Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Poutine, Butter Tarts, and Cooky Canucks

For most of us here in the United States, we look forward with anticipation to Thanksgiving-a time to bring out the turkey, pumpkin pie, fellowship, and of course, Black Friday deals.  I got to experience an early Thanksgiving earlier this month, October 6th, by celebrating with my Canadian husband, Canadian Thanksgiving, hosted by The Canadian Club of Houston.  

First of all, it was awesome to me that we live in a city that has such a creative organization to make "Canucks"  feel at home and to connect them with fellow Canadians throughout the city.  I had to laugh out loud a little when I read on the invitation that we would be celebrating with a Canadian meal followed by ice skating!  So stereotypical.  How about a little poutine as well, eh?  Which by the way, if you don't know what that is, I am going to explain it later on.  

So, we pulled up to the ice skating complex greeted by a huge Canadian flag, on a dreary, cool day (also quite befitting-also extremely rare for Houston). Immediately, I noticed how jubilant Canadians are as a whole-I don't know if this is because they were so excited to be celebrating a day apart from American culture or because they are just an extremely nice group of people.  My husband assured me it was primarily the latter.  We continued along where we were greeted by bartenders serving Molsen Canadian beer and Caesars.  Caesars are a similar version of our Bloody Mary's except clamato juice is used in place of tomato juice.  Personally, I find them to knock Bloody Mary's out of the water!  We mingled with various Canadians, learning many interesting journeys and stories that brought them to Houston, Texas.  I learned that Canadian Thanksgiving occurred 43 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, that their reason for celebrating originated as a harvest festival,  and that it was typically celebrated the 2nd Sunday in October, even though Monday is the official holiday.  Then, we got in line for our meal.  I was very curious as to how the food was going to be in comparison to our typical Thanksgiving fare in the United States.  Our plates consisted of light and dark meat baked turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean medley, baked sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, and dressing (usually stuffing is used, but my husband assured me this was cornbread dressing to which my reply was "Well, we are in Texas.").  For dessert, we were offered pumpkin pie and/or butter tarts.  We actually had butter tarts at our wedding that Owen's mom and sister made for our Canadian dessert groom's table as shown below, so I was pretty familiar with these.  However, at this meal they were three times as big and the fillings varied.  After a lively discussion at the table about butter tarts, we came to the consenus that they typically consist of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg filled into a flaky pastry baked until the filling is semi-done, runny inside and crunchy on top.  Generally, raisins are in the traditional butter tart, but walnuts or pecans may be added.  Butter tarts differ from pecan pie in their shape and the absence of cornstarch, making them runnier.  A typical butter tart could also contain up to 500 calories, so it is definitely a treat to be enjoyed on special occasions!  

After lunch, we did a little ice skating, in which I was very embarrassed by little Canadian hockey protege children, as well as old men and women, making it look so effortless.  My only consolation was remembering that I grew up in the land of cotton, not the land of snow and the only similarities are that they are both white and fluffy.  After skating, we had poutine and Tim Horton's coffee.  Poutine is a common Canadian dish, originally from Quebec, consisting of french fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds.  The dietitian in me thought up a healthier (notice I said healthi-ER) way to modify this recipe-use fresh potatoes, cut them into wedges, and bake them with a little Canola oil versus frying them.  Then, instead of using cheese curds, use part-skim mozzarella cheese cut up into cubes.  I was getting hung up on the gravy alternatives though, especially of how to make it taste and look right, so I did some research on recipes and found this one that seems quite tasty and as I said, healthi-ER.  My only recommendation would be using the part-skim mozzarella cheese or some sort of low-fat/fat-free white cheese.  Poutine is found all across Canadian restaurants and fast food chains.  With regards to our coffee, Tim Horton's is one of the most famous Canadian chains, known for its coffee and donuts.  There are a few locations in the USA as well, primarily around the east coast, including New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, and Michigan.  

From a food perspective, what did I learn from this event?  Well, Canadians like their fried, buttery foods just as much as we Americans do! I learned about variations of items that we have in the USA, such as the poutine versus fries, butter tarts versus pecan pie, and Caesars versus Bloody Mary's.  I found the people, the food, and the atmosphere to be most enjoyable and found myself being most thankful that I was able to celebrate a day of thanks with another culture of people, and in doing so, gained a better understanding and appreciation for their culture and heritage.  Below, I have some photos highlighting some of these adventures! 

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Food and Nutrition Expo (FNCE) conference held in Houston, so be checking back to hear about that experience! And remember, even though American Thanksgiving hasn't occurred yet, it is never too early to remember to give thanks.  


