly ate my way through through each delicious dish, savouring the unique flavours. For dessert, I tried my first jackfruit, the national fruit of Bangladesh. It reminded me a bit of lychees. And while I didn’t necessarily feel overwhelmed by all the food, I was definitely glad for the walk back to the hotel after eating so much! What I wanted to show here was how flowers and gardening were truly the central theme of my trip. My dishes were garnished by flowers carved out of onions and tomatoes!

The actual food shown here was for filming purposes only. Luckily I got to try the real, hot version after!

The actual food shown here was for filming purposes only. Luckily I got to try the real, hot version after!

I'm sure the other restaurant patrons were wondering what was going on!

I'm sure the other restaurant patrons were wondering what was going on!

Dining between the charcuterie and the olives

Two nights ago I attended the launch of A Taste of Ontario, a cookbook jointly published by the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and Foodland Ontario. The dinner was hosted by Mark McEwan and held at his new 23,000-square-foot grocery store, McEwan (located in The Shops at Don Mills). Between the European-style meat, deli and dessert counters, we sampled some of the delicious recipes conceived by award-winning chef Anthony John Dalupan.

Besides launching this free cookbook (which you can also download as a PDF here), the event was meant to showcase the fresh local produce from Ontario greenhouse growers. And what a difference the lack of distance between your food and your plate can make. I received an amazing basket of vegetables from local greenhouse growers — the taste and quality are amazing!

So in the dead of winter when you're trolling the grocery store for healthy local produce, keep an eye out for greenhouse-grown produce from a local grower.

Also, stay tuned as I will be posting an excerpt from the cookbook on our site!

It was pretty neat eating dinner in a grocery store, especially McEwan - I will definitely be going back to treat myself to some of the amazing cuts of meat, salads and produce!

It was pretty neat eating dinner in a grocery store, especially McEwan - I will definitely be going back to treat myself to some of the amazing cuts of meat, salads and produce!

I'll be cracking open A Taste of Ontario to use up some of these delicious peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes I received!

I'll be cracking open A Taste of Ontario to use up some of these delicious peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes I received!

Good eats and cheap retreats

img_2542If you are exploring central Florida’s Polk County, look beyond the usual chain restaurants and fast-food joints to discover some independently owned gems, several of which have been in the same family for generations. Mostly frequented by locals, all these eateries are less than an hour’s drive from Orlando.

Harry’s Old Place in Winter Haven is lively, low-key, unpretentious and affordable, with excellent fresh seafood.

img_22363I tried one of Harry’s signature dishes called Harry in the Bag, which is a succulent piece of pecan-coated grouper (shown left) cooked, as you might suspect, in a brown paper bag and served to me there by Harry himself. One caveat: the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and it does get busy.

Harry’s Old Place
3751 Cypress Gardens Road, Winter Haven
863-324-0301

img_2299img_23091A charming spot for lunch and a local institution since 1969 is The Barn, the Stable and the Backporch Tearoom. There you can browse through rooms filled with antiques and home decor items, visit the garden shop with its funky yard art, then enjoy a casual, picnic-basket-style lunch that consists of your choice of homemade soup, salad, sandwich and dessert–all for under $8. (Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 4 from October until the last Saturday in May.)

The Barn, the Stable and the Backporch Tearoom
I-4, Exit 48, three miles south on Hwy 557 in Lake Alfred
863-956-2227
www.barnantiques.biz (click on Our History)

img_2470Finally, nestled on 140 acres and steeped in ambiance (it’s on the register of National Historic Places) is Chalet Suzanne, a spot voted one of the top ten most romantic in Florida. Since 1931, the Hinshaw family has been welcoming guests (and many celebrities). The decor alone is worth a visit, for the place is jam-packed with beautiful old lamps, antiques, fabulous decorative tiles and stained glass. These were collected from around the world by Bertha Hinshaw, who founded and developed the business after her husband, Carl, passed away at age 47, leaving her with two small children and the pressing need to earn a living. The award-winning restaurant comprises five dining rooms. There are also 30 guest rooms, a landing strip for airplanes and more, as well as a soup cannery, which was begun in 1956 by Carl Hinshaw Jr. in his garage. Chalet Suzanne now produces 13 gourmet soup varieties and three sauces. The soups have been served in many places, including the spacecraft Apollo 13 and two other Apollo flights. To commemorate this honour, their signature romaine soup has been renamed Moon Soup.

img_24882There is also pretty little garden filled with personalized tiles, including some made by celebrities and astronauts. For a fee, you can create your own tile to add to the walls.

