Wednesday, May 29, 2013

For lunch today I checked out the 13th annual Windsor Star Pasta & Pizza Fest

I've been hearing about this event for weeks, mainly over on Eyes on Windsor where I've done a couple of guest blog posts. I didn't think I was going to be able to check it out this year but then I had a sudden schedule change at work so my time was freed up and I was even able to bring my wife along with me.

This year marks the 13th annual Windsor Star Pasta & Pizza Fest. This event is put on to benefit The Kidney Foundation of Canada, Windsor & District Chapter. There's a long list of local sponsors including The Windsor Star, AM800, RBC, McDonalds, Riverview Steel, The Windsor Police, Champion and the aforementioned Eyes on Windsor.

Big crowd even half an hour before the end.
The event was hosted at the Giovani Coboto Club, always an impressive place to visit and the hall was packed. It cost us each $12 to get in which seems like a great price for all you can eat food and supporting a good cause. Due to my work schedule we got there a little later than I would have liked: in the closing half hour. Due to this I was sad to find that most of the food was rather cold, especially the pizzas. Almost none of the vendors brought ovens or anything and there were just boxes of king size pizzas sitting out and pasta in chafing dishes.

Volunteers were on hand to serve you and there was an insane amount of selection. I counted 35 different local restaurants, clubs and hotels in attendance. Most places were offering at least one type of pizza and a pasta dish. Most of the pasta offerings were some form of penne with meat sauce but I was glad to see some other variety including gnocchi and even a rice dish and some stir fry. Most of the pizza places were offering cheese and pepperoni or some type of deluxe pizza. There were some notable exceptions like the Napolitana from Antonino's.

Capri, Arcata and Antonino's 
Personally I stuck with mostly Pizza but did have to try The Hilton's Chorizo and Shrimp Penne as I just love Chorizo. Everything I had was good, though I still wasn't a big fan of the temperature. I tried pizza from about six different places and two different pastas. My wife grabbed more pasta than pizza and also tried a mix.

I fully expected to attend this and leave with some new places to order from and maybe somewhere new to take my parents out for dinner (My Dad loves pizza and my Mom is a huge penne fan). I didn't get that. While we were enjoying our styrofoam plates of food we would go back and check to see where our favourites came from. My wife found two pastas she really enjoyed. Looking into it they both came from Koolini's. Well we already knew the pasta there was fantastic. There were two cheese and pepperoni pizzas I enjoyed the most. I checked, Capri and Anoninio's. I already knew those were two of the best Windsor Style pizzas in town. So while everything was good there were no surprises except for one.

Armando's Revs and Hilton pasta
The biggest treat of this event for me was trying something totally new from Armando's. This was their new Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza. This stuff was great. Real authentic deep dish pizza mixed with that stuff that makes Windsor Pizza some of the best in the world. A really amazing combination. I actually spent some time talking to the man behind this new pizza (totally should have written his name down, sorry dude) and he noted that this would be something new that would be available in the next couple weeks from their Cabana location only. The good news for those of us not local to that location is that to start out they will be willing to deliver it city wide. From there they have plans to expand it outward to two or three more stores.

Overall I was glad we managed to find some time to stop in. Next year though I will make sure to get there early while everything is hot and the desserts haven't run out.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bubi's - the Food Network is right: you gotta eat here!

I've been waiting patiently for the weather to warm up so that I could go have one of my favourite dinning experiences in the city. Sitting on the patio at Bubi's Awesome Eats with my family, a pitcher of Barking Squirrel Lager and a Bill's Big Boy sandwich.

Bubi's is a well known for great food here in Windsor. They've been around for 26 years and have always had a reputation for their huge portions and garlicky food. Actually the garlicky part is pretty much their staple. Everything is made with garlic or garlic butter and pretty much every dish comes with this amazing stuff called Bubi's sauce. A mayo based garlic sauce.

This place is good enough it was featured on the Food Network Series: You Gotta Eat Here! They actually show the head cook making a huge vat of Bubi's sauce. Check it out:

Physically Bubi's is one of the most inviting places in the city. It's a converted house that still feels like a home. The entire place screams casual. Come in, relax and let us cook something up for you. There's a bar section and two different levels of dining area. Outside is one of the best patios in the city. The place is well spaced out and manages to pack 'em in without feeling crowded.