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

So, I know I mentioned in my last blog post that I was going to go into further details of some inspiration that I had for creating a blog.  I started a new job two weeks ago, so I am finally finding some time to do this!

If you were like me, you probably have never heard of Outstanding in the Field.  I got invited to attend through my cousin, Miles, who was cooking for this event along with some other chefs in the Memphis/Oxford area.

First, I will give you a little background about this organization.  I won't bore you with too many details, because I think you should check it out for yourself.  But, basically this organization was born in the summer of 1998 with a series of "farmer dinners" in California.  The founder of OITF, Jim Denevan, invited several of the producers out of the field and into the restaurant cafe in California.  The menu featured dishes containing ingredients that came from the farm, from the man or woman that grew the food, or raised the animals, or caught the bird, fish or whatever-so, it was a way to show appreciation to the farmers for all of their hard work and to directly show how it came "from the earth to the table, or from the farm to the table."  The idea continued to expand into having an actual meal on a long wooden table in a field on the actual farm itself.  Guests came toting their own plates, a tradition that still continues today, wearing smiles of gratitude and appreciation for these farmers and their toil.  There, on a sunny California afternoon, a chef prepared a five course meal using all local ingredients from the farm.  The idea continued to expand into San Francisco and other California regions, ultimately culminating in a big red and white bus traveling from coast to coast.  The core staff consists of the original founder, as well as staff from all around the world, from Atlanta to Vancouver, from Italy to Portland.  In 2011, they traveled (without their big red bus I'm assuming) to six European countries.  They even host an annual vegetarian meal to accommodate those who don't eat the farm fare livestock!  Each event begins mid-afternoon, is about five hours in length, beginning with a reception, meet and greet cocktail hour and appetizer pass, followed by an introduction to OITF and their staff, followed by a tour of the farm, ending in typically a four course meal, finishing up around sunset.  Their mission is simple:  To reconnect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local food farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.  Essentially, it is a restaurant without walls, setting up a dinner table with white tablecloths in barns, greenhouses, gardens, ranches, wherever the climate and terrain allow.  The meal is prepared by celebrated chefs of the region, using ingredients often found as "local" as a few feet behind your chair, and everyone celebrates together:  farmers, producers, culinary experts, and diners.
  Outstanding in the Field event at Woodson Ridge Farms in Oxford, MS that I attended

Having personally attended an event, I can attest that what they say on their website-from their mission, to their presentation and style, is all true.  During my years attending college in the Mississippi Delta, as I watched farmers toil over the fruits of their labor (often from sun up to sun down) while we carried on about our precarious ways, as most college students do, I would think to myself, it must be taxing on the body and spirit to work all day, to plan for the harvest, and to rarely ever feel any gratification or receive any appreciation for your work.  Outstanding in the Field is an organization that gets it-giving farmers and producers the credit that they deserve.  Not only that, it educates the general public, like you and me, about the origins of our food, the work it takes to cultivate it, and the skills it takes to delicately prepare a fine meal.  Perhaps you find this spin on a mobile restaurant as unique and interesting as I did.  If so, check them out here and see if the big red and white bus is rolling into your town anytime soon!  Save money for a ticket, bring your finest dinner plate, and go-because I guarantee you that you won't have another meal quite like this, and I can also guarantee you that it will be absolutely outstanding!  

Main website for schedule of events, interactive map, photos, and more
 Check out the blog here!

Sample Menu (based off of the program that we had) Note:  All items served are not listed here.

Bruschetta, tomato jam
Roasted eggplant, goat cheese, mini BLT

Apalachicola Bay oysters, mignonette, Claybrook Farms oxtail horseradish
LA gulf shrimp, citrus rind puree, oxtail brussel sprouts
2011 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier

Will Harris' chicken a la grecque, hominy, burnt okra, pickled radish, Bonnie blue feta,
Woodson Ridge farms salad, beets, chicken fat vinaigrette, slow grilled Woodson Ridge farms eggplant

Frangipane tart, warm apple and brandy compote, sweetened chantilly cream
2011 Secco Brut Rose

Local Farmers and Culinary experts used for this meal:

-Elizabeth and Luke Heiskell                                                  -Kelly English
Woodson Ridge Farms, Oxford, MS                                       Restaurant Iris, Memphis, TN

-John Currence                                                                      -Wally Joe and Andrew Adams
Dwayne Ingraham                                                                   Acre, Memphis, TN
City Grocery, Oxford, MS

-Miles McMath                                                                     -Vishwesh Bhatt
St. Jude, Memphis, TN                                                           SnackBar, Oxford, MS

-Jesse Houston                                                                      -Sean Adams
Jackson, MS                                                                          Honeybee Bakery, Oxford, MS

-Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
Memphis, TN