There are good potlucks, and then there are awesome potlucks, and then…there’s CHARpopLuck. The co-owners of Charcut, by some miracle of god, assembled a line-up of dozens of chefs to contribute to an epic potluck dinner at The Calgary Farmers’ Market for 100 lucky attendees this past weekend.
In addition to helping raise over $20 000 for the Calgary Food Bank, which is awesome, the event gave food-lovers the opportunity to spend some time with the city’s best chefs and some great out-of-towners too. The list of chefs is too long to list here, but included dishes by Paul Rogalski (Rouge), Kyle Groves (Catch), Roy Oh (Anju), Dale Mackay (Top Chef Canada winner, season one) and many, many more.
I think that, sometimes, pictures can say it better than words could describe, so check out all the happy, smiling faces I captured at Charcut’s CHARpopLUCK event. What a night!
Top Chef Canada season one competitors, Dale Mackay and Connie Desousa, reunited for the night!
It feels like only yesterday I was getting all excited about the second season of Top Chef Canada and eager to get cracking on attempting to reinterpret dishes from each week’s episode.
Apparently time really flies when you’re having fun and getting relatively stressed out in the kitchen! With the second season coming to a close last Monday and Carl taking home the title of Canada’s newest top chef, it is now time for me to wrap things up as well. Please, no tears…
Instead of having an online poll to choose the final dish I would have to tackle, we (i.e. the FoodNetwork.ca powers that be) decided it would only be fair that after twelve weeks of being subject to public opinion, I could pick a dish of my own. — my favourite creation of the entire season.
It was hard to narrow it down because there were so many interesting plates throughout the series. But I eventually decided to do my own take on Trista’s winning dish from episode nine — her Seared Squab Breast with Confit Legs, Lyonnaise Potatoes, Wild Berry Jus, Pain Perdu, Crispy Bacon and Herb Salad. (Whew! That’s quite the mouthful.)
My rendition would have a few less words in its title. I remember watching that episode for the first time and seeing her dish. It was beautiful, and the squab claw garnish was right in line with the sense of playfulness I have with my own food.
I searched high and low in Calgary for some squab, but could not locate any. OK, truth be told, I may have only tried two grocery stores and one butcher shop, but I didn’t have all day!
On a quick side note, squabs are technically pigeons, and there are a lot of those hovering around town, but I didn’t think catching one and cooking it would be a very healthy (nor safe) choice to make. I ended up settling on a Cornish game hen from the butcher shop.
Back to the kitchen, I got to work by tossing the hen in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, seared it off, then popped it into the oven to crisp up the skin. I made my jus out of blackberries, chicken stock, dried blueberries and a bit of fresh ginger. After some quick research, I realized ‘Pain Perdu’ is actually french toast. I had a day old baguette on my counter, which soaked up its rosemary, thyme and egg coating perfectly. In the end, everything came together quite well. Between the hen, jus, and pain perdu there were some rustic, but rich flavours on the plate. I’d like to think that Trista would be fairly happy with this home cook’s version…
Well, it is almost time for this season of Top Chef Canada to come to a close. Tonight, we all will find out if Trevor, Jonathan, or Carl will take home the title of ‘Canada’s Top Chef’. It’s been great watching these three skilled gentlemen show off their chops throughout the past 13 weeks, so, regardless of who wins, it will be well-deserved.
Yet again, I’ve found myself out of town during one of my weekly Top Chef Canada dish recreation challenges. I was lucky enough to head back to Vancouver this week to attend Trevor Bird’s restaurant opening bash for Fable Kitchen. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it was the name of his team’s one-day dining establishment during this season’s ‘Restaurant Wars’ episode.
When I popped by the event, I told Trevor I had to recreate his Apple Bacon Tart from the current episode. Not being much of a dessert-maker himself, he assured me that I would be fine baking his dish this week!
In addition to baking some apple bacon tarts this past weekend, I also signed on to cook a birthday dinner party for my friend Jillian. After coming up with a simple menu for her and some friends to enjoy, we decided that some Top Chef-inspired tarts would be the perfect way to end the evening, on a sweet note.
I’ve cooked many of my Top Chef Canada recreations for friends before, but making a dessert dish at a birthday dinner was definitely upping the ante. Jillian is not an easy lady to impress!
Oh Kraft Dinner…I’m sure all of the remaining contestants were very happy to cook with macaroni in the quick fire challenge this past week.
Many of the chefs’ creations seemed interesting, but David’s winning dish from this challenge, the ‘Mac ‘n Cheese Grilled Cheese’, looked like a guilty pleasure on a plate. A sandwich that would be most fitting for the late night (post-party) weekend crowd no doubt. The mac ‘n cheese grilled cheese sandwich won by a landslide in my poll this week, which I was definitely ok with!
