You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto

“The food sucks,” claimed my dad when he called from the nursing home this week.

“The tomatoes are hard and pink. Nothing has any taste to it.”

As many of you will recall, my dad is the main caregiver for his partner, who has an acquired brain injury. He has spent more than 10 years caring for her at home. Due to his declining health, the doctors advised that he was no longer able to manage at home. In the spring, his partner was moved to a nursing home. It was a long and difficult summer while we waited for a bed for him in the same residence.

Recently, Dad was reunited with his partner in the nursing home. It was the best day and the worst day. Seeing her smile when he walked through the door with his bags was priceless. He is her rock. She is his everything. Just to hear one another’s voice again in the night and to know the other is okay is what each needs. It was good day.

This was to be their new home. When I went to leave that day, I could see the fear in my dad’s eyes. His hand trembled in mine as I said goodbye. I could see Dad wanted to call the whole thing off. I couldn’t blame him. He was happy to be together again. This was what he had fought so hard to avoid, but the day had come.

I visit regularly, and always try to bring over his favorite sweet things.

We speak daily. He enjoys his food. He loves to cook. He grumbles at the quality of food in the nursing home. Today, his call is about the tomatoes. Right across the road from the nursing home is a farmer’s vegetable stand. He often visited it in the past for fresh produce. I stop occasionally and pick up flowers for their room.

“If I could I’d walk there. I’d purchase the biggest fresh tomato,” he says. “Red and juicy. I would slice it; top it with bacon for a toasted tomato sandwich. That’s all I want. Tomatoes in here are terrible. Does no one know how to tell a ripe tomato?” There is almost nothing better than a perfectly ripe tomato. With so many heirloom varieties available, knowing when to pick can be difficult. They can often be different colours, at times even stripped or speckled.

The best way to determine if a tomato is ripe is by checking the flesh, colour and touch. The skin should have turned from a dull matte to glossy and slightly shiny. Also, it should be fairly deep in colour and give a little when touched. Although, keep in mind it should be tender, not mushy and soft.

A perfectly ripe tomato, warm from the sun, tastes like heaven. As kids we would pick them from the garden and eat them right there where we were standing. They smelled like the sun and dirt. The fat juicy ones would drip down your cheek. If you were lucky, a whole handful of cherry tomatoes could be squished in your mouth before you got caught.

Like the old song goes, if we ever part it will break my heart. Dad will never leave. This is his new home. They know they need each other.

This week, I will be taking with me the best toasted bacon and tomato sandwich I can muster up, because goodness knows what the day will bring.

Dad’s Bacon Tomato Sandwich Ingredients: 2 slices of French bread cut to desired thickness.

Mayonnaise Bacon – crisped Molasses and Black Pepper bacon – by Seed to Sausage 1 large ripe tomato Salt and Pepper to taste Directions. Cook the bacon in a small frying pan or in the oven until brown and crisp. Let stand on a plate with a paper towel and pat the excess grease away.

Slice the tomatoes an inch thick. Toast and butter the bread. Spread both pieces of toast with mayonnaise. (I often add 2 tablespoons of mashed avocado to make an avocado mayonnaise.) Layer the sliced tomatoes with rashers of bacon on the bread base and top with bread or leave top off for an open face sandwich. Season with salt and pepper to

taste. Enjoy tomato season! If you have a recipe or a restaurant suggestion please email me at ladydinesalot.com or follow my blog at Ladydinesalot.com or on facebook.

Honey…Jamie Oliver would be a peach!

Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband, Chris Martin, gave her Jamie Oliver cooking classes for her birthday. How awesome would it be to wake to Jamie Oliver cooking in my kitchen? The media reports Gwyneth was so excited she called her friends over. I can hear myself now: “Friends…Jamie just dropped by to duck, I mean make us cook, err…he is here, in my house with a huge cheeky grin, come on over.”

Love him or hate him, he can cook. And, he is a force of change in the way we think about food.

Jamie Oliver is a British chef, restaurateur and TV personality. He is widely known for his food-focused television shows, cookbooks and his campaign against the use of processed foods in schools. He lives in England with his wife and four children.

