There’s a bit of a void in my online life. I mean, now that Top Chef Canada is over, what am I supposed to tweet about?
Jokes aside, now that the show is wrapped up, instead of having a poll with dishes from the finale – those were all a little too fancy for me, anyway – I got to look back through past episodes and pick out a dish myself! Looking back, there were a ton of memorable dishes this season. From Geoff’s blue sprinkle-covered wasabi doughnut to Nicole’s Beaver Balls, there was always something interesting to be found in each episode.
I decided to go with pizza as my last home challenge - Becky’s winning pizza to be exact. The mixture of creme fraiche, radicchio and bacon seemed like an unusual, but interesting combination of flavours to play with on a pizza.
For the fifth installment of Monday Night Supper Club, we decided to head down to Sandy Beach Park for a potluck dinner. Sandy Beach Park is definitely a nice space, but I do have one mild bone to pick with it (listen up Nenshi!). It does not have any sand, nor a beach, which is generally comprised of sand. Nonetheless, ‘Sandy’ ‘Beach’ Park proved to be a great destination for our Monday night gathering. We’ve really been lucking out with the weather over the past few weeks (knock on wood) and this Monday was no different. There was nothing but sun in the sky!
We staked territory over a group of picnic tables and grills, then got to work unpacked and setting up all the food. As our dinner club has been growing in size, there’s always new individuals attending each week, so it’s always interesting to see how everyone interacts with each other. (Tammy, Jacinthe and Sarah pictured to the left)
Luckily, thus far, everyone seems to be getting along quite well, but I’m hoping for a massive Gossip Girl-esque cat fight soon. Nothing says ‘life of the party’ like some good old fashioned drama! Hopefully between the two Chelseas…Fingers crossed!
The dishes were nothing short of amazing tonight. Newcomer Mike (of Mike’s Bloggity Blog) brought some vodka soaked tomatoes (I liked to call them ‘deconstructed caesars’) and a balsamic watermelon and mint salad to the table. Funnily enough, I assumed I would also bring a watermelon and feta bites with a balsamic blueberry reduction, so we kind of had a watermelon overload on the table, but at least they weren’t exactly the same thing.
Continuing on the salad side of things, Jacinthe made an absolutely breathtaking salad using edible flowers, different greens and herbs all from her own home garden. The flowers, and their petals, were a little peppery and reminiscent of arugula. Her home-made vinaigrette was equally as impressive as the garden salad.
I just need to say salad a few more times…Sarah brought a green bean and potato salad, then Tym and Tammy both brought quinoa salads. Now the salad chapter of this story can finally come to a close.
For the main course offerings, Jacqueline brought some souvlaki chicken skewers, pitas, and appropriate toppings while Rob W barbecued some salmon. Although not pictured, Rob W seems to be growing a beard. He looked quite rugged and manly on this particular Monday.
The ‘gold star’ of the main dishes, would probably have to go to Mealan. She brought an array of sausages from a European meat shop near her home, as well as a platter of mustards, pickles, and sauces to accompany them. If the extensive lay-out of this wasn’t enough, she also made labels for each item on the tray. How Martha Stewart. I won’t lie, there may of been some phallic references/jokes happening during the barbecuing of these sausages, but that’s par for the course, right?
For desserts, Wendy (from Yelp!) brought some nanaimo bars, eclairs, and cream puffs. You know, healthy desserts! Rob M was too preoccupied ensuring that he had enough different colours of frisbees to make anything for the dinner, so he brought a pie from Safeway. Priorities Rob, priorities…
His pie was quickly put to shame, by Adria’s yogurt fruit cups made with baked wonton wrappers, and then, again, by Stephanie (fellow food blogger @globaldish) who created what was probably the most beautiful tart I have ever seen. Her blueberry buttermilk tart was really a work of art. I think everyone felt bad slicing into it, but it was equally as delicious, and simply had to be eaten. We should probably take a moment to look at it…
Amidst the prepping, grilling, eating, laughing, and talking, it seemed that we hardly noticed the sun swiftly disappearing from the sky. It’s funny, when summer begins there are so many long days, where the light lasts until after 10PM, but this Monday it was pretty much full-blown night by 9PM. Sigh, that means fall is approaching…So what do you do in the dark besides make s’mores (courtesy of Jacqueline)…No, not that! You play glow in the dark frisbee, of course!
Or maybe those are UFOs?
Here are some more pictures from our potluck night…
Digging into the food!
Sarah’s green bean and potato salad.
Mike’s vodka soaked tomatoes. I am trying this at home soon.
I’m pretty sure I told Jamie and Adria to pose casually…
Stephanie snapping a shot of the food. What can I say? It’s what we do.
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Last week, we had been really lucky. Monday had boasted some amazing weather, which ended up being perfect for our second Monday Night Supper Club outing to Home Tasting Room. While we sat there in the early evening sun, the group decided that the following week’s dinner would simply have to involve a patio as well. Being moderately proud of my own patio, I suggested that we have the meal at my house, barbeque some pizzas, and have a grand ol’ time.