Since I didn’t have the time constraints of a quick fire challenge, or six cameras recording my every move, I decided to make some mac ‘n cheese from scratch. The ingredients for the grilled cheese sandwich itself were fairly simple, so I decided to go with a cheese with some flavour.
The grocery store just down the road from me has the largest selection of cheese in the city, so I knew I would be able to find something perfect there. After perusing the aisles, I finally settled on a double smoked cheddar cheese. Once I started to grate the cheese, it had the most amazing smell.
It took all my will power to need eat the majority of the cheddar before I cooked with it.
If you’ve never made mac ‘n cheese at home before, I would encourage trying to. It takes about 15-20 minutes maximum and you always end up with a big bowl of cheesy goodness. Now, I’m not saying you should make this all the time (everything in moderation), but the next time it’s a grey and rainy day outside, I suggest trying to whip up a batch yourself! What I do not recommend, however, is leaving a bowl of the freshly made mac ‘n cheese unsupervised on a counter. You may discover your pet trying to sneak a bite behind your back (like my parrot, Baub, pictured!). Trust no one!
To make the asparagus relish, I just did a quick pickling of some asparagus spears and red onion. Since relish is generally fairly fine in texture, I used my magic bullet to get a nice mince on the vegetables. Man, what can’t a magic bullet do? A food processor would have worked just as well, but the bullet was already plugged in on the counter. It was almost like it was just waiting to help me out…I let the vegetables sit in a pot pickling liquid for about ten minutes, then I strained them, mixed them with some grainy mustard and black pepper, and let the, let’s call it ‘cheat’, relish chill in the fridge.
Once again, I found myself situated out of town when it came time to create my assigned Top Chef Canada dish this week. I was back visiting Saskatoon to attend my high school reunion over the past weekend. Yes, in addition to the pressure of trying to impress all of my old classmates, I would also have to cook while on vacation! Damn…
My friend Erin graciously donated her kitchen and time to aid me in making cabbage rolls. On a completely unrelated note, I enjoy cooking at Erin’s house because she has the cutest dog in the world. His name is Boogie and I may of fed him scraps during the cabbage roll process!
Alright, back on track…If you didn’t know, cabbage rolls are somewhat of a Saskatchewan specialty. A little bit of history for you: A large portion of settlers came to the prairies in the early twentieth century from the Ukraine, Poland and Russia. With them, came recipes for cabbage rolls. Although recipes vary from family to family, this is a treasured dish in this province. Everyone loves a good cabbage roll!
To grab most of the ingredients for the dish, I popped by the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market for produce and The Bulk Cheese Warehouse for the crème fraiche.
The Bulk Cheese Warehouse is somewhat of an institution in Saskatoon, with an array of delicious cheeses and baked goods, I always find an excuse to stop by when I’m back in town. Like a typical foodie, I became mildly distracted at the farmers’ market, finding a bag of organic beluga (blue) lentils and fresh local fiddleheads, which I ended up using for a family dinner on Sunday night, but that’s a whole other story…
Cabbage rolls, at their simplest are a mix of rice, onions and ground beef wrapped up in a leaf of cabbage, then baked with tomato sauce. The kind of cabbage we needed to use was ‘sour cabbage’. An entire head of green cabbage which has been fermented. It has a brine-y flavour comparable to sauerkraut. The only ‘non traditional’ addition I made to this basic cabbage roll recipe was some fresh basil mixed into the tomato sauce. So consider these Italin-style cabbage rolls, I guess?
What an eventful time in Top Chef Canada land this past week. Cooking with vending machine ingredients, ‘roughing it’ in the wilderness and an appearance by Roger Mooking. This was definitely one of my favourite episodes to date. Although, I must say, it broke my heart a bit to see Ryan sent home. He will be missed. After watching all the chefs sweat making, uh, ‘unique’ dishes out of vending machine fare, I thought to myself, ‘Thank god I won’t have to do that this week!’
I spoke too soon… Little did I know, Trevor’s Pork Rind Crusted Chicken Wings with Pretzel Beer Mayo would sweep the polls on foodnetwork.ca. As much I had hoped to garnish a plate with squab feet, that dream would have to wait for another day.
Trevor’s idea of coating chicken wings with pork rinds was quite genius, actually, although I was a bit skeptical about the pretzel ‘mayo.’ Seeing as I utilize Twitter for just about every aspect of my life (including my never-ending search for true love), I decided to reach out to Trevor for some advice. Luckily, he came through and told me to add more beer.
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