Sausage Fest 2016: Morris East

Morris East (downtown) is widely known for two things: wood-fired pizza and keeping the menu very seasonally inspired. Chef Tim Andersen says he likes to do things well and make a simple pizza that lets the ingredients shine. Andersen says the pizza for Sausage Fest Halifax 2016 was inspired by Nova Scotia: “I love Nova Scotia apples and I always try to work them in this time of year.” One flavour led to another, and Andersen found himself incorporating caramel, apple and fennel to create a pork sausage that would go on the pizza loose, outside of casing.

The base of the pizza is a lemony ricotta cheese, it is topped with sliced, spiced apples, crumbled sausage meat, and caramelized onions that are rich in colour and deeply flavoured. The combination of apples baked in the wood-fired oven, hints of cinnamon, super savoury caramelized onions and caramel notes give this pizza a super cozy, autumnal feel. This pizza is perfect for people who love sweeter, aromatic pizzas, and autumn spices.

What I ate at Dine by Design East Gala

Two weeks ago today, a day of crazy rain showers gave way to a wonderful evening of food, drink and design at the third annual Dine by Design East gala event.  This fundraiser for the NSCAD Amber Harkins Memorial Scholarship is part of the overarching Dine by Design East, a four-day long affair of fashion, design and fantastic food, presented by East Coast Living Magazine. Read more about the event and it’s backstory.  I also attended a cooking demo by Diandra Phipps, vegan chef and owner of Envie: A Vegan Kitchen, on the Saturday afternoon following the gala.

Entering the Olympic Community Centre, this year I was again struck by it’s transformation. Talented and imaginative local designers and architects completely (from scratch) built their spaces (a 10×10 booth), making the hall completely unrecognizable. Each designer or design team is paired with a local chef — I was lucky enough to be on the media tour, so we had early access to the food and drink. Strolling through with East Coast Living’s editor Janice Hudson, and a food-writing colleague of mine Lia Rinaldo, we had the luxury of sipping on the delicious welcome cocktail, chatting with the chefs and getting descriptions of what we were eating. Along with a bubbles bar, a cash bar featuring cocktails made byJeffrey Van Horne of Lot Six (plus local beer and nice wine), music, an upstairs art gallery and silent auction — the Dine by Design East Gala really nailed the atmosphere and offering. Plus the crowd was well-dressed, enthusiastic and really into the food. My kind of people! Here are a few food highlights:

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King oyster”scallops” with charred pepper clay, hana nori, presented on oyster half-shells. By Diandra Phipps with Envie.

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Soy confit duck with curry crumb, five spice BBQ, kimchi foam and fresh cilantro. By chef Luis Clavel.

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Brown sugar-cured salmon, pickled cherries, creme fraiche. By Field Guide. Their food had a theme of Rolling Stones songs.

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Beef brisket with deep-fried gnocchi, curds. By Kitchen Door Catering.

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Dennis Johnstone serving from a chunk of ice. His theme was “no waste”.

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Mascarpone filled local cherry tomatoes with crispy basil, balsamic drizzle. Scanway Catering & Stubborn Goat Gastropub.

Check out the full photo gallery below:

Pete’s Goes Whole Hog

This is a first of a series of blog posts I’m doing as an official blogger for #SausageFestHFX.

To get more sausage in a shorter period of time, I decided to tag along on Local Tasting Tours Sausage Crawl today. From 2 to 4 PM we hit up four Sausage Fest participants, learning lots of interesting facts about the stores or restaurants, and Halifax, while doing so. Led by the lovely and well-informed Emily Forrest, we were a small but cheerful group today (be sure to sign up for a sausage crawl this week!). Along with two American cruise ship passengers (husband and wife Carolyn and Mike), this tasty walking tour took us to Pete’s Fine Foods on Dresden Row, Durty Nelly’s Authentic Irish PubThe Five Fish Grill, and Stubborn Goat Gastropub.

This post is going to cover our time spent at Pete’s. I learned so much about the British Butcher operation there from the very informative managers in charge, Peter and Alex. First, we were served delicious, pan-fried toulouse sausage on a bun — nothing fancy about this presentation. Two condiments were provided on the table: Dijon and truffle aioli. (Yes and yes.) Peter then gave a description of toulouse and how they make it.

