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Category Archives: Young Fresh Chef

Olive Greek Salad Dressing

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Cooks always start by mastering the Garde Manger station, our home kitchen is no exception. I started my son, Young Fresh Chef, on salads and appetizers. My mother, Momette, has always made salad dressings from scratch and I’ve continued the tradition. Years ago, when I was making a vinaigrette with my son, he couldn’t have been any older than 6, he asked why I didn’t add some of the olive juice from the bottle of Kalamata olives that I was using from the salad. I’d never considered adding the brine as an acidic element, so I splashed some into the dressing and it was fantastic!

Olive Salad Dressing Ingredients

Later, when we told his dad, Exec Chef about our latest creation there was a glint in his eye that a new menu item was about to appear at his restaurant. It was the first time that our son had inspired a dish and he was as proud as physically possible to be a part of the creative process.

Lately, I’ve been trying to healthify (this is now a word) our food at home and one way is by cooking with fats from whole foods (nuts, seeds, avocados, etc) rather than using extracted fats (butter, oil, shortening, etc). When trying to make a new type of salad dressing, I thought back to the flavours that I loved to put together and, of course, I thought of the olive juice salad dressing. Why not use whole olives instead of olive oil?

I decided to go with a Greek flavour profile, based around Kalamata olives. So, I threw together some fresh squeezed lemon juice, Dijon mustard, a bit of feta cheese, some Kalamata olives, salt and pepper in a little jar and blended it together with my immersion blender.

Blended Olive Salad DressingI topped a salad of romaine lettuce, purple cabbage, shredded carrot and celery with some of the dressing and I couldn’t believe the amazing olive and feta flavour that was delivered with every bite. Usually, when I add whole olives to a salad I try to space them out to get maximum enjoyment. With the blended olive dressing, I felt like every forkful was filled with salty tang of Greece.

Enjoying Olive Greek Dressing

Icy Huggy Cake

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For our Young Fresh Chef’s birthday we had a skating party with friends and family. There was hot chocolate, marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and Halloween crafts. There was also cake. For the past few years the deal has been that I make the cakes from scratch and my husband, Exec Chef decorates them. This way, he can take it to the restaurant to work on in his spare seconds and the boy won’t see it until the big reveal at the party.

Since we didn’t have much of a theme to work with this year besides ice and cold, I came up with the concept of making a cake that looked like one of the Papertoy Monsters that our boy had constructed from the book by Brian Castleforte (what a cool last name).

The featured creature on the book cover was one of the first Papertoy Monsters that Young Fresh Chef constructed, Icy Huggy. To my eye, he was the cutest monster and fit well with an ice skating party.

Vanilla cake was requested, so I worked on baking three 9X13″ cakes from scratch, while Exec Chef mulled over our son’s instructions to use as little icing as possible. The boy is known to scrape the majority of icing off any cupcakes or cake slices that come his way, he’s really more of a pie guy. Then he had a brilliant idea, cotton candy. Perfect for the blue fur on Icy Huggy! I remembered seeing blue cotton candy at the candy store at the mall.The cakes were then whisked away to be constructed and decorated for the party.

I tried to capture the birthday boy’s reaction when he saw the cake, but he was just a blur from all the excited jumping up and down. He was surprised, thrilled and impressed. He absolutely LOVED the cotton candy as icing substitute. For once he got have his cake and eat it too (no scraping needed).

What’s the most inventive way you’ve decorated a cake?

Video: Roasted Cauliflower

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Apparently, I just can’t get enough cauliflower. I was seduced by the intense colour of this purple cauliflower at Thrifty Foods and I felt the need to document its journey from produce to dinner. It’s my first video ever, so forgive the roughness.
The best part of making this video was my 9 year old son, using this clip as his recipe, made me this for lunch during the BC Teachers’ Strike this week. The power of Youtube! There will be more videos to come, it was too much fun NOT to do again, so subscribe to my channel on YouTube to see what happens next.

Watch the clip and see the pretty curds above turn into the flavourful dish below.

I hope that the next time you find yourself in the produce section of your local grocer, you too find inspiration in the bounty presented that you must make room for in your basket.