Chalet Suzanne Restaurant and Country Inn
3800 Chalet Suzanne Drive, Lake Wales
863-676-6011
www.chaletsuzanne.com

Cheap retreats On the last morning of our stay, we were to view a vacation rental property. I have to say my first thought was: “Uh oh. Will this turn out to be one of those swamp-land-in-Florida-type sales pitches?” In fact, we were taken to a very pretty and quiet upscale residential neighbourhood, where we toured a fully-equipped, five-bedroom home with ensuite bathrooms, several family and games rooms (in addition to a large living and dining room), laundry facilities and a good-sized, enclosed private swimming pool and spa. This house sleeps 12, and the cost to rent it per night is $150!

img_2586I don’t know about you, but this seems like an incredible deal to me. Think of the possibilities for a family vacation in the Orlando area (Disney World, Sea World, etc.) or a reunion, or just a nice escape from winter with friends. You can even hire a cook, a concierge, etc. Anyway, there are something like 25,000 vacation homes available in the central Florida area that range in price from $100 to $400 per night. If you want to find out more, you can look on the website of The Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association at www.vacationwithconfidence.com.

Next: Searching for signs of spring

Citrus groves and grapefruit pie

img_23272Do you ever stop to wonder at the contradictions in nature? For example, why do orange blossoms smell so sweet when the fruit they produce tastes tart?

Citrus is big business in central Florida, so a visit to the groves was a component of our tour. We were shown how oranges are washed, dried, polished and waxed before being packed for shipment. I was surprised to learn 95 per cent of Florida’s harvested oranges are earmarked for juice. However, enterprising Floridians figured out a use for all that leftover pulp and peel–it goes into cattle feed. I guess Florida cows don’t suffer too much from colds and flu.img_23331

One of the many interesting stops we made was to the Citrus Research and Education Center of the University of Florida. It’s been around for about 90 years, with a citrus library that’s open to the public. In addition to an overview of projects being carried out by graduate students and other young scientists, Wendy Meyer (with magnifying glass, right), an entomologist and research biologist, told us about some of the pests that are plaguing crops. One of the most serious of these is the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), an aphid-like insect that is a vector for the Liberobacter asiaticum bacterium, which causes deadly greening disease that can kill a tree in just five years.img_23141

Since its initial discovery in Florida in 1998, the Asian citrus psyllid has spread throughout the state. Dr. Meyer reviewed various methods that are being used to monitor this pest, including putting out pheromone-laced yellow panel traps. Controls being tried include interplanting citrus with guava, which seems to act as a natural repellent. At present, there is no cure for this devastating disease. Greening could spell big trouble for the industry in the years ahead.

img_2409Next, we headed off for lunch to Lang Sun Country Groves in Lake Alfred, a family-run business since 1951. The massive Florida flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta) in front of the building dates from that time. Not only does Lang’s grow, pack, ship and sell oranges, grapefruits and other citrus varieties, but they also have the Taste of Florida Cafe, where they serve freshly squeezed juice, homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and especially, desserts. I sampled the signature grapefruit pie shown here (you can find the recipe on their website, below).img_2414

After lunch, we toured the packing facility out back, where fruit is sorted by size and packed by hand. It seemed a surprisingly small, low-tech operation for a company that ships citrus fruit far and wide. Lynn Miller, a second-generation member of the Lang family, proudly showed us a box of honeybell tangelos, a runaway Florida marketing success story. When I told him their shaped reminded me of the mineolas I bought at home, he grinned. It seems they are indeed the very same. The difference is they couldn’t give away mineolas in the U.S. until an enterprising grower changed their name to honeybells to reflect their bell-like form.img_2426

www.langsuncountry.com
www.visitcentralflorida.org

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