Archive for March, 2013

Seasonal eats: Winter kale stir-fry & celery root purée

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Photo of kale: Flickr, cJw314’s photostream

My March 16 post featured Chef Ben Baird’s recipes for coconut-crusted cod and tomato broth from Chef Ben Baird of the Urban Pear. While those dishes can be served on their own, Chef Baird paired them with two comforting winter vegetable concoctions: celery root purée and winter kale, mushroom and green onion stir-fry.  If you’re preparing the four dishes together, give yourself about 1.5 hours from start to finish. Quantities will serve two people.

About the chef

Ben Baird is chef and co-owner at The Urban Pear restaurant on Second Avenue and the Ottawa STREAT Gourmet food truck, one of 18 new food trucks and carts approved by the City of Ottawa last month. Starting in May, Ottawa STREAT Gourmet will serve fresh, local, seasonal fare on the north side of Queen, west of O’Connor.

About the ingredients

Baird notes that the celery root and garlic he used in the purée came from Rideau Pines Farm and have been in his cold storage since November (he perked up the celery root by putting it in ice water for 20 minutes before cooking).  “The kale came from my local grocer – Nicastro — but could have been grown locally.  I source my mushrooms from Le Coprin which grows them year-round in Chelsea. “

Benefits of celery root and kale

Celery root, also called celeriac, is a knobby, hairy vegetable with a mild celery flavour and a potato-like texture. You can roast, stew, blanch or mash it, or add it, sliced, to soups and casseroles.  As a root vegetable, it stores well, making it an ideal choice for fall and winter eating. Celery root is a good source of dietary fibre, Vitamin B6, magnesium and manganese, and an excellent source of Vitamins C and K, phosphorus and potassium.

Kale is trendy these days and it’s easy to understand why. Not only is it simple to prepare –  just blanch and steam, or stir-fry – it’s a milder tasting, super-nutritious alternative to spinach. A member of the cabbage family, kale is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and a good source of fibre, protein, thiamin, folate and iron. It’s also packed with Vitamins A, C, K and B6, as well as calcium, potassium and other minerals.

Celery root purée

celery root

4 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 tbsp butter (optional)

2 tbsp milk or cream (for dairy-free, use vegetable broth)

salt and pepper

Peel and wash celery root and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Put celery root and garlic cloves in salted boiling water and gently simmer until celery root is fork- tender. Strain and put in food processor (garlic included).

While the processor is running, add butter and milk or cream and purée until very smooth (5-10 minutes). 

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Return purée to pot, cover and leave in a warm place until ready to plate.  If needed, put it over low heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Winter kale, mushroom and green onion stir-fry

½ bunch kale, washed and stem removed

2 cups mushrooms

1 bunch green onion, cut in 1-inch lengths

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp preserved lemon, skins only, finely chopped (available at most Middle Eastern grocery stores, or but make them yourself,* but allow about 2 months for the lemons to ripen)

oil for sautéing

*There are lots of resources online, including YouTube videos.

In a large hot frying pan or wok, pour in enough cooking oil to just grease the bottom of the pan.  Add mushrooms and cook until golden.

Add green onion, garlic, ginger and preserved lemon and cook for about a minute.

Add kale and toss well.  Put a lid on pan and let the kale steam itself.  Season and set aside until ready to serve.

Celery root  photo: Flickr, Mel Green

Seasonal eats: Late winter comfort food from Chef Ben Baird

Saturday, March 16th, 2013



By mid-March, winter in Ottawa can feel like an endurance contest. An advantage to the length of the season is that you get more time to savour fall and winter foods.  And there are a lot more of them than we think, from Brussels sprouts and squash to beef, venison and game.

The next two Earthward posts will feature recipes from Chef Ben Baird of the Urban Pear for a variety of late-fall produce — celery root, kale, fennel, tomatoes – that he brings together with coconut-crusted cod. The result is a delicious, comforting late-winter meal for two that takes about 1.5 hours to prepare, start to finish.

Rather than having all four recipes in one post, I’m including two this week: for the cod and for the tomato fennel broth. The final two – celery root purée and winter kale, mushroom and green onion stir-fry – will follow next week.  

About the recipes

Chef Baird designed the four dishes to be served together, but points out that they’re versatile enough to go with many other things. For example, the celery root purée and the kale stir-fry would work well with any grilled protein, he says, even “some nicely marinated tofu.”

About the chef

Ben Baird is chef and co-owner at The Urban Pear restaurant on Second Avenue and the Ottawa STREAT Gourmet food truck, one of 18 new food trucks and carts approved by the City of Ottawa last month. Starting in May, Ottawa STREAT Gourmet will serve fresh, local, seasonal fare on the north side of Queen, west of O’Connor.