Chicken Club Salad

The menu at Bubi's has a huge mix of items but mainly features large portion sandwiches and burgers. There's a bunch of appetizers with portions so big that even our family of 6 has seconds. Every time we go we get a large order of Mozza Cheez Sticks to dip in that amazing Bubi's sauce. The menu also features Tex-Mex, salads, sammies (sandwiches), 1/3 pound burgers, wraps and folds, stir fries and even a selection of international picks like some of the best Cevapi in the city.. Bubi's is also known for their frozen yogurt. Most menu items are in the $9-$15 range.

I can't talk about Bubi's without mentioning the Bunda's Big V8. One of the most unique items on the menu is an 8lbs, that's right EIGHT POUND burger! If you buy this you get a T-Shirt to go with it. If you finish it you win $1000. I have to admit I don't know anyone that has even tried.

My personal favourite thing to get at Bubi's is a "Sammie" called Bill's Big Boy. It's got chicken, bacon, black forest ham & gyros meat, stacked on gar-licked rye, with Bubi's sauce, lettuce & tomato, topped with cheddar cheese. It comes with wedge fries, soup or salad and is only $14.99!

Bill's Big Boy
In addition to great food Bubi's also has one of the better beer selections in the city that often feature lesser known Ontario Craft Brewers. I'm personally hooked on Hop City Barking Squirrel Lager and there's nothing better than sitting back with my Dad and enjoying a pitcher on the patio.

Speaking of the patio, Bubi's has one of the nicest patios in the city. It runs the length of the building, had tons of room, a tree growing up through the middle of it and some really nice wrought iron rails. Metal mesh tables and chairs with lots of umbrellas for the sun finish it off. I don't know exactly what it is but I just love that patio.

Like the Food Network says: You Gotta Eat Here! Seriously, it's some of the best comfort food in the city.

Bubi's Bill's Big Boy #FoodPornFriday #FPF

Seems there was some type of technical problem and this didn't go up yesterday. So I'm sorry this is a day late.

This is a shot of my meal from Bubi's Awesome Eats. It's a sandwich called Bill's Big Boy. There's four types of meat on this bad boy.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Went looking for cheesy and ended up with a ricotta, spinach and mint terrine

I mentioned in my last cooking post that I'm no cook. The kitchen is probably the room I spend the least time in. This is something I'm trying to change. My wife insisted suggested that I start taking care of dinner one night a week to give her more time to work on her Mommy Blog. Now she did note that she didn't care if all I did was pick up fast food or ordered pizza, she just wanted one night out of the Kitchen. I've decided to take the opportunity to step up and actually learn to cook more than Kraft and scrambled eggs. This week I ended up cooking a terrine. Before starting this quest I had no idea what a terrine was.

I'm a big cheese fan. A huge cheese fan. I eat a lot of cheese. So step one for deciding what to make this week was to google recipes with lots of cheese. This led me to the 100% Canadian Milk website: All You Need is Cheese. After browsing the very appealing graphical spread of recipes I found a recipe for Ricotta, Spinach and Mint Terrine. The picture for this recipe just looked awesome. It listed 2.5 cups of cheese in the ingredients and mentioned under 2 hours prep and cooking time. Googling "terrine" I learned that it's basically a loaf that's similar to a pate. This one was egg and cheese based and my wife and I love quiche and frittata so I thought it would be a good fit for our family. Now I will admit mint seemed a bit odd, but what the heck, lets try it.

Awesome Canada Beef tablet holder.
So we grabbed ingredients from our favourite local interdependently owned grocery store: Remark Farms. Reviewing the recipe I noticed something I missed. A 1 hour cool down in the fridge. Wow, I guess I really should read these things closer before rushing off to buy ingredients. Due to this I started getting ready as soon as I got home from work.

One of the first steps was to set up the awesome Canada Beef tablet holder we received at the first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference. This thing is great for cooking with. Besides holding up your tablet at a good angle (portrait or landscape) it also includes a washable stylus so that you don't get your tablet all messy with food bits.

One of my helpers.
I gathered, cut and prepped all the ingredients and had them ready to go before I started cooking. I had a couple little helpers for this one that really speed up the process. Especially pulling stems off of fresh mint and spinach and cracking eggs.

Not being very experienced with cooking I try to follow recipes exactly and don't like to mess with them at all. In this case I stuck with that. We did have one small change and that was due to not having unsalted butter in the house. I just ended up using regular and putting less salt in later. For everything else I followed the recipe.

All the ingredients gathered.

