From September 2012

Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Puree, Pumpkin Pie, and… Pumpkin Beer?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve recently looked at the calendar, saw that Thanksgiving was this coming weekend, and thought: “How the heck did that happen?!?!”

Apparently, it’s a wee bit early this year.

So, with Thankgiving bearing down on us like Rob Ford on a Toronto Star reporter, I thought I’d dig up a pumpkin post from when I was writing local food columns for Peterborough This Week.  I know you’ll be needing pumpkin pie, and fresh pumpkin purée kicks the crap out of the canned variety.  My first column deals with making pumpkin purée, roasting pumpkin seeds, and includes a recipe for pumpkin cookies.

While we’re in the way-back machine, I’d like to take a second opportunity to, again, travel back in time. All the way to the year 2011. Because the Olde Stone Brewing Company currently has their seasonal Pumpkin Ale on tap, I thought it would be great to revisit an old newspaper column of mine on Brewmaster, Doug Warren, and his pumpkin suds. Click here for the column, or simply scroll down.

Pumpkins – Not Just for Jack o’ Lanterns

The joy of pumpkin is that it versatile.  Versatile and gooey.  Nothing says fun like scraping our stringy pumpkin guts and squishing them through your fingers.  If you have kids, be prepared for some screams of fun disgust.  Don’t forget to keep the pumpkin seeds.  Toasted, they make a great treat.  Simply rinse the seeds and spread them over a paper towel to dry overnight.  The next day, toss them in a bit of oil and salt and then bake.  I cook mine at 300 degrees for roughly a half-hour – tossing every 10 minutes or so – until they are nice and golden.

Most pumpkin recipes call for pumpkin puree.  Here’s a quick, no fail way to make your own:

In order to make the puree, you will need to scrape the inside of the pumpkin clean – have fun, kids!  You then cut the pumpkin in half, laying the halves in a large roasting pan, with a cup or so of water.  Bake the pumpkin at 350 for roughly 90 minutes, or until very tender.  Let cool and then scrape the flesh from the rind.  Use your food processor to puree until smooth.  Be sure that you are using a smaller pie pumpkin rather than a larger decorative one.  Jack o’ Lantern pumpkins are often too tough to eat — plus they lack the taste of most of the heritage varieties.

Want to make use of some of that pumpkin puree?  I’d offer you my pumpkin pie recipe, but I don’t make pumpkin pie.  I lack the pastry gene.  You may want to consult either a grandmother or the internet.

Instead, I’ll offer up some great cookies.  See below for an easy recipe to help you do so.

Iced Pumpkin Cookies
These are kind of “cakey” cookies that are popular with both kids and adults.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Glaze:
1 ¾ cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons (or slightly more) milk
1 tablespoon butter (melted)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix together all dry ingredients (except white sugar).  In a separate bowl, cream together butter and white sugar.  Stir in pumpkin, egg, and vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients. Measure tablespoon sized balls of dough, place on cookie sheet and flatten slightly.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool and drizzle on glaze.

Glaze: Mix together ingredients.  If not thin enough to drizzle add slightly more milk.

 

beer

Downtown pub “Hops” into new local flavours

Being a food writer can be a lot of hard work.

Deadlines loom. There is constant pressure to publish in order to keep a roof over your head. And people feel compelled to have you try their latest culinary creations and handcrafted beverages.

Why only last week I had to spend an afternoon in the basement brewery of the Olde Stone Brewing Company, sipping microbrew beers in order to report on the latest small-batch options available to Peterborough diners.

After a very thorough sampling I’m happy to report that the current seasonal offerings of the Olde Stone will meet – and perhaps exceed – the expectations of local beer aficionados.

It’s a tough life, I tell you. But someone has to eat and drink for a living.

It should come as no surprise that the Olde Stone’s new seasonal beers are exceptional. Brewmaster Doug Warren has been creating fine brews at the pub for the past five years – he’s been designing craft beers for 25 years in total. Before setting up shop at the Olde Stone, he honed his skills making beer for such well-renowned microbreweries as the Kawartha Lakes Brewing Company, Mill Street Brewery, and the Churchkey Brewing Company.