Cauliflower Confluence

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We’ve all heard the phrase “great minds think alike”, well  it seems like a lot of online food-type people are thinking about cauliflower! Now, this could just be a case of new car syndrome, like when you or a friend gets a new car and you suddenly start noticing that same make and model wherever you go, or it could be because it’s in season. Cauliflower recently came back into my cooking repertoire in a big way, so maybe I’m just more likely to click on a cauliflower related link.

 Photo 2 - 2012-02-23
I was never a huge cauliflower fan growing up, but a while back I started adding it to curry dishes and I found that it readily absorbed the flavours of the sauce and the texture held up nicely, plus Young Fresh Chef would ask for seconds. Double yay, since cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable which is a code name for cancer fighting vegetables, in fact I’d say it’s something of a super food.

Photo 1 - 2012-02-23

Just to warn you, broccoli is a gateway veg, I started out roasting the green stuff after reading this one hungry night. Then with a desire for more, I turned up a recipe on epicurious that sounded too easy to not try. I did have to go out and buy cumin seed, but I’ve found lots of other uses for it.

One day my niece, Divette, came over for a visit with her new iPad. I was chopping up some cauliflower when Young Fresh Chef wandered into the kitchen with Divette in tow.

Divette: “Auntie, what are you doing?”

Kitchenette: “I’m making us a cauliflower snack.”

Young Fresh Chef: “My Mom makes GREAT cauliflower snack.”

When I talked to her mother later, I mentioned what a hit the roasted cauliflower was, she said that she’d already heard about the, “yummy white broccoli”!

Photo 3 - 2012-02-23

If you find or have any other cauliflower-centric recipes, share them in the comments!

More links:

-10 Cauliflower Recipes from Canadian Living

-Dinner with Julie: Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan Cheese

Quinoa Quandary

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The only difficult thing about having quinoa for breakfast, at least in our house, is deciding what to mix in with it. My son, Young Fresh Chef, would have straight up quinoa for breakfast everyday, but I am not a creature of flavour habit and I need to switch it up. I’ll usually make a big batch of neutral flavoured quinoa at the start of the week so I can get creative with the additions. While it cooks up in only 15 minutes, it’s even faster to just reheat it, which gives me more time to play around with the add ins.

Quinoa works well in savoury side dishes, but takes on sweet flavours just as well. This South American seed gives you the goods to get your day off to a promising start, packing a complete protein punch. It also delivers as a good source of dietary fiberand phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. So I always feel I’ve done well to send YFC off to school with a bowl or two in his poke-able belly.

The only caution that comes with quinoa is, “Beware the saponins!” This bitter coating protects the growing plants from hungry birds which makes means less pesticides are needed, so it’s easier to grow it organically. I would recommend buying quinoa has already been pre-rinsed for your laziness.

It’s pretty easy to find quinoa at the corner grocery store, as long as you bring your specs! My favourite source for white quinoa is Costco  where they carry Truroots  organic pre-rinsed quinoa. I like the white quinoa for breakfast, while I find the red and black varieties hold up a bit better in cold salads.

So, what do I like to use to jazz up my morning bowl of quinoa? First, I feel the need to gild the nutritional lily:

-chia (either ground or in gel form)

-flax (ground)

-wheat germ

Then I pick a flavour combo:

-raspberry and unsweetened coconut

-apple or pear or whatever is in season with spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, etc)

-blueberry and walnut

-dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, what have you) and almonds

And just a touch of sweetness:

- Agave Nectar

-Molasses (iron!)

-Maple Syrup (manganese and zinc!)

-Xylitol

-Brown Sugar (special occasions!)

As you can see, the variations are limited only by your imagination and your provisions! My top pick right now is raspberry and coconut with xylitol and just a splash of coconut milk. I use frozen berries, but I dream of when they will be back in season…

How do you like your greens? Crisp!

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I remember clearly my first taste of Coffee Crisp. I had one in my bag of Halloween loot many moons ago (pretty sure I went as a clown, can’t get much scarier than that!) and the first taste of bitter coffee was too much for my young palate, I spat the tiny half chewed treat into the trash, only to have my mouth then filled with the mochalicious aftertaste. I learned not to judge a food by its first flavour profile as there may be more, and better, to come.
When I first had kale, it was cooked by Momette without additional flavouring. I did not enjoy it, to say the least. But, when, as an adult, I bravely shared a spicy kale-centric dish at Vij’s restaurant with my husband, it was fantastic! I realized that kale was just a vessel and must be filled with flavour.