Turns out this was toulouse made from a heritage breed of pig, Berkshire, being raised in our very own agricultural heaven, the Annapolis Valley region. Canaan Lands Pasture raises a very limited number of Berkshire pigs, and Pete’s has been buying half-pigs on a regular basis to craft delicious sausages and bacon. It turns out the farmer (Aaron Hiltz) at Canaan Lands is the son of Randy, who owns Ran-Cher Acres goat farm, who you may know from the Seaport Market and for the best goat’s milk products EVER. Their feta? The best. These Berkshire pigs’ diets are made up from 80% foraged food and 20% whey from the Ran-Cher Acres.

Toulouse sausage is a simple, homestyle sausage (originated in Toulouse, France), in this case made with pork marinated in red wine, fresh garlic, fresh thyme and salt and pepper. They also added some pancetta to give a slightly fattier, richer flavour. Fantastic. I really enjoyed this simple sausage on a bun, with truffle aioli.

Next we visited the British Butcher section, where Peter showed us half the pig’s head (to remind us where meat comes from); he also spoke a lot about trying to use the whole animal and how customers in Halifax are slowly becoming more comfortable with lesser-known cuts of meat. Alex then showed us the hand-cranked sausage maker they still use at this location. I didn’t realize just how much local meat was coming through the doors at Pete’s. Now I know. On the walk out of the store Emily and I gave a serious shout-out to THOSE OLIVES, the chupadelos, telling our American friends that they’re the best, most life-changing olives EVER.

More about the other Sausage Crawl stops tomorrow. To purchase your tickets for a Sausage Crawl this week, visit the Local Tasting Tours website.

Fun fact: Carolyn and Mike’s son, who lives in Atlanta, is in a pretty serious CCR cover band called Fauxgerty (sweet name). I promised to check them out, and they sound kind of awesome:

Shout out to Carolyn and Mike for exploring Halifax on foot and NOT simply loading into a tour bus for the day. (They only had one day in Halifax.) We wish more cruise ship passengers were like you!

The best food at Dine by Design East Gala

Overwhelming to the senses. In the best way. That’s my interpretation of the Dine by Design East gala this past Thursday night. My first experience of the event, at its second annual edition, served as a full body experience. What I would describe as a mishmash of food, drink, design and art, the gala is really just a whole lot of fun.

Stepping through the doors of the Olympic Community Centre to see it completely transformed into a gallery of beautiful spaces is impressive enough. With a large cash bar near the entrance, a champagne bar in the back, dimmed lighting and the DJ spinning ambient music, it had the vibe of “upscale night club turned art gallery”. While I was lucky enough to make a round on the media tour, before it got too crowded, the general admission to the event has a lot to offer. On top of being a fundraiser for the Amber Harkins Scholarship Memorial Fund at NSCAD (a cause to feel good about), the evening goes something like this:  stroll through the venue while tasting hors d’oeuvres dreamt up by some of Halifax’s most talented chefs, chat with local designers and architects who are excited to explain the inspirations behind their spaces, and sip on local beer and wine samples, all while surrounded by extremely well-dressed people.

There is so much to report on for an event like this, but I’m going to stick to what I do (and what I know): the food. Here are the best three things I tasted at Dine by Design East gala. For photos of almost all the food at the event, peruse the gallery at the bottom of the post.

My top three:

#3 – From Chef Luis Clavel, Atlantica Hotel Halifax: Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil. Served on a stick (who doesn’t love that), topped with the thinnest piece of crostini, drizzled with truffle oil; the juicy, tender texture of this chicken (done sous vide) was mind-blowing.  Luis isn’t known for doing simple food, but this is an example of how he changes your relationship with simple flavours: chicken, olive oil, basil, bread… elevated to the next level.

Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil.

Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil.

 

#2 – Pictou Lodge Beach Resort’s chef Thomas Carey handed me this: cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly, lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker. The rich, smoky, melt in your mouth salmon belly sang when combined with tangy flavours like lemon, radish and pickled sea asparagus. Put it all on a crunchy, hearty cracker, and this is my kind of eating.

Pictou Lodge: Cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly with lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker. ***In my top three!

Pictou Lodge: Cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly with lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker.