Baird was trained at the Stratford Chefs School and won bronze at the Gold Medal Plates competition in 2009 and 2007.

About the ingredients

The cod Chef Baird used in his recipe was sustainably caught, frozen at sea and purchased from the Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster & Fish Supply.  For the broth, he used tomatoes that he stewed and jarred last fall, but says any canned Canadian tomatoes would do.  

Coconut crusted cod

8 oz cod, fresh or thawed from frozen

1 egg

2 tbsp milk

½ cup unsweetened coconut

¼ cup bread crumb (panko is ideal)

¼ cup all purpose flour

salt and pepper

oil for frying

Cut cod into about pieces of about 2 oz each and keep on paper towel in fridge so that fish is nice and dry.  Beat milk and egg and season with salt and pepper. Mix bread crumb, coconut, salt and pepper. Add salt and pepper to the flour as well.

If you’re preparing other dishes to go with this, make sure you’ve finished them before frying the fish.

Heat 2 inches of oil to 350°F in a large, fairly deep pan. Dredge cod pieces in seasoned flour to coat, dip them into the egg and then into the coconut mix.  Gently place the fish in the hot oil and fry in small batches. When the fish is a dark golden color on one side, turn it and fry on the other side.  Place cooked fish in a 200°F degree oven while you fry more.

Remove fish from the oil, place on fresh paper towel and season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately. 

Tomato fennel broth

500 ml can of Canadian tomatoes or equivalent, with juice

½ onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp whole fennel seed

3 whole star anise

dash of chili flakes

1 cup dry white wine

3 tbsp cold butter

1 tsp fresh grated horseradish

¼ lemon

In a medium saucepan, sauté the chopped onion until lightly colored. Add garlic, fennel seed, star anise and chili flakes and lightly until aromatic. Deglaze pan with white wine and reduce fluid by half before adding the tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and turn off.  Taste your broth; if it’s too acidic, add a small amount of sugar or honey.

Using a hand blender, pulse to break up the tomatoes (this will affect the amount of broth you get).   Strain broth into a small sauce pan using a fine mesh strainer or clean cheese cloth.  Return broth to medium heat and reduce further.

When you’re happy with the broth, slowly add butter, whisking constantly.  Finish with fresh grated horseradish and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper. 

What are your favourite late-winter dishes?


8 reasons to grow your own food

Saturday, March 9th, 2013


Photo: Brian Everett, EVRT Studio

If you’re thinking about starting a vegetable garden, you’re not alone. According to an October 2012 report on garden trends, 53% to 54% of U.S. households with a yard or garden report growing fruit and vegetables – a figure that’s remained constant over the past three years. Although there are no comparable figures for Canada, the consensus is that food gardening is as popular here as it is south of the border. In addition, Canadian retailers of heritage seeds – that is, seeds from plant varieties introduced pre-World War II, before the era of mass-produced fruit and vegetables – are noting increased demand for their products.

Growing some of your own food is a simple way to:

  1. Save money.

Whether you buy a packet of seeds or a flat of plants, what you harvest will cost a fraction of the price you’d pay a retailer for the same foods.

  1. Eat more, tastier produce.

With the many varietals available as seeds and seedlings, you have the chance to sample produce you won’t find at the grocery store. And it will taste better. It’s hard to beat the flavour of beans you’ve just picked from the vine or the aroma of fresh-snipped basil leaves in a pasta sauce.

  1. Shrink your carbon footprint.

Instead of schlepping to the neighbourhood retailer to buy California lettuce or Chinese garlic, collect fresh food from your balcony or backyard. Food miles?  What food miles?

  1. Know what’s in your food.

You grew it yourself, so you know that you didn’t use GMO seeds, load the soil with synthetic fertilizer or spray the plants with pesticides.

  1. Teach your kids about food.

Let them plant a row of carrots or water the blueberry bushes. They’ll have fun and learn that food doesn’t really come from a supermarket or fast food outlet.

  1. Improve your health.

For one thing, gardening gets you outside. For another, whether you’re standing, stooping, kneeling or digging, gardening can burn anywhere from 120 to more than 300 calories an hour, depending on the task. There’s also evidence to suggest that connecting with nature – in particular, with the smells of nature – lowers blood pressure and increases anti-cancer molecules in the bloodstream.