My first roadblock was when I had everything in the mixing bowl. This thing was thick! So thick that it actually bent the whisk I was using to stir. At that point my wife came to the rescue with an antique hand blender she inherited from her grandmother. That made things much easier. Now it wouldn't be me in the kitchen if something didn't go wrong and well it was that blender that caused the problem. I'm sure you can guess what happened. It took over half an hour to clean up.

It wouldn't be me in the kitchen if
there wasn't at least a small disaster.

Moving on from there things seemed to be going really well. I learned that fold the spinach doesn't mean fold in half and place into the goopy mess by hand thanks to my wife. I also learned that a dry toothpick doesn't mean not moist but rather no stuff stuck on it. The big eye opener for me though was that recipes don't include downtime, and this recipe had a lot of downtime. By downtime I'm talking about things like "wait for X to cool" After wilting the spinach and mint I had to wait for it to cool. After pulling the baked terrine out of the oven I had to wait for it to cool. I then had to put it in the fridge for an hour to let it cool. None of this cooling and waiting is listed in the hour and fifteen minute time this recipe said it was going to take. This made for a very late dinner for the kids.

Once everything was said and done I ended up with a really appealing looking terrine. I was amazed by how much it actually looked like the pictures on the 100% Canadian Milk website. It took about two hours more than I expected but the house smelled great and the food looked great. At one point my wife came in and decided to bake up some fresh local asparagus as she thought my meal needed a side.

Out of the oven

My final step for this meal was to choose a beer pairing. My wife and I recently returned from an anniversary trip to Toronto and while there we picked up a fridge full of new beers to try. At first I debated grabbing something thick and rich and chocolaty. A strong porter perhaps. Something to off set the mint. Instead I decided to go for something lighter with more hops than malt and grabbed an Amber Ale: Grand River Plowman's Ale.

So how was it? It was good. Not great but good. For something with 2.5 cups of cheese in it I expected a much stronger cheese taste. Especially when half a cup of that is something as strong as Parmesan. Then there was the mint. The mint was just odd, especially for a main dish. I even double checked to make sure this wasn't meant to be an appetizer or hors d'oeuvres. Nope it say "Main" It wasn't bad, it was just odd and the more you ate of it the more the mint taste seemed to grow. The beer choice was also good but not great. The Plowman's was very hoppy for an Amber Ale. It had a lot of Pale Ale qualities that were a bit overpowering.

My youngest daughter loved it devouring three slices. My oldest didn't seem to like it much though she said she did, she only had one slice but ate a ton of the fresh asparagus. My wife had pretty much the same opinion I did.

If I ever tried to make this again I would play with it a bit. I would probably double the amount of spinach and add some more stronger cheese. Maybe some swiss or sharp cheddar. I think I would also go with my original beer idea of a porter. Overall we had a decent meal, I learned a lot more about cooking and my wife got time to get caught up on some work. A good night in my books.

FYI: In case you missed the link above, the recipe I used can be found here:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Going to start something new: #FoodPornFriday #FpF

Lots of blogs out there do a one day a week picture post. The one I hear the most about is Wordless Wednesday. I didn't want to just jump on that band wagon though I wanted to do something that's a bit more specific to Big Dude Likes Food. I'm a sucker for foodporn. You know, pictures of food that you look at and you can't help but start drooling. Pics you see and you just want to reach into your monitor and eat that thing right now. The kind of posts that change what you are making for dinner or make you decide to call in for pizza.

So starting this week and continuing every Friday I'm going to do a FoodPornFriday post using the hashtags #FoodPornFriday and/or #FpF if I don't have enough room.

For my first post I'm choosing a pic I took while on vacation up in Toronto with my wife for our anniversary. These are New England Style Mussels: beer bacon, leeks, potatoes, smoked cheddar parsley, shallots, fin du monde & a touch of cream from Beer Bistro

Monday, May 13, 2013

On location at Un-Wine-D: Grown Right Here

About a week after my first guest post, over at Eyes on Windsor, Eric Bonnici asked me if I wanted to do another post for him. Very cool. This time he offered to send my wife and I to the Un-Wind-D! tapas dinner at Mettawas Station restaurant in Kingsville.

The Un-Wine-D Menu

Despite some trepidation leading up to the event, my wife and I had a fantastic evening. We got to meet Chef Anthony DelBrocco and his wife Janet along with Sou Checf Bridgette Perciballi. The meal featured four courses paired with wines and was put together by Bridgette. The theme was Grown Right Here and to that end everything was Ontario Local.