Warren’s regular house line-up ranges from an India Pale Ale to a Bitter to a Stout. My personal favourite is his Red Fife Wheat beer. All of these brews are popular with the pub’s diverse clientele, with discriminating local beer appreciators making the Olde Stone a regular stop and tourists flocking to the establishment on the merit of its strong reputation.

While the roster of regular house beers remains the same year-round, Warren’s limited edition seasonal beverages tend to reflect the tastes of the season.

And this autumn he has tried to keep these tastes as local as possible.

He’s serving up an “Olde Stone Pumpkin Ale” – flavoured with several varieties of pumpkin from Martin’s Fruits and Vegetable Farm in Campbellford. He has also created a “Wet Hop Ale” made with hops grown at Slow Acres Organics – a farm just south of Peterborough.

“I try to use as many local ingredients as possible,” said Warren as I explored his brewery. “But this is not always possible when you have limited local options.”

The Wet Hop Ale is particularly notable in its use of local ingredients. Hops, you see, are not traditionally grown in Peterborough – at least they haven’t been in quite a while.

According to Jay Schiller of Slow Acres, the crop has only recently been re-introduced to the area.

“It’s been around 100 years since hops have been grown commercially in this part of Ontario,” he told me as I sipped the results of his agricultural experiments. “The climate here isn’t all that great for older varieties of the plant.”

Farmers, however, have been carefully breeding varieties that respond well to various climates.

“It takes quite a while to naturally produce new varieties,” he explained.

“It takes generations of plants to bring about the changes needed to adapt to growing conditions.”

“Naturally” is a word that carries great importance for Schiller. After all, being an organic grower means that he takes particular care in producing the most natural crops possible. He is careful to stress the difference between breeding new varieties through persistent selection and genetically modifying plants.

“Traditional breeding of crop plants has been standard practice for thousands of years – really, since people first started farming. And it is a technique that is a perfect fit for people who have concerns about the science of genetic modification.”

As a person who values naturally-produced, local, seasonal ingredients – and one who also values great beer – I’m excited that one of only a handful of Southern Ontario hops growers has set his sights on producing for local breweries.

It has made for a great beer drinking option.

The “Wet Hop” has a delicate hoppiness – much less so than you would normally get with traditional dried hops. Both the flavour and aroma have a floral quality. There is a notable malt taste. It is a dark amber beer that maintains its slight foamy head for the duration of the glass.

The “Pumpkin Ale” is a somewhat conventional ale that contains hints of both pumpkin and spice – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. But these flavours compliment rather than dominate the beer. It tastes like autumn in Ontario.

The Olde Stone Brewing Company has been serving up quality beer and pub food from their downtown location for the past 15 years. Their autumn seasonal beers should be available for most of October. You can find them on George Street in downtown Peterborough.

Slow Acres Organics is a 100-acre diversified organic farm just south of Peterborough. The farm is in the ‘transition’ phase from 30-plus years of conventional farming with an expectation of official organic certification coming in the next couple of years. Owners Jay and Heidi will be producing heirloom and other certified organic vegetables this coming season. They’ll also be selling organic eggs. Look for their products next year.

Because I am showcasing local beers this week, I don’t have a recipe for this column. But be sure to check out the Farm to Table blog at www.mykawartha.com<http://www.mykawartha.com>for many local, seasonal recipes and tips.

In the meantime, I plan on sampling these local brewing endeavors heartily – until the Olde Stone’s batches of “Wet Hop” and “Pumpkin Ale” run out later this month.

I’ll do so for journalistic purposes only, I can assure you.

I’ll take one – or several – for the team.

A Hamburger Today: Burger Porn for the Masses

A Hamburger Today logo

I know…

I know…

I promised you my Reggie’s Hot Grill review.  Unfortunately, I’ve had a busy week wearing my Small Print Writing and Communications Consulting hat.  With new clients and new projects, I’ve been one busy writer.  Look for the review early this week.