I have the bad habit of having people over for dinner parties and then trying out recipes that I have either a) never used before or b) am just experimenting with. For the most part, all ends well on the plate, but on my end, the majority of the afternoon is spent stressing out about everything and wondering why I chose to, more or less, wing it for the supper.
Luckily, my BBQ pizza potluck portion was limited to pizza sauces and the dough itself, so I didn’t go too crazy. I just threw some red wine and lemon zest into one of the sauces, because it’s summer-time and lemon zest makes everything taste better…except gravy…Except gravy.
Since this week’s potluck had a BBQ-ed pizza focus, most people brought various ingredients to serve as toppings. Tomatoes, zucchini, shrimp, arugula, basil, roasted peppers, carmelized onions, and more…oh, and different cheeses too (obviously)! Four of the group brought some appetizers to precede the pizzas.
Jacqueline brought a chilled vegetable flatbread (eaten too quickly to be photographed), Rob Waye made the women swoon with asparagus spears wrapped with brie and prosciutto…Oh Rob, you heart throb! Victoria made a nice, light carrot and radish salad with a fresh mint and honey dressing. The fourth appetizer came from Rob M. (yes, there were two Robs AND two Chelseas this night…oh my…) who was new to the Monday Night Supper Club experience. He brought a pretty solid macaroni salad. Let’s get real here, it’s not a true outdoor potluck without some macaroni salad!
So, as you would imagine, personalized pizza creation ensued. We weren’t being all too fancy this evening, so the pizza presentation was less ‘Una‘ and more ‘Hey Brie, did a six year old assemble your pizza?‘. Nonetheless, every combination that we grilled was delicious and fun was had by all! So far, everything was a success. Even the sky, which was teasing us with some dark rain clouds, decided not to rain on our
parade dinner party.
Yes, it appeared that nothing would go array on this Monday evening! That was, until someone tried to BBQ a calzone. I don’t want to name names or anything, so I’ll scramble up the letters of their (his) name and let you figure it out: ORB M.
The original goal was to make a pizza (like the one pictured). So, the calzone did start out harmless enough, but soon turned into a massive, doughy mistake. Ok, so maybe ‘massive, doughy mistake’ is a little harsh. Maybe it would be best to take a look for yourself and decide what you think of the…err…situation.
At least he ate it all…
Brie, Rachele, Chelsea K and, surprisingly, Jamie brought the desserts. Brie made a nice fruit salad with some greek yogurt, Rachele brought some tasty cheesecake squares (the kind of thing you know you shouldn’t really even eat one, but end up eating two), and Chelsea K brought an impressive fruit pie. Finally, Jamie made some chocolate cupcakes. He might look scary, but he’s really just a big, tattooed teddy bear!
Chelsea K’s pie, half-eaten.
Not to be left unmentioned, the majority of the pizza toppings were brought by Sarah, Adam, Chelsea W and Chelsea K. Without their contributions, our pizzas would of been just some cooked dough, tomato sauce, and a wish. So, I thank them for helping make that wish come true…
Thus, ends our third week of Monday Night Supper Club! For next week’s adventure, we’re headed to Anju for a chef’s table tasting menu. I have heard amazing things about this restaurant from friends, critics, food bloggers…Basically everyone in Calgary has told me that there is an amazing meal to be had there! Monday can’t come fast enough!
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From The Ground Up: Top Chef’s Mike Isabella on Opening His First Restaurant, Graffiato, in Washington, D.C.
It’s odd, whether it’s watching someone of television, following them on twitter, or, god forbid, hearing about someone before meeting them (I’m talking real-time here), you never quite know what’s going to happen when you finally meet face-to-face. That being said, I had an amazing opportunity to sit down with Chef Mike Isabella from Top Chef: Las Vegas, and most recently Top Chef: All Stars, where he was the runner-up, to talk about his restaurant, Graffiato, which is slated to open soon in the heart of Washington, D.C. in just a few weeks.
Needless to say, I was excited to finally meet the man behind the pepperoni sauce.
What was it like transitioning from an executive chef to a first-time restaurant owner? It was scary. You know, I had a great job, a lot of control, they were talking about partnership, and giving it all up, not taking any pay and putting it all into [my own] restaurant. Now, being three or four weeks away from opening, it was the best decision that I have ever made. We just have to get the people in here now and see if they enjoy the food.
Would you say it was a smooth or bumpy road? You have to sacrifice a lot. My wife knows what goes on, she helps me with this, and all of those people who you’ve done favours for over the years, you reach out to them too. Once Graffiato opens, I’ll be here seven days a week, open to close.
Has the idea of opening Graffiato been in your mind for quite some time? For the last couple of years, I’ve been working on this concept, trying to make it great. I really wanted to encorporate eveything to get that perfect restaurant, and this is the first of hopefully many. Graffiato [will be] my ‘home base’…simple food, but fun. I want to do different concepts. I want to open all the different types of food I like to eat, then open up those concepts, and be good to go!
