Winter appetites warmed by hearty comfort foods
By Dianne Park Thach
Winter brings cold temperatures, hibernation, and back-breaking snow shovelling.
But it also brings warm soups, hearty stews and comfort food. Whether you’re taking a break from the snowmobile trails or coming off the ski hill, enjoying wintertime favourites are a great way to bring the feeling back into your fingers and toes.
At Taste, Touchstone on Lake Muskoka’s restaurant, Chef Guy Bedard says they beat the winter blahs by featuring a revolving winter menu.
“By changing things up once a week it really gets our creative juices flowing,” he says. Basic elements of wintertime meals usually include darker sauces, lots of root vegetables, and heavier meats, such as beef, used in dishes. Rich and decadent desserts can also be a nice indulgence.
“It’s basically about food that warms the soul,” explains Bedard who is also a Savour Muskoka chef. Resort guests and residents will need that warming up after
their wintery outing, whether they’ve been out skating on a frozen pond or cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on nearby trails. Touchstone’s concierge can help if you’re interested in ice fishing, snowmobiling, or even dog sledding.
And to gear up for your long day, Bedard says eating pasta can help by providing you with energy from the carbohydrates. Their refreshing winter salad with leafy greens, port-poached pears, goat cheese crisps and spicy candied walnuts is filling, but not heavy.
“A bowl of our house-made soup would also be great,” suggests Bedard, adding that their soups are made fresh in-house every day. And when it’s time to come back inside for some warming up, Bedard finds that their guests opt for the hearty favourites on the menu such as the bison chili or venison stew.
If you’re in the mood to treat yourself, share the cheese fondue with a friend. “Winter is fondue season,” states Bedard. Their savoury fondue uses Swiss, Emmentaler and Gruyere cheeses for dipping with French baguette pieces and vegetables.
“It’s very comforting, it’s very relaxing, and goes great with a glass of wine,” he says.
Warm and comforting is how Chef Richard Lalonde describes their wintertime menu at Crossroads Pub and Grill in Rosseau.
“Our food is a little like comfort food with a modern touch to it in presentation and ingredients,” he says.
Located about five minutes away from lake access, the restaurant sees a lot of snowmobile-rider clientele. A wintertime favourite is their four-cheese and prosciutto grilled cheese sandwich layered with cheddar, Swiss, Oka and brie cheese and prosciutto, shaved apple, and arugula.
“We also make our daily soups from scratch, and have a great three-onion soup,” says Lalonde. The three-onion au gratin is made with braised Vidalia, Spanish onion and leek and a beef broth infused with Muskoka Cream Ale.
Lalonde says most winter menus are characterized by more braised meat and slow-cooked items compared to the grilled, lighter flavoured meats during the summer.
During the cold months Lalonde says they go through a lot of root vegetables.
On the dinner menu, the Berkshire pork chop is a popular item and is served with a sweet potato mash with ginger and maple, and sautéed brussel sprouts with bacon. The braised beef short ribs are also well-loved.
To cap off a long day outdoors, Lalonde suggests treating yourself to a specialty coffee or hot apple cider to warm up. “Any type of chocolate dessert is also very indulgent and a nice end for the day,” he says.
Over at 3 Guys and a Stove in Huntsville, owner and chef Jeff Suddaby sees a lot of winter sport enthusiasts dropping in for a bite to eat.
Snowmobilers come in right off of the lake and park their sleds in the parking lot. Hidden Valley Highlands is a five-minute drive down the highway for the downhill skiers. They are about a 10- minute drive from cross-country ski trails and people also enjoy snowshoeing, dog-sledding, and pond hockey in the area.
Suddaby finds each sport group tend to have different tastes in food. What a snowmobiler group orders might be quite different from what a group of cross-country skiers order. “It’s quite interesting because snowmobilers are usually into the red meats whereas the cross-country skiers tend to select healthy fare,” explains Suddaby.
“We get a great response for our stews and casseroles,” he says. “We sell a lot of them in the winter.”
His philosophy is to take comfort food and give it a little twist. He finds that their hearty beef stew is popular among male winter sport enthusiasts and they also offer a vegetarian stew with plenty of protein for those who don’t eat meat.
“People are looking for that complete meal, especially the vegetarians. The days of making a vegetable plate for a vegetarian are over,” he says.
Another well-rounded dish that has become a favourite among those who enjoy winter sports is the Louisiana-inspired slow-cooked roast beef stack. “The beef is stacked on top of a potato pancake, and to contrast the flavour with the cold and hot we put a Louisiana coleslaw on top of that.” Corn-fried onions piled on top finish off the dish.
“It’s a little bit of everything for everybody and the contrast in flavours is very neat. Everybody knows what a pot roast is but when you put all these combinations together it makes for a really tasty dish.”