I would like to make amends though — particularly to the burger aficionados out there.  I would like to share, perhaps, the best site on the planet for burger news, burger reviews, burger tips, burger… well… everything.

I would like to introduce you to A Hamburger Today.

This, my friends is hamburger porn.

Please don’t blame me if you end up spending a few hours drooling in front of your computer.  You’re big kids.  You make your own decisions.

Besides, I just read if for the articles.

~

Speaking of burgers, tonight I am grilling my house burger — what I call “The Jealousy.”

It doesn’t get much better than this.  Pasture-fed, happy beef from my private farmer/supplier, grilled medium rare.  Maple Dale Extra Old Smoked Cheddar from Chasing the CheeseBerkshire bacon from Primal CutsHeritage tomato, homemade pickles, and a sharp grainy mustard.  Served up on a light, crusty bun.

If the opportunity arises, I’ll post pictures later.

Final Tour of the Season: Perfection

chocolate

Wow.  The final tour of the season wrapped up this afternoon.  And I’ve got to say, it went out with a bang. Stellar, STELLAR day.

Fantastic scones from Black Honey Desserts & Coffee House.  The best I’ve had in ages. Lisa Dixon is officially my baker of choice in Peterborough.

Ukrainian pork and beef Patychky (meat on a stick) from Sam’s Place – ”The Best Dan Deli In Town” that had people raving (and this is not an exaggeration, the patrons talked about it all afternoon).

Puff balls (giant mushrooms — a good foot-plus in diameter — harvested locally), heritage tomatoes, and deep fried brussels sprouts (that converted 2 non-brussels sprouts fans) from the stupidly talented Brad Watt of Rare Grill House.

Macarons that were tiny works of hand-painted art by NaKeD Chocolate.  Angela and Warren simply delighted the senses.

An end-of-tour showstopper of Raclette (broiled alps cheese, gooped over baguette and gerkins) by Chasing the Cheese.  I did not see that coming.  Their staff are incredibly talented and incredibly knowledgeable.

And a thanksgiving mini-feast of roasted pork and cranberry on a crostini, with stuffed mini-potatoes, and spaghetti squash, with three (count them, THREE) VQA wines from Brio Gusto.  Note: Lindsay Dupuis of Brio is one of the hottest young restauranteurs in the area, go and check out her work.

The patrons all had a blast.  And they all plan on coming back to shop and dine in our great downtown core.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to all the great downtown businesses for making Peterborough a destination for local food lovers from across Peterborough, Northumberland, and the Kawartha Lakes.

This season has been a magical experience.

Please check out the tour page for a full list of our incredible stores and restaurants.  You should definitely try each and every one of them.

Burger Wars: Round 2. The WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro Review

DSCN2956

 

For Round 1, and the introduction to this feature, please click here.

OK, I’m going to cut the WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro a bit of slack here.

I sprung a take-out order on them, you see… While the entire Peterborough Petes team was standing in line to be seated.

I’m also going to totally praise the staff who went out of their way to help me out.

“I usually don’t mind doing take out,” explained a burly fellow who appeared to be a manager of some sort.  “But we’re expecting a big group of guys to come walking in at any second.”

Cue the army of 6-foot-plus hockey players that came streaming through the doors.

“Let me see what I can do for you,” he said.

Meanwhile a waitress swooped by and shouted out, “Don’t worry, I’ll grab his order!”  She was back in seconds to see what I wanted.  And she was darned chipper about it too.

So, yes, I was ordering take-out from a primarily sit-down burger bar.  And I was doing so while they were trying to attend to a hoard of very hungry — and very large — hockey players.  Several waitresses popped by during my wait to let me know how long my order was going to take.  They didn’t treat me like the pain in the ass that I was.

For that I say thank you, WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro!  Your customer service knocked one out of the park.