Kale has a ridiculous amount of nutrients and calorie for calorie is the best thing you can give your body! It’s a sturdy leafy green that can take the heat and soaks up flavour like a tasty sponge.

My new summertime favourite is when Exec Chef blanches kale, marinates it in lemon juice and garlic, then throws it on our charcoal grill. Seriously, I could eat it all day long. Smoky, sour, garlicky goodness that sticks to the ribs (and goes well with ribs!).

The blogosphere has been whispering in my ear about the amazing tastiness of kale chips/crisps. The words are compelling, but the images lean more toward the repellant. Dry green leaves covered in goop. I’ve been enjoying kale in soups, now that the grill has been put away for the season, and it was only a craving for chips of the potato variety that made me join the food focussed blogistas in their kale chip cult.

I had been resisting the urge to buy Honey Dijon Kettle Chips until one day the snack food satellites aligned in my local Save-On-Foods. Kettle Chips were on sale for 2 bags for $5, the racks were mostly empty and there wasn’t a single orange mustardy bag of goodness to be found. It was only when I was zipping back to the produce department to grab some purple yams (so pretty!) that my eyes landed on a single bag of potato-ey gold that had been abandoned by the newly installed self checkouts. I practically scaled the Mt. Everest of Lucky Charms boxes, shoving Lucky and his crusty “marshmallows” to the side, to rescue the lonely bag. It was obviously meant to be mine and I may have stroked it gently as I made my way to the register.

Once I had them in the kitchen, I decided to reverse engineer the tongue tantalizing taste and find a less nutritionally void vehicle to deliver dijon spiked sweetness to my pleasure centre. I mixed, tasted, mixed again and used the excuse of “research” and “comparative analysis” to stuff my face with the crispy taters. I used olive oil as a base with Keen’s mustard powder, one of my go to ingredients for all things savoury, providing the necessary tongue curling zing which was mellowed by Maille’s Dijon Originale and creamed honey. Apple cider vinegar provided a tangy kick, which was rounded out by onion and garlic powder. Tumeric added it’s sunny colour and an earthy sweetness that only needed the finish of salt and pepper to match the taste of the half-finished bag of inspiration.

I massaged by mustardy elixir with my tumeric toned hands into the waiting leaves of kale. The oven dried them to a crispy conclusion and it was time for the final comparison.

The translucent leaves shattered into delicate shards on my tongue and the flavour was almost exact, there was just a subtle vegetal undertone that melded nicely with the mustard. They were a hit with Young Fresh Chef and he insisted on packing them in his school lunch for the next day. So, if you’ve been resisting the call of kale, give in!

Snackimals

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SnackimalsWhen visiting Richmond, once I’ve filled my belly with Dim Sum at Fisherman’s Terrace , I like to wander around the Aberdeen Centre rubbing my belly. I took a friend there a while ago and she was fully in awe. Yes, she is from the Northern Territories, so anything other than Canadian Tire is pretty exciting to my friend Raisinette.  So, the reason her excitement was notable was that she had just returned from a multiple week vacation in Japan.  But to see the sparkle in her eye as we entered Daiso you’d think she’d never been outside the Communities of the Yukon. I have never been to Japan, but I guess I always assumed it would be MORE exciting than a store in Richmond that sells the majority of its stock with a two dollar price tag. Judging by Raisinette’s reaction, this is not the case.

Some of my previous $2 finds have included: a child-size chair, a stainless steel mug with a yellow plastic handle, soy sauce containers shaped fishies and cutesy chopsticks. Our big find on this trip were the Fruit Picks. Another way to get kids to eat more fruit (or anything really), skewer it with a cartoony animal pick. It makes snacks less messy and more fun (always a winning combo with small children). We also bought kid-size chopsticks with a case for Young Fresh Chef’s lunch kit. He has already taken cucumber rolls in his lunch (which was my first attempt at sushi rolls, I don’t think Tojo has anything to worry about).