We had some amazing food: a Spring Salad, Pork Belly, Beef Wellington and Ricotta Rosettes. Wines included a Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Franc and a Cabernet Merlot. All of them pared up amazingly. Overall it was a great relaxing night, truly a chance to unwind in the middle of the week and we've already signed up for next month's event featuring Pizza and Napa wines.

You can read a lot more about our experience at Un-Wine-D including a break down of all four courses over at Eyes on Windsor:

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference - my thoughts

I've been debating writing this post since getting back from the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference back on the weekend of April 12th. There were a couple of reasons for this.

The cop out reason, the one I used to trick myself into not writing this, was that one of the things they told us was to not just follow the herd. If everyone is talking about what to give for Mother's Day you should be talking about something totally different so you don't get lost in the crowd. Well after getting back from the conference, heck even while at the conference attendees were flooding the conference  Facebook page with links to their blog posts about the event.

The one thing every single one of the attendees posts had in common, every single one, from people who attended to guests to the organizers, was that they were overwhelmingly positive. This leads to my second reason for not writing this post until now: I didn't find the weekend overwhelmingly positive. My head was filled with a mix of my mom saying: "If you don't have anything nice to say" and thinking that I don't want to be "that guy" The one asshole trying to ruin everyone's good time.

I asked friends, family and the people who are cool enough to follow Big Dude Likes Food on Facebook if they thought I should write a summary and they all told me I should do it. That people are going to be interested to hear another side of the story. People who didn't attend will want to hear the good and the bad and make an informed decision on whether or not to go next year. They also pointed out that I've never been one to shy away from posting a negative opinion before. So here I am.

Okay first off: it wasn't a bad experience. Don't get me wrong. I hope the above didn't make you think I had this horrible weekend and that it was a total waste of time. It was great getting away from the kids for the weekend. The room was nice. I had some great food and met some great people. I guess it just wasn't what I expected, though I don't actually know what that was either.

Spring at Hockly Resort
The beautiful spring weather.
I'm new to food blogging. I only started this gig in January this year. My wife though is some kind of pro-blogger: Maple Leaf Mommy. She's been to quite a few of these conferences and is often there as an organizer, guest speaker or panel expert. She's the one that encouraged me to know that Canada Beef was doing a twitter party, the one where  my wife ended up winning a ticket to the conference. At the time she was the one that suggested we both go. Holy crap were tickets ever expensive, $700, before tax. We debated it for a couple days, hotly at times. I don't know about the other attendees but for us that's a huge chunk of change. Note also, I cannot business expense this as I haven't monetized my blog at all and am not running a business. Obviously we eventually went for it. The combination of the hotel stay, all our meals being paid for and a kid free weekend won over the budget.

The drive sucked. It was rain then sleet then snow. The temperature dropped 10 degrees as we headed up north. Our GPS Phone thing (something my Wife was reviewing for her blog) ran out of batteries right at the end of the trip, right when we needed it. Then we got to the resort and the power was out. What a mess.

My wife and I.
The first night was awkward and backwards, at least to me. This was the big 'party night' where we were supposed to meet the brands. It seemed odd that we would do this first. I also missed the memo that this was supposed to be a dress up deal. Sure I had some khaki's and a golf shirt but I might have tried a bit harder if I had known. Things were just poorly set up. A thin hall, a check in center where you got more stuff than you can carry right there (causing most people to have to get their stuff and then immediately leave to go drop it in their room), and really no direction. One of the things that I think could have improved this particular event is if the Brands, special guests and attendees all had different badges. That way you would instantly know if you were talking to a brand ambassador or another food blogger. I also would have much preferred this event at the end of the weekend. After we had learned all there was to learn, loosened up, met some people and talked. Being in a hot hall with something like one hundred other people who had just arrived just wasn't the best time to walk up and say "Hey I'm a big guy that likes to eat and I really dig your hummus. What's this new thing you have here? Maybe we can work together?"

Dinner the first night.
Dinner that first night was also sub-par. I later found out it was due to the fact the power was out, but man that was some of the worst poutine I've ever had. The rest of the meal was okay but not great. Not at all what you would expect for a dinner for about one hundred people who talk a lot about food.

After dinner there was a movie, sponsored by KitchenAid. This was a cool idea and the milk shakes they were making were awesome. The movie was Back to the Future which I though was odd, it just didn't fit. After about 45 minutes in my wife and I left, and I think there were only 3 other people still in there watching. Yeah that didn't seem to go over well.