  1. Learn about seasonal eating.

We’re so used to eating whatever we want whenever we want it that most of us no longer recognize that food is seasonal. When you grow your own food, you see that each fruit and vegetable grows at its own rate and is ready for harvest at a particular time: asparagus in June, tomatoes and corn in August, beets and squash in the fall. If you grow enough food, you’ll also be motivated to learn about food preservation techniques like canning, freezing, dry and storing.

  1. Benefit from an activity that doesn’t require a lot of space or pricey equipment.

If you have a back yard, great. But all you really need is a sunny windowsill, a few containers,  and some seeds to get started. If you want to grow more than you have space for, consider growing vertically, or find out if there’s a community garden in your neighbourhood. And remember that there are lots of resources available in the community and online to get you started. Here are a few:

What food do you plan to grow this summer?

The Food Read Round-up: What are we really eating?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

The Food Read Round-up curates media stories about food and farming in Ottawa, across Canada, and around the world.

If there’s a theme to the food news of the past few weeks, it’s that what you see is not what you get when it comes to processed food.

In Canada, it turns out that the nutrition labels we count on to make informed food choices are based on information that’s decades out of date. In Europe, more products advertised as beef have been found to contain horsemeat, pork, and other undeclared meats. In the U.S., former officials of the Peanut Corporation of America were charged with 76 counts of fraud and conspiracy for their role in the 2009 Salmonella peanut butter outbreak. To cap it off, two new food industry exposés hit the market: Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal by food safety journalist Melanie Warner, and Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us  by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Michael Moss.

While there are no easy fixes for an industrial food system that’s spiraling out of control, there are two things we can do as consumers. One is to eat fewer processed products and more real, whole foods. The other is to support a shorter, more transparent food supply chain by buying from local producers whenever possible.

Take food labels with a grain of salt.  Dietician and cookbook author Rosie Schwartz took aim at the accuracy of Canadian nutrition labels in February 22 op-ed piece in The Ottawa Citizen. When Canadians read food labels, Schwartz wrote, most of us don’t know that the information on daily recommended values, or % DV, is 30 years old and seriously out-of-step with recommendations Canada and the U.S. developed in the mid-2000s based on age, sex, and life stage.

Here’s just one example of how the outdated information gap affects consumers. Although the current recommendation for sodium is 1,500 mg per day, the figures on food labels are based on the old recommended limit of 2,400 milligrams per day. So if you eat two cups of soup with 650 mg of sodium in each, you may think you’re slightly over half of your daily sodium quota but in fact you’re close to the maximum of 1,500 mg.

Health Canada is looking to update its nutrition figures, a process that will take two to three years. But that hasn’t stopped them from launching a Nutrition Facts Education Campaign based on the old figures.  If – as the department claims – it wants to educate Canadians about the Nutrition Facts table and % DV, why not use the latest information? As Rosie Schwartz says: “Congratulations Health Canada.”

“Sh*t, Just Ship it”: Felony Prosecution for Salmonella-Peanut Executives.  In 2009, peanuts contaminated with Salmonella sickened 714 people in 46 U.S. states; one quarter of them were hospitalized and nine died. On February 24, 2013, former executives of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) were charged with 76 counts of fraud and conspiracy for knowingly distributing the contaminated nuts. Prosecution doesn’t happen in many cases of foodborne-illness. Why here? Part of the reason, says food safety journalist Maryn McKenna, is that the behaviour of PCA’s officials was so flagrant. In addition to being negligent, they were responsible for deliberate deception, including falsifying origin labeling and lab results. According to the indictment, PCA president Stewart Parnell instructed an employee who warned that a product would be delayed until the results of Salmonella testing were available: “Sh*t, just ship it. I cannot afford to loose (sic) another customer.”

Horsemeat Scandal. The scandal that erupted January 15 shows no sign of fading, with horsemeat having now been found in beef and beef products in at least 14 European Union (EU) countries. Brands such as Ikea (their signature Swedish meatballs), Burger King, Nestle, Bird’s Eye, and many others have been affected. Criminal activity is believed to be behind the fraud, with the perpetrators taking advantage of global food’s long, complex supply chains that make it difficult to trace ingredients to their source. This infographic published in Food Safety News, shows the scandal at a glance.

Big Food exposés. Melanie Warner’s Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal goes behind the scenes in the $1 trillion-a-year industry to learn more about really goes into what we eat and how we’ve developed such an appetite for foods that are cheap, addictive and nutritionally empty.  Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss argues that food company scientists work hard to get people addicted to inexpensive convenience foods; our soaring rates of diabetes and obesity are among the consequences. You can find reviews and discussions with the authors at Huffington Post, NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, and Democracy Now!, among other sources.

What food and farming stories have you been reading?

Photo: J.P. Goguen, Flickr