I love the fact that you’ll be curing all your meats in-house. My favourite restaurant in Calgary, Charcut, boasts a signature pig’s head mortadella. Any signatures you forsee for Graffiato? I like to do everything in-house. The down side is that you can make something that takes three months to cure, then taste it, and realize it’s not what you want it to taste like, then have to start over. Lomo is my favourite cured meat. You take the whole pork loin, brine it for a few days, then marinate it, brine it, marinate again, and hang it for awhile. It’s simple, and it tastes great.
You’re setting up Graffiato as an open concept-feeling establishment. With a butcher bar and seating in front of the wood fire oven, what do you think will be ‘the’ place to sit here? People have been asking me that a lot lately. I think probably the pizza bar. Lots of people want to see the chefs doing the work. I’ll be here 7 days a week, open to close, for the first while, so if people want to see me in action, they can come on down!
What do you think the menu at Graffiato says about you, both as a person and as a chef? I think if you read the menu, you’ll think ‘This is Mike Isabella’s menu’. When we talk about Graffiato being ‘Italian-inspired’ the best way to put it is that I take flavours that I can remember tasting when I was a kid…
Merlot Pizza Sauce:
1/2 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
2 medium-sized tomatoes
1 cup merlot
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 TSP dried basil
1 TSP sugar
salt & pepper
2 chorizo sausages (cooked, sliced)
6 red swiss chard leaves (blanched, chopped)
1/4 red onion (thinly sliced)
1/4 cup pitted green olives (sliced)
1 cup goat’s cheese
Now you can have your wine and eat it too! My favourite part about cooking with wine is that you can drink what you don’t use. Needless to say, I cook with wine quite often, but I digress…I had never thought of putting swiss chard on a pizza until I had the Swiss Chard Pie at Una Pizza. This is, more or less, an ode to them. Thank you for inspiring me with that utterly delicious pizza pie! This one is not quite at their pizza level, but delicious nonetheless! Shall we?
Just to briefly address to the pizza dough situation. Feel free to use a plain old run-of-the-mill frozen pizza shell, but making your own pizza dough at home is super easy! Most pizza dough-appropriate yeast’s will have the recipe right on the jar. C’mon, enjoy a sense of do-it-yourself satisfaction!
To make the sauce you’re going to start by chopping the onion and garlic. Place into a medium-sized pan with some olive oil. Turn to medium-high heat and cook until softened. While you’re waiting, chop the tomatoes. When you add the tomatoes, sprinkle some salt on top of the mixture. It helps release their juices. Let cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add-in the remaining ingredients. Give a good stir and once everything starts to bubble, reduce to low heat and let simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced by 1/2. Remove from heat, pour sauce into a blender (or food processor) and puree until smooth. Set aside to cool.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Now for the pizza dressings…This recipe is set to cover 2 12″ diameter pizzas, with some sauce leftover (for crust dipping of course). Start with a nice slathering of your merlot sauce, followed by the chorizo sausage, swiss chard, red onion slices and green olives. Finish the pizza by crumbling the goat cheese on top. Place into your preheated oven and let bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust turns golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool briefly before slicing. Top with some sliced green olives and a drizzle of olive oil.
Served best with the remainder of that bottle of merlot you used in the sauce.
Total cook time…40 min
‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood, a beautiful day for a neighbour.‘ It’s a beautiful day indeed Mr. Rogers, especially when your neighbour is serving some of the best pizza in town. Una Pizza & Wine opened up on 17th Ave, Calgary (one of the city’s trendiest districts) in January of this year. Jayme Macfayden, Kelly Black & Stephen Smee are the proud parents of Una, the only sit-down pizzeria in downtown Calgary: “We wanted to offer something that wasn’t available in the neighbourhood…We also wanted to create that warm feeling that everyone is welcome here,” Jayme told me. Judging by the number of regulars that stop by daily, they’re doing a fantastic job.
First off, I was served their daily pintxos (a skewered appetizer, pintxos meaning ‘to stab’) consisting of Gorgonzola cheese, caramelized onions, apple essence, & crusted with walnuts. Bite-sized & delicious! Next up, sautéed prawns, w/lemon, garlic & grape tomatoes, lit to flame with sambuca! Companion to the crustaceans were fingerling patatas bravas served with two dips (smoked paprika ketchup & garlic aioli). If french fries had a court system, these would be king. Finally the pizza! I’ve been hearing about these fantastic slices for awhile now (friends have been raving). Roasted mushrooms, scarmoza, grana padana cheese, arugula & truffle oil join forces to create one of the most delicious pizzas I have ever encountered.
Stephen, the executive chef…this post is featured on the Food Network Canada website, read the rest of it here!
‘If you don’t like pizza then what are you…an alien?’
Go to their website to find out: www.unapizzeria.com
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