Back in our rooms we got to check out the loot! Wow! Now here was the first thing I'd seen at the conference that made it seem worth it. Holy Swag Batman! Topping the long list of stuff we each got was a free Delta Touch Faucet. That added to the kick ass Nordic Wear cookware we got was making this weekend seem more worth while.

The first nights Poutine
Okay I know no one wants a day by day, event by event commentary here so I'm going to sum up most of the rest of the conference in less detail. This is mainly because most of the rest of the conference was sitting listening to people talk. There were panels on brands working with blogs, the critic vs. the chef, tech for your blogs, monetization, photography, cook books, chats with Dianne Jacob, a Q&A with David Liete and more. What was odd here, at least based on what I know about other similar cons is that it was a one track show. Everything was scheduled for you. There were no options and except for a small half hour window on Saturday there was no free time. Where were the options? What if I don't care about writing a cook book (the topic of at least three panels)? When the heck am I supposed to hook up with Canada Beef and pitch them getting me grilling this summer?

Regarding the actual panels and the speakers, I have mixed feelings. I will say every speaker was excellent. They knew their stuff, they were funny and engaging and were great at answering questions. It just wasn't all stuff that I needed or wanted to hear. There was some truly great advice. Things like having your own voice. Producing your own content. How to be morally responsible and transparent about everything. Wait, except for when you are taking pictures, then you are clear to lie, I guess, as that's what I was told, twice.

David Liete a highligh of the event.
There seemed to be this opinion, held by every person presenting that blogging is not something you do professionally. It's something you do to get published. It's what you do so that people have heard of you when you sell your cookbook. Obviously no one just wants to blog and be happy with that. Obviously. Also everyone wants to be published and write a book. A physical book. Sure 'vanity press' is loosing it's stigma... wait a minute. I can't go on. What year is it? Have none of the speakers seen Kickstarter? I saw a bunch of bloggers with tablets, you can't tell me they don't have recipes in PDF, recipe apps, read food reviews online. It just seemed, I dunno, out of touch. Maybe it's me. Maybe in this case the Gaming Industry is way ahead of the food industry when it comes to digital media. I can't see it though.

While everyone assuming I want a book out there with my name on it was somewhat insulting and annoying it didn't bother me nearly as much as the fact that almost every panel was directed at Recipe writers, which meant that there was very little that targeted me specifically. I honestly think it should have been called the Recipe Bloggers of Canada Conference. Even the photography class, which was cool, was all about how to get good pictures of your recipes, or rather stuff that looks like your recipes. There was really only one panel about food reviewing and restaurants, the topics I actually care about. Here is where multiple tracks would have been great. A track for food commentary and review and a track for people cooking food. A lost opportunity that I hope they fix by next year.

Overall yes I learned some things during the panels. I also had a great time listening to the guests. There were some hilarious moments and every panel was enjoyable to be part of. They just weren't topics I really needed to hear about and I think my time could have been better spent.

The other thing worth talking about in regards to Saturday and Sunday is the food. As I mentioned, the meal the first night was a bit of a let down. Thankfully the rest of the weekend was the opposite. Everything was amazing. From breakfast buffets to amazing lunch spreads, each meal was different and excellent. Dinner Saturday night was fantastic and one of the best meals I've had.

Each main meal was teamed up with wine. This was pretty cool. They had the wineries there talking about each drink as it was being poured and the wines were paired up with each course. It's odd that I enjoyed this as I'm not much of a wine drinker. Actually I usually tell people I don't like wine. What was I going to do in this case, say no? So I drank up, and surprisingly enjoyed almost every one I had. My favourite was The Grange Chardonnay.

I still would have really preferred some beer. At least one night. I think it would be great if the Food Bloggers of Canada hooked up with the Ontario Craft Brewers for next years event and offered beer pairings for at least one meal.

So there you have it. My, long winded, summary of my weekend up in Hockley Valley for the first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference. I will admit: I had a good time. It was great to get away and I met some awesome people and had some great food. Based on the feedback I've seen I seem to have enjoyed this less than many of the other attendees. Yeah, it wasn't awesome. It wasn't our best trip out of town and there were times where I was thinking there were many other things I would rather be doing. I did learn some things, and I did make some contacts I never would have met otherwise. I think most importantly though, I was inspired. Despite listening to people tell me I was only in this for a book deal I was inspired to come home and blog. Not only that, I was inspired to come home and improve my blog. Sure there was stuff I would change, but that inspiration made this trip worth it to me. I look forward to going to the Second Annual Canadian Food Bloggers Conference in 2014 and I hope to see you there, and share a beer.