 

#1 – Robert Reynolds of EDNA never seems to disappoint. His Garden Party inspired menu was spot-on, and my favourite taste of the night was his marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse. I’m a huge shellfish lover to start, but it was really the usage of harmonious flavours like tequila, citrus and avocado that made every well-balanced bite of this adorable little shrimp cocktail work.

By EDNA chef Robert Reynolds: marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse.

By EDNA chef Robert Reynolds: marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse.

 

Mothers has garlic fingers!

Imagine my surprise and delight when last week we sat down at Mothers Pizza for a good old cheesy carb feed, and I saw garlic fingers on the menu! My guilty junk food weakness. My shameful delivery order after a late night out. Garlic fingers.

I hadn’t been to Mothers in a while, but typically I’ve had good experiences there. I like their hearty pizzas with lots of toppings (Canadian style) and the fact that they use so many local suppliers. Their pizzas are very cheesy, and the service is always super friendly. Also, I like the small wine list.

At Mothers, they’re calling them “garlies,” and of course we had to try them. We ordered the small (9-inch) to start, which was served with house-made marinara sauce for dipping. The garlies were insanely cheesy, to the point of greasy, in the best possible way (they’re supposed to be, in my opinion). I’ve never met a garlic finger I didn’t like. If you’re looking for a critique though, I’d say pump up the garlic a notch, and also experiment with donair sauce. The marinara was nice, but I love the sweetness of the traditional donair sauce with my garlic fingers. (Call me old-fashioned!)

Garlies and marinara.

Garlies and marinara.

After devouring the garlies, I could barely put a dent in my vegetarian pizza. It was absolutely loaded with various seasonal veggies, plus I added anchovies. The pile of spinach on top was a little hard to navigate. The leftovers were awesome, though.

On other trips to Mothers, I’ve very much enjoyed both the White Pizza, and The Agricola. Check out their menu here.

Did you know in other parts of Canada, garlic fingers and donair sauce aren’t a thing? Tell me: What are your favourite garlic fingers in HRM?

Lunch at EDNA, compliments of Ford

EDNA, located in the north end

EDNA, located in the north end

Last week I was invited to attend a Ford media event, at EDNA, where we would hear about the company’s sustainability efforts and the technologies that are making their vehicles “fuel-economy leaders,” including the all-electric Focus. The event started with a presentation by Dr. Ellen Lee, the lead in plastics research for Ford, with some quick slides near the front of the restaurant. One thing that did impress me during the talk by Dr. Lee was the amount of post-consumer material (recycled plastic bottles, scrap cotton from jeans) that Ford is now using to design the interiors of their vehicles.

We then settled into one large communal table for an impressive four-course lunch, inspired by some of the sustainable materials that the automotive giant is now using inside their vehicles (think corn, soy, rice, etc).

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tortilla salad – roasted sweet potato, edamame, black beans, tomato, sweet corn, greens, cilantro, house made corn chips, citrus vinaigrette

First course was a lovely tortilla salad; small enough, light enough and playful enough with textures to serve as the perfect amuse bouche.

We had choice for the next three courses, and I opted for the seafood on both second and third offerings. A meaty grilled octopus dish with a soy Szechuan glaze was up next. Again, the chef had fun with the mouth feel of the dish, throwing in some popcorn. I enjoyed the octopus itself very much, as I love the dense texture and flavour, and it was grilled nicely, but wished the glaze lived up to its Szechuan title a bit more and offered real heat.

grilled octopus, soy Szechuan glaze, coconut rice, pineapple, scallion, Speerville popcorn

grilled octopus, soy Szechuan glaze, coconut rice, pineapple, scallion, Speerville popcorn

I was very excited to see seared tuna on the menu, because it’s just not that common in Halifax. My third course was a hook-and-line caught albacore tuna, nicely presented in a shallow pool of soy and dashi broth with soba noodles, enoki mushrooms, and a luscious parsnip puree. The puree was exceptionally creamy and offered sweetness, which was contrasted by the umami flavours of the noodles and broth. The tuna could have been more rare, for my taste, but to be fair, I wasn’t asked and didn’t put in a request.