To paraphrase from one of Jamie’s cookbooks: “Good food is important. It represents good times and bad times. For thousand of years we farmed and in harmony with nature. But now, through clever technologically, computers and busy lives we have moved further away from home-cooked food. We can now buy pre-packaged portions of dinner, complete with a steam valve and disposable packaging, ready in minutes.”

He balked traditional cookbooks for visually stunning pages filled with ‘a pinch of’ and ‘a handful of this’ recipes. I like his cookbooks. Ironically, I do not often follow recipes. Taste and appearance is by far a greater testament to the meal than following a step-by-step process. For the recipes for this column, I practice to ensure they are favorites before including them as too often recipes can fail.

Years ago, I even got the chance to cook with Jamie Oliver. He was on tour in New Zealand to promote a cookbook, and my girlfriend and I were selected to whip up a sexy dessert with him. I recall gushing when he commented on how well I separated eggs. I still have the autographed cookbook he gave me.

In his seventh cookbook, Cook with Jamie, he demonstrates the basics. He has often claimed this book should have been his first cookbook. It provides the easy ways of how to shop, the basics of food preparation and cooking with great ingredients. There is some controversy that Jamie can’t truly appreciate cooking on a budget. As a celebrity chef, he buys from the butcher and uses fresh herbs with no concern for money. I would argue that having a garden and buying from the butcher is actually cheaper than most supermarkets. You can find value packs of meat at the local butcher. For instance, the Pig and Olive, among others, has meat trays prepared for ease of purchase. Separate and freeze and it will last weeks. The best part is their meat is aged, so you don’t lose half the weight when cooking.

I shop at grocery stores, too. They have made big efforts made to ensure the customers are getting local meat and produce. Jamie Oliver was a driver of this movement for some time. He is very vocal against supermarkets and claims fake food exists on their shelves, even while being a spokesman for Sainsbury’s (a UK grocery chain). Today, things are changing, though they are not completely resolved. Customers are becoming more educated and concerned about what we choose to eat. Grocery stores are listening.

My home is a world away from Gwyneth and Jamie. While I wouldn’t trade in the efforts of my daughter’s carefully-cooked birthday breakfasts, it still sure would be a peach to have Jamie Oliver hand me a coffee and say, “Sit down love, what shall I make you today?” In honour of Jamie, and for all those peaches in need of canning and preserving, here is an easy peach cobbler recipe I adapted from foodnetwork. com.

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Peach Cobbler
Serves 6 Ingredients: 4 cups peeled, sliced peaches 2 cups sugar, divided 1/2 cup water 8 tablespoons butter 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour 1 1/2 cups milk Ground cinnamon Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the peaches, 1-cup sugar, and water in a saucepan and mix well. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Put the butter in a 3-quart baking dish and place in oven to melt.

Mix remaining 1-cup sugar, flour, and milk slowly to prevent clumping. Pour mixture over melted butter. Do not stir. Spoon fruit on top, gently pouring in syrup. Sprinkle top with ground cinnamon. Batter will rise to top during baking. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes.

To serve, scoop into a bowl and serve with your choice of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

If you have a recipe or restaurant suggestion email me at ladydinesalot@gmail.com or for more information follow my blog at Ladydinesalot.com or on Facebook.

My Place, My Home Le Chien Noir Bistro

Food is powerful. It connects and revolutionizes. At Le Chien Noir Bistro, located at 69 Brock St., chef Derek MacGregor is doing just that.

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This month, Chien Noir celebrates 13 years of being a landmark on Kingston’s food scene. Tucked away in the Brock Street common, this delightfully charming establishment dishes up pleasurable experiences time and time again.

It should no longer be a secret that Chien Noir is one of Kingston’s best restaurants, if not one of Canada’s best. After all, it is recognized annually by Toronto Life Magazine and the Where to Eat in Canada awards.

 

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They feature French bistro classics with a modern spin on farm to-table comfort food.

I’m often asked where my favorite place to eat is. I always hesitate. There are so many places I enjoy dining at. A good experience can depend on your mood, cravings, occasion, staff and atmosphere. Chien Noir is the one place I visit no matter my mood, attire or occasion. I’ve never been disappointed. For dinner for two, birthdays, anniversaries, business lunches, girls’ days out, wine on the patio after sports, overseas visitors, or even the occasional celebrity spotting, this is the place.

