Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sophisticated Comfort Food at The Urban Element

This is what my husband does when he's not cooking me dinner – he treats me to a demonstration cooking class that serves up insanely great food. This was my Valentine's day gift and i'd been counting down the days. This class was put on by the Red Apron at the Urban Element. Jennifer and Jo-Ann put together this hands-on class where they shared local meat and produce sources as well as tips and tricks for in the kitchen. The best part? We ate, and ate, and ate some more. The main ingredient was bison. In fact, they did a bison trio that included tartar, grilled tenderloin and osso bucco. It almost seemed as though we were having three different meats they were all cooked so differently. They did a fantastic job, were very engaging and really – REALLY know how to cook. I was so amazed at how relaxed they were and how smoothly everything went. Especially in front of a group of a dozen people, and especially after finding out this was their first time doing it. Here's what we had.

We started off with an Orange Tarragon Pâté that had a smooth, velvety texture and anise-like flavour that was heightened by the orange zest. They paired this appetizer with a fantastic, sweet Ontario wine – Huff Estates First Frost Vidal 2007.

Next we had Barley Risotto with Double Smoked Bacon and Le Coprin Mushrooms. This dish was very satisfying, the barley was full of flavour and the King Eryngii mushrooms are so meaty the dish was a meal in itself. My husband has made these before and they're great. They paired this dish with a French Wine, Magellan Pinot Noir 2007.

For the third dish, and my favourite, we had Bison Tartare. They recommended dicing the bison after allowing it to freeze slightly as it helps when you're cutting through it. This dish was so tasty and fresh and the meat so tender it melted in your mouth. This came with a Zinfandel – Mandolin 2005 which also carried us through the rest of the evening.

Up next was the Pan-Seared Bison Tenderloin on Wilted Arugula with Horseradish Dijon Sauce. I can't rave enough about the bison, in all it's forms. This very lean meat has so much flavour and if cooked to perfection, as it was in this dish, is so amazing. You want it rare or medium-rare at most, overcooked is not good at all and may make you actually dislike bison. To hold in all the juices, make sure to allow it to sit for 5 minutes before serving, otherwise the juices and blood will pour out and you will loose that wonderful tenderness that makes it so great.

The last course before dessert was the Bison Osso Bucco served with Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Bleu Ermite Cheese. I was almost more excited for the blue mashed potatoes, two of my favourite things! Although these were fantastic, they were even more so paired up with this osso bucco. Blue cheese and red meat go hand-in-hand and this meat was cooked for so long that the meat just fell off the bone and into pieces. It was so rich and juicy and just an absolute pleasure to eat.

The final dish was a heavenly Maple Crème Brûlée Cheesecake with Cranberry Preserves. As soon as my spoon broke through the hardened caramelized shell and into the soft, creamy cheesecake filling my heart just melted. It was so sweet and so exquisite I thought I was going to fall to the floor. The cranberry preserve that lined the bottom cut the sweetness just enough to allow me to finish the entire thing without it being too rich. Really, this was probably one of the best desserts i've ever had.

As you can see, this was quite the evening. I am so full and still in awe at the food I just had. I would highly recommend any meal from the Red Apron and even more so recommend any event that the Urban Element puts on. I've been to two and both have exceeded my expectations. I think my husband and I are going to plan to go at least 2 to 4 times a year. Not only do you get to eat fabulous food, but you also get to learn a lot about the things we already love. Local foods, and great cooking techniques.

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