When asked for a suggestion to mark the end of a great active day outdoors, Suddaby recalls the time when a group of cross-country skiers recently came by for dinner. “They came in a little early, right at five o’clock. They started with a bottle of red wine, just sat back, and sipped on that for a while.”
(Courtesy of Chef Guy Bedard, Touchstone, Lake Muskoka)
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1 cup Muskoka Brewery Cream Ale
1/2 cup of flour
1 bunch each of thyme, rosemary, parsley - chopped
2 to 3 lbs. deer meat
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bay leaf
4 carrots diced
2 onions diced
4 ribs of celery diced
4 medium potatoes and 2 sweet potatoes diced 1 inch cubes
salt and pepper to taste
Remove all silver skin from meat. Cut into 1 inch pieces and dredge in flour. In a heavy bottomed pot, brown meat in oil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add onions, celery and carrots and simmer until the onions are translucent.
Add stock, beer, venison, and bay leaf to the pot and cover, and reduce heat. Simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours until meat is almost tender, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes, thyme, rosemary and parsley and re-cover. Cook 20 minutes longer or until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.
(Courtesy of Jeff Suddaby of 3 Guys and a Stove, Huntsville)
Melt in your mouth mushroom risotto combines the intense flavour of shiitake with the earthy taste of button mushrooms. Add sweet onions, garlic, and herbs for a dish that’s remarkably smooth and decidedly delicious. (Serves 4)
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, washed and stems removed
2 cups button mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cups orzo rice
4 tbsp olive oil
7 cups vegetable stock (good quality available in tetra packs at grocery stores, preferably without MSG)
1 large red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh spinach, cut into ribbons
In a saucepan heat the vegetable stock and keep it warm as you make the risotto. Heat a large heavy skillet to medium-high. Add two tablespoons of oil and rice to the skillet. Stir rice for two minutes to coat with oil. Add 1/2 cup of warm vegetable stock, stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed into the rice. Repeat this process always adding 1/2-cup warm stock at a time until the rice becomes starchy and soft. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat a separate skillet to medium-high. Add the remaining two tablespoons oil, both kinds of mushrooms, herbs, garlic, and onion. Sauté until mushrooms are soft. Add the mushroom mixture into the cooked rice and stir. Add the butter and parmesan cheese and stir.
Divide the mushroom risotto onto four plates and garnish each plate with fresh spinach ribbons. Serve immediately.
Swiss Cheese Fondue
(Courtesy of Chef Guy Bedard, Touchstone, Lake Muskoka)
1 clove garlic
2 cup cups dry white wine
1 lb Swiss cheese shredded
1 lb Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 tbsp cornstarch
a pinch of grated nutmeg
2 tbsp kirsch
2 baguettes, cut in 1-inch cubes
pinch of salt and pepper
Cut small slits in garlic clove; rub clove all over inside of fondue pot. Pour in all but 2 tbsp of the wine; bring to simmer over medium heat on stove top.
Add Swiss and Gruyere cheeses; stir with wooden spoon until melted. Dissolve cornstarch in remaining wine; stir into fondue pot along with pepper and nutmeg. Bring to simmer, stirring; simmer for 1 minute. Stir in kirsch.
Place over medium-low heat of fondue burner on table, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain low simmer and stirring often. Serve with bread, apples, broccoli or gherkins to skewer and dip into cheese.
Lentil Soup with Cashew
(Courtesy of Jeff Suddaby of 3 Guys and a Stove)
This highly flavoured vegetarian soup is brimming with vegetables. Salted cashews add a touch of crunch and the taste of Brazil. (Serves six)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
6 cups vegetable stock (good quality available in tetra packs in grocery stores, preferably without MSG)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 cup of lentils, any colour, pre-soaked (directions below)
1 Spanish sweet onion, diced
1/4 cup rutabaga, diced
1/4 cup carrot, diced
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
12 -1 inch long x 1/8 inch thick rutabaga sticks
12 -1 inch long x 1/8 inch thick carrot sticks
12 salted cashew nuts
Heat a soup pot to medium-high. Add 2 1/2 tbsp oil, garlic, onions, oregano, basil, red peppers, diced rutabaga and diced carrot. Sauté until onions are translucent.
Add soaked, drained lentils and vegetable stock and cook over medium heat approximately 45 minutes to one hour. Add freshly cracked black pepper.
Heat a small skillet to medium-high. Add 1/2 tbsp of oil, the 12 carrots and rutabaga sticks and sear quickly until lightly browned but not too soft. Garnish each bowl of soup with 2 salted cashews, 2 rutabaga sticks, and 2 carrot sticks.
Pre-soak lentils for 2 hours; drain, cover with cold water and bring to a boil; drain again. Pre-soaking reduces the cooking time and is believed to improve digestibility.