Our other stop in the mall was Qoola. Young Fresh Chef and I had already been to their Denman location to sample their wares. So, we already knew to order the mochi as a topping on their tangy frozen yogurt. The nice thing about Qoola is that it is not a direct rip-off of Red Mango, like a certain colour & fruit monikered chain. Qoola also offers waffles and slushes and has more of a health/eco ethos.

To balance that, we also hit Beard Papa up in the food court (best food court in the known universe, at least the parts of the universe that I’ve  known). Beard Papa is right next to Frappe Bliss, a Taiwanese shaved ice milk treat that Young Fresh Chef and I tried before, but haven’t been back. I think the proximity of Beard Papa MAY have something to do with that! Anyway, Beard Papa sells fresh oversize cream puffs. I remember asking Exec Chef if he knew why it was called Beard Papa, I got my answer the first time I saw our son dive into one. When he came up for air, the lower half of his face was covered in whipped-cream custard and icing sugar, the only thing visible was his huge grin. Raisinette was pretty hyped about the cream puffs, apparently, she hadn’t encountered any of their 230 outlets in Japan. I was starting to doubt that she had actually been there at all.

Of course, she did bring back gifts as proof. Manga stickers for Young Fresh Chef, and for me, she knows me so well, fruit picks topped with hearts! There was her evidence, there’s no way you could find anything like that outside of Japan, right?

Dim Sum Dilemma

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Dim Sum Dilemma

My first introduction to Dim Sum gets major points for ambiance, but negative twenty for actual taste. On our first trip to San Francisco (do NOT call it ‘Frisco or San Fran, everyone who lives in Northern California just calls it “The City”) we wandered through Chinatown and soaked in the atmosphere. There were boxes of live frogs squirming together like a plague just waiting to be released, turtles patiently climbing over one another and giant sized vegetables of every description. Stores extended past their doors and windows to encroach on the sidewalks, almost forcing people to walk in the streets, or run the risk of accidently placing  your foot in bucket full of glistening eels. The size, density and variety made Victoria’s Chinatown seem like the tiny little corner that they added into Old Towne in the Royal BC Museum.

Overwhelmed by the hoi palloi, we slipped into some random restaurant and pointed to some Dim Sum items through the finger prints on the menu. My memories of this first Dim Sum consist of a few sensory impressions: cold, dry, greasy and stale. So, it was a dining option we didn’t explore further until years later.

Fast forward about four years when I began venturing out in Vancouver to explore the diversity of Dim Sum, as there are plenty of options. This time I did some research and tried out Sun Sui Wah on Main. A big banquety space with carts racing around and the chatter rising up to fill the high-ceilinged room it was worlds apart from that first random incident. The cart approach is good for first-timers and large groups. You just take a whiff and a glance then point to what you want to try. The hard part is trying to remember what you liked for the next time. It’s a lot of fun with large groups of adventurous friends, or somewhat picky eaters who are looking to expand their horizons. I’ve taken a few Dim Sum Virgins to Sun Sui Wah and everyone got into it. It was fun first foray, but the carts were starting to lose their appeal.

My husband, the Executive Chef of my heart, told me about the Imperial on Burrard. He’d been there with some co-workers and he liked the dishes better than Sun Sui Wah. Wanting to do it right, I organized an upcoming birthday do for my two friendettes with back to back birthdays for a Dim Sum adventure. The Imperial is in a beautiful old building down by the water with a typically gorgeous Vancouver mountain/ocean view. The room was more elegant than Sun Sui Wah and without the perils of being run over by runaway carts. Ordering from the menus wasn’t the sensory experience of having everything brought by for inspection, but allowed more discussion and planning. A word about my friendettes, they get just as giddy over food as I do and it just makes me love them more than I would anyway. My b2b b-day girls were my Sushi Friends back in the day and could always be relied on to join me in a couple of rolls whenever the desire struck.

Back to the Imperial, well I did go back a couple times and the food was better, but I still wanted something more. I liked all the flavours and textures, but I still wasn’t finding the freshness. Eliminating the middle men running the carts was a step in the right directions. But, I was looking for more umami , something that would curl my toes and turn my raincoat red (I don’t know what that means, I just like the alliteration. Also I don’t know that I really want curled toes).