But, really, we’re not here to talk customer service — though if your restaurant doesn’t have it, your patrons aren’t coming back.  We’re here to talk burgers.

And how were the burgers?

Not bad.  Good, but not great.

The particulars: I ordered the Smokey Mountain (and added a “Gourmet O-Ring) for myself, and a Downtowner (with an upgrade to double smoked bacon) for Krista.  See here for the menu and for our burgers.  We split an order of fries.  The damage?  30 dollars.  A very pricey burger outing, and definitely more than we usually pay at Reggie’s.

Was it worth the money?  Good question.  Those are some expensive franchise burgers.

I’d probably swallow the price a bit more if the beef were local, and if I had any clue as to where it came from.  As it is, they are made from a half-pound (you read that right, a half-pound) of “fresh 100% Canadian Beef.”

So, yes.  They’re big.  According to Krista, perhaps a bit too big for her needs — though I’d be hard pressed to ever say such a thing myself.

Now, here’s the surprise: I was all set to write off the Peterborough WORKS as all style and no substance.  My previous few WORKS experiences featured dry, dry over-cooked burgers, with generous (and sometimes ingenious) toppings.  Again, don’t look for local or seasonal in the toppings, but do look for diversity.

This time around?  Bizaro-WORKS.  The total opposite.  OK, not completely total, but…

We know that the WORKS has to cook their burgers to 71 degrees.  It is a sin against beef, but it’s the way they do it.  And my previous forays led me to believe that our burgers would be cooked well past that.

Maybe it was the fact that they were trying to serve 23 Peterborough Petes, but my burger was a lot less dry than my previous WORKS samplings.  They were by no means juicy.  But they weren’t pucks.  I would have to say they were pretty good — but, again, not great — burgers.  Now, roughly 3/4 of the feedback I’ve received about Peterborough’s WORKS has been about the fact that they have been far too dry.  Perhaps the secret is going in when they are absolutely slammed.

The beef itself is fairly generic tasting.  It definitely lacks the flavour of some of the local, pasture-fed cow that I’m used to.  It is somewhat bland and really calls for a heavy hand with the condiments.

Of course, the flip side to ordering when busy is the condiments.  Both Krista and I found half our burgers to be utterly lacking in taste and the other half to be vastly improved.  The reason?  Both or our burgers had the cheese dripping off one side, the bacon crammed into a corner (yes, I know the bun is round, but cut me slack), and our respective sauces to be concentrated in off-side goops.  The kitchen staff definitely needs to work on its aim.

Krista was quick to point out the lettuce on the burgers.  Wilted, weak, and probably past its life expectancy, it is something that just didn’t belong on a burger.  I agreed whole-heartedly.  I’m hoping this is an anomaly for this condiment-first restaurant.

Other than that, the toppings were tasty.  It is the WORKS’ claim to fame, and they definitely don’t let you down.

But you don’t pay $30 for toppings.

The verdict?  A quite pricey (though definitely large) franchise burger with an impressive array of tasty condiments.  Hand cut (and somewhat crisp) fries.  Excellent customer service.  7/10.

 

Burger Wars: Round 1. Introduction

burger

There’s a burger war heating up in Peterborough. And it’s a hot, juicy, grill-fired mess.

With Reggie’s Hot Grill, the new Canteen of Kawartha “Cabins,” and the recently-opened Works Burger Emporium all looking to attract the Burgertelle of Peterborough, the question has to be asked: Is our local food economy big enough to support this kind of beef? Or will our Peterburger scene sog and mush like a poorly made hamburger bun?

Some backstory here:

There was quite a bit of ink spilled earlier this year when the City announced that both Reggie’s Hot Grill and the Hippy Chippy had lost their bids to operate at their respective popular locations.

Actually, only a moderate amount of ink was spilled. In this digital age, much of the anger, dismay, and protest occurred online. It is safe to say that many bytes were taken in this burger incident. Many people have pledged boycott.

Many of the people who Tweeted, Facebooked, blogged, and commented were duly concerned that two respected small business-based entrepreneurs were being tossed unceremoniously from locations in which they had built very impressive client bases.