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seared hook-and-line caught albacore tuna

Did I mention during this entire lunch, the Blomidon Tidal Bay was free-flowing? Also, we were greeted at the door with Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 upon our arrival. Ford really knows how to spoil the media (a nod to the amazing PR and marketing professionals they work with at the local branch of agency NATIONAL on these events).

coconut cream tart

coconut cream tart

At this point I was reaching my limit, as I normally eat one course for lunch, not four.  Still, I somehow found room for coffee and a couple bites of my dessert, a coconut cream tart. Although the sweet course is not usually my thing, this tart blew my mind, as it arrived on a perfectly executed melt-in-your-mouth, buttery shortbread crust. A really nice finish to a fantastic lunch, and all in great company, may I add (thanks Kate Watson and Jody Euloth for making our end of the table fun). Thank you to Ford and NATIONAL! I’m definitely heading back to EDNA soon for a long and leisurely dinner.

 

Pop-up chef series finale at Front & Central

Dessert course - White, milk and dark.

Dessert course – White, milk and dark.

What better way to avoid a Nova Scotia winter rut (food and morale) than design a series of delicious tasting menus with your friends?

“Tasting menus are the way I like to eat. I enjoy running the restaurant that way,” says Dave Smart, chef and owner of Front & Central in Wolfville. “This was the second year for the series. I start them in January when the dust settles from New Year’s.”

The “pop-up chef series” for 2014 ended on April 25, and I was lucky enough to be invited, as Dave’s guest (his treat), to cover the last of the event via social media. The guest chef on this particular date was Peter Dewar – and man, do these guys’ styles work together well (not to mention Peter is a member of Culinary Team Canada). They presented a five-course tasting menu at an unbelievable price of $50 per person, along with an optional wine pairing at only an additional $25. Tickets were sold in advance.

Of course I brought Geir along (nothing like chefs cooking for other chefs) and we made a night out of it in Wolfville, taking advantage of the special rate for this event at Victoria’s Historic Inn. To make it even more convenient, the inn is within walking distance from Front & Central.

Second course (my favourite) - "bread and butter", which was chive hollandaise and rye bread pudding.

Second course (my favourite) – “bread and butter”, which was chive hollandaise and rye bread pudding.

From the pop-up series Dave says he’s “had lots of great feedback from guests, and many repeat diners.” It’s no wonder. The service is fantastic — it’s easy to tell the staff genuinely enjoy the tasting menu format — and the restaurant is beautiful. The food absolutely went beyond our expectation in creativity, taste and plating.

A highlight for me was second course, called “bread and butter”. This was chive hollandaise paired with a rye bread pudding, meant to be eaten together… each spoonful was better than the last. Check out our dinner, starting with some fantastic gin cocktails, course-by-course in the gallery below.

Food Highlights: California

IMG_0047In California I was overwhelmed by the eating possibilities. Not having an unlimited budget immediately removed several iconic and high-end dining options, and, this wasn’t exactly a trip just for the food. (We were going to a wedding. We had to be places.) But I did manage to stumble upon some great spots, including food trucks.

Walking from Santa Monica into Venice Beach, we discovered a gathering of about seven food trucks on the boardwalk. We had already eaten and weren’t particularly hungry, but I just needed to try something. I ended up going to Tokyo Doggie Style for one of their Japanese fusion hot dogs. What you see at the top of this post is their homemade veggie dog, with yuzu citrus coleslaw, wasabi mayo, pickled daikon and homemade teriyaki sauce on a traditional hot dog bun. The veggie dog, being homemade, isn’t actually tube-shaped but is more of a long skinny patty. This was delicious. I had mine with their lychee lemonade. So refreshing.

IMG_0019We completely lucked out with the timing of our short stay in Santa Monica, as the Main Street edition of their farmers’ market was going to be held the morning after we arrived, and right across the street from our motel, in Heritage Square. There was live music, a petting zoo, beautiful produce and many booths making food to order. I found one called Bean & Thyme, serving healthy dishes made only from ingredients found at that market. The roasted cauliflower sandwich with cheese, egg and greens (pictured above) was surprisingly hearty, and not-so-surprisingly luscious in flavour, with just enough crunch on the grilled bread. A very memorable breakfast.