The 60-seat restaurant features a menu full of local food and drink. A main dining room and a front and back patio enhance the stone features.

Chef Derek MacGregor has had a passion for cooking since he was a youngster.

He was raised in Summerstown, in Glengarry Township near Cornwall. His mom is French Canadian and his Dad is Scottish.

“We had a huge garden with fresh vegetables,” says MacGregor. “Dad raised sheep, lamas, chickens and turkeys.

“I had a lucky childhood. Mom was home. She was always cooking and baking. My favorite memories were of my sister and I hanging around the kitchen, stealing cookie dough or sliding up on a chair to talk about the day.”

Today, he and his wife are both chefs, and are raising two boys, Malcolm, five, and Duncan, three. Together, they try and encourage a love of cooking and food in their family.

“Both my boys enjoy cooking. Myfive-year old dices vegetables,” says MacGregor. “Would I want them to grow up and be a chef? I don’t know. It goes beyond a career, it becomes a lifestyle.”

You can see by Chien Noir’s evolving menu that this chef has honed his skills to perfection. He studied culinary management at Algonquin College and right out of college took a job at the National Arts Centre. There he catered for huge numbers and worked under German- trained chef Kurt Waldele. MacGregor went to work at Chien Noir when it opened in 2000. He then left for a position in Toronto at Scaramouche as a chef de partie, moving on to chef de cuisine at Boba, a contemporary Mediterranean restaurant in Yorkville. MacGregor returned to Chien Noir in October 2006 and has no plans to leave. He is part owner of Chien Noir, along with Tim Pater. “I like Tim,” he says. “We work well together. He is constantly evolving and supports me when I want to change things up.”

MacGregor explains that “my earlier experiences shaped my career as a chef today, although, my palate changes with age and experience.”

Chien Noir’s menu changes with the seasons, and has a signature international flavour.

“We have a world approach to our menu,” says MacGregor. “French and some Italian, Spanish and even Asian fusion. I like to ensure each dish is individual and has the right balance.

“It’s funny. I get ideas everywhere. I can’t recall the last time I looked at a recipe. I seek out new ingredients and interesting finds. I’ll be sitting in my office doing paperwork and get an idea and head to the kitchen to jump in and try it out.”

Certainly, he has the technical experience and knowledge to bring them to life with each delicious morsel.

“Kingston has a very social food scene amongst its chefs and restaurateurs,” says MacGregor. “Kingston is having a food awakening. People are more likely to try new things and experiment. They want to know where their food comes from. It’s exciting as a chef to be a part of this.”

Chien Noir has been a long-time supporter of local suppliers.

“We have great farmers here that produce quality,” MacGregor says. “We change our menus and adapt to what is in season. We like to build relationships with our suppliers. We buy from Eric and Ian at Patchwork Gardens, Evan and Megan from Kitchen Gardens and Ed and Sandy Taylor from Honey Wagon, among others. They all supply us with quality goods.”

The restaurant gets its supply of fish from Whalesbone Fishmongers.

“They buy direct from the fisherman, purchasing only sustainable, ecologically friendly product,” MacGregor explains. “The best I’ve worked with. Customers enjoy that they can be eating their dinner, and see a photo on their phone of where the fish was caught by what crew and when.”

Chien Noir is very active in the community. The restaurant participates in Fare in the Square, Fare for Friends, Seed to Sausage events and

Taste of the County, along with being an active supporter of food security.

Recently, chef Derek participated in an event called Guilty Pleasures along with other flagship Kingston restaurants’ chefs. The event was to raise funds and awareness for Loving Spoonful, a nonprofit organization that supports education and food security in Kingston. Local chefs prepared a menu from their lists of favorites. It was a huge success for guests and a great way for local chefs to work together.

They continue to share ideas, support events and be an active voice for sustainable food practices.

I encourage you to all try this fabulous downtown restaurant. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter or visit them at Taste of the County in Picton on Sept. 28. Chien Noir is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Call ahead for reservations.

If you have any recipe suggestions or recommendations on restaurants I should visit, please email me at Ladydinesalot@gmail.com or follow my blog at ladydinesalot.com or on Facebook.