In the end, it seemed to come down to money. In the case of Reggie’s, for instance, the competition, Canteen of Kawartha, scored a perfect 25 out of 25 in its financial bid. Reggie’s scored 18. The highest bid won.

Curiously, the City also awarded Canteen of Kawartha a higher score in the “Experiences and References” section. Apparently, they believed that a new operator would have better experience at a new (to them) location than an extremely popular one did at a location they held for five years.

As a food writer, I did not once – in the past five years – hear a negative peep about Reggie’s Trent University operation.

Makes you wonder what they were basing their scores on.

The story with the Hippy Chippy seems remarkably similar. This time, though, it was a much more humble chip stand being bumped. Canteen of Kawartha successfully won that bid too, though they at least had the advantage of offering a fuller menu than the existing Chippy.

While all this was going down, a new challenger quietly entered the fray — and has since started making a burger ruckus. The WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro has begun pumping out burgers in the former Trasheteria building at Water and Simcoe Streets. For those not in the know, the WORKS is an extremely popular franchise that began in Ottawa and has since spread across much of Southern Ontario. Now 14-franchises strong, the Works has begun to show some growing pains, with some burger connoisseurs questioning whether this franchise-based (semi)fast food is worth the hefty price you pay for it.  They are also big enough to have a PR firm, who scolded me earlier this year when I mistakenly gave the incorrect number of franchises in a blog posting.

When to comes to regular burger locales, fan-favourite Reggie’s is certainly not without its detractors. A few commentors on my previous burger musings have pointed out that Reggie’s East City location isn’t quite as dependable as it once was. Talk of dry burgers, missing toppings, substandard condiments… Well, let’s just say that things ain’t perfect in our home-grown burger shack.

I’ll fess up here. I’ve had some great burgers from both the WORKS (in Ottawa) and Reggie’s. I’ve also had a fairly mediocre one at the WORK’s Glebe flagship location. And, sad to say, I’ve also seen some sub-standard product from the Reggie’s kitchen – the last two my wife, Krista, got were burnt and dry. For the most part, though, both hit more than they miss. But will they both continue to do so?

As for The Cabin of Canteen of Kawartha?

I had my first sample earlier this summer – it was a free lunch, bought for me by one of my very generous clients. I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag on this one, because that review is coming…  Along with reviews for the WORKS and Reggie’s.

That’s right, readers, over the next week, I’ll be reviewing what many are seeing as the Big 3 in Peterborough Burgers.

I think it is only right that we prepare ourselves for this burger war. With so many options, it is important that we find out, truly, who serves the best in town. As a result, I’m girding myself for battle – one that I hope doesn’t turn into a Battle of the Bulge.

Look for my review of The Cabin’s “Trail Burger” later this week. Please note, this review might not be for the burger-squeamish. There was a griddle involved, and some heavy squeezing out of juice with a spatula.

My Reggie’s review will appear, hopefully, on the weekend.

Now, I don’t want to be the only one judging these burgers. I want to hear what Peterborough has to say as well. I want to hear your thoughts and reviews on the Cabin (both Trent and Beavermeade), Reggie’s Hot Grill, the Gazebo, and (when it opens) The WORKS.

Let me know, Peterborough, which one of these is the best burger in town?

Or are any of them truly the best burger in town? Let me know who you think is currently “topping” these Big Three.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Burger eating is a tough job, but someone has to do it.  And I’m looking at you Peterborough!

May the best burger win!

NOTE: I’ll be writing about some other great burgers in the future, including the Holiday Inn, Brio Gusto, and Rare Grill House.  These establishments, while they make great burgers, are not really burger restaurants the way that these ones are — they’re more full-menued, with burgers appearing beside other main entrées.  I’ll include them in a separate category, and perhaps compare them to the three in this series.

Also, please let me know if there are any other places to consider, either in the full menu category or in the mainly burger one.

EDIT:  Find my review of the WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro here.