IMG_5025Another delicious breakfast experience was in San Luis Obispo at a diner called Louisa’s Place. Now, while there is a banner in the window saying they were voted best breakfast in SLO, according to our friend who lives there, many other restaurants also claim to have been voted the best breakfast. I believe Louisa’s. First of all, we walked in, and it was absolutely packed with locals. And it’s mostly a breakfast counter. We grabbed a couple stools and the ladies in the centre served up some of the the biggest portions I’ve ever seen. I had huevos rancheros (pictured above), which comes with two homemade salsas, and their hash — which is french fries, onions and peppers. The service was fantastic; they comped our beverages without us having even complained, because they thought our food came out slow. My sister had a bacon and guacamole omelet, which was three times the size of what I consider a reasonably-sized breakfast.

There were many more satisfying dining moments; scroll through the gallery to take a look.

Odds and Ends: Spicy Chile-Lime Red Cabbage & Butternut Squash Salad

redcabbagebutternut

Today I lucked out. Poking around the fridge, I noticed we only had odds and ends, none of which seemed to make any sense to me, flavour wise, to put together. After about five minutes of Googling, I found inspiration from a few different sources, and was feeling confident.

What I came up with is possibly the longest salad description out there, but here goes: spicy chile-lime red cabbage and roasted butternut squash salad with garlic scapes, cilantro, basil, and double goat’s cheese. Served warm. So good.

What I did was roast the butternut squash in small chunks (tossed in olive oil), seasoned with salt, pepper and a little chili powder. That took about 20 minutes. Using the leftover oil from roasting the squash, I then sauteed the sliced red cabbage quickly with hot red chiles and garlic scapes.

Next, I threw them together in a bowl and let them cool off a bit. Then I tossed the ingredients in freshly squeezed lime juice, salt and pepper, fresh cilantro, basil and chives – plus chunks of firm Ran-Cher Acres goat gouda. To top it off, I crumbled Ran-Cher Acres regular goat cheese. SO delicious. Glad I went out of my way to make those odds and ends work.

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Spicy chiles, creamy squash and goat’s cheese plus crunchy cabbage made this salad balanced and tasty!

Brown Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

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Today is apparently Pi Day, which the foodies have turned into a day to post photos of pie-related dishes. Most memorable (so far) is this awesome creation by Ratinaud.

Lucky for me, I was already planning on blogging about my most recent dish, brown lentil shepherd’s pie. So what better day to post?

I love making a dish that’s a meatless concept where you’re replacing the meat with something else, but the look of the dish is virtually the same, and the way you incorporate this other ingredient works so well that it’s a whole new thing entirely on its own. Know what I mean? Probably not, unless you’re a mostly-vegetarian eater like me.

Brown lentil shepherd’s pie is DELICIOUS. I’m not going to say “it tastes just like regular shepherd’s pie,” because that would be a lie. It tastes like lentil shepherd’s pie. And when you use the right vegetables, herbs and seasoning, you can get a fantastic texture and flavour. So much that you would look forward to eating lentil shepherd’s pie, and wouldn’t even think about the “regular” version, or to compare the two.

IMG_7937Part of the deliciousness of my recipe was the mash. I oven roasted local fingerling potatoes and parsnips, kept the skins on, and added a splash of milk, along with Ran-Cher Acres chives goat cheese, and a bit of homemade roasted garlic oil.

For the lentil layer, I started with dried brown lentils, and cooked them like the package directions told me to. I haven’t cooked with lentils much. This worked.

Then I sautéed garlic, onions, and Brussels’ sprouts. When those are looking good, you add some tomato (canned works), corn, peas, veggie stock, and throw the lentils back in to simmer.

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You could use different herbs here (rosemary would be nice), but I only had some basil, so that’s what went in. I also squeezed in a generous portion of Sriracha, because I knew we’d love a little zing to our lentil shepherd’s pie. I was right.

Once this is reduced and thickened, seasoned to your taste, and the flavours have melded, you just spoon it into a baking dish, top with the mash, drizzle a little olive oil and bake it for 20-30 minutes, around 375, until the top is starting to turn golden brown.

IMG_7972Yum. The the best decision I made with this dish was to use the Brussels’ sprouts, as they added a needed crunchy-firm aspect. The dish had a little heat, too, just the right amount. We both had seconds.

One cool thing… if I hadn’t added the goat cheese and milk into the mash (you could sub out for almond or rice milk), this dish would have been vegan. And still hearty.