Exec Chef knew a guy who was related to a guy who ran a Chinese restaurant called Fisherman’s Terrace in Richmond (of course! I should have been looking in Richmond all along.). We went for dinner one night and had this amazing crab dish that was a whole crab covered in a dry “sauce” of  crunchy bits of goodness. I could see the glint in his eye that means Exec Chef is gathering inspiration that will result in a new dish. All the dishes were tasty, but what really impressed me was the bright and fresh quality of the flavours. We went there a couple more times for dinner before it dawned on me to try their Dim Sum!

The next time we found ourselves near Richmond around lunch time we headed to the Aberdeen Mall for Dim Sum and Daiso. We had our son, Young Fresh Chef, with us and we had to wait with the rest of  crowd that spilled out into the mall. When we finally got a table and a pot of Jasmine tea, we were presented with a paper menu list and a pencil. I ticked the items that tickled my fancy (including sticky rice and shrimp dumplings for Young Fresh Chef) and passed it to Exec Chef for his perusal. While waiting for the food, they boy and I wandered over to the fish tanks to check out their residents. The restaurant is huge and busy, the atmosphere a cross between Sun Sui Wah’s hustle/bustle  and Imperial’s dignified calm. Back at the table, when the food arrived, I was overcome by the heady scents. I dove right in and only came up for air to help Young Fresh Chef unwrap his sticky rice and give him a shrimp dumpling refill.

This was it! This was what I was looking for! The flavours were big, bold and balanced (the 3 B’s of flavour, according to me). The fried items were hot and crisp, the BBQ Pork Buns were clouds of dough filled with sweet and smokey goodness. There wasn’t a clinker in the lot. All the classics I’d had before were the best version I’d had and the “doughnuts” in a noodle wrapper were a revelation. It’s hard to describe in print, it made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It shouldn’t be good, but it is, IT IS.

The Perils of Peach Pie

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The Perils of Peach Pie

I *heart* pie. The phrase, “It’s high-time for pie!”, runs through my head with awkward regularity. I’m not sure where it comes from, I only know it means I should be looking for something with crust and a fruity filling. This is not to say that all pie is created equal. They need to be in season, no pumpkin at a summer picnic or cherry  by the winter fireside, and the filling shouldn’t be too saucy (unlike me) or too dry (like my wit).  While the filling is important, what makes a pie a *PIE* is the crust.

I will now share something with you, I fear the crust. Not on the plate, but in my hands. It strikes fear in my heart. Duh-Duh-DUH. I decided to face my fear, with the support of my Junior Chef and an excess of ripe peaches. Armed with my scale and copy of Michael Ruhlman‘s book Ratio.  I tried to remember everything I’d read about pie crust method from Jeffrey Steingarten‘s The Man Who Ate Everything. For the filling, I referenced Baking Illustrated. I decided to forgo the poaching and skinning of the peaches (reeks of effort, I did take the time to remove the pits) and I didn’t have the recommended potato starch or tapioca starch, so I used corn starch, but cut down the amount to keep the pasty taste at bay.

So, my first peach pie AND my first lattice top crust! When the pie finally cooled, I dished up some slices and served it to Chef. He took one bite, said I’d done a great job, then informed me that he doesn’t like peach pie. Well, I guess after 13 years together we still have a lot to learn about each other. Fortunately, Young Fresh Chef was a fan of the pie and it only took a couple of days to finish it off. I think he especially liked taking it to school in his lunch!

Banana Dippers

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Banana DippersMy junior chef is always looking for ways to make fruit more fantastic. Inspired by Lik-M-Aid. The comic features JC’s current top three dips. It’s really fun to rummage through your cupboards and try different dipables! So far we’ve sampled:

sprinkles – way fun

malt powder – in my top 3!

skim milk powder – good for combo dips

hot chocolate powder – another top 3 for me

grape koolaid – not so good if it’s unsweetened

Real Lemon and Real Lime powder – tangy and mouth puckering

ground almonds – subtle flavour with a nice texture

Orange/Lime Combo Dip

shredded cocoanut – rounding out my top 3

Combo dips make it even more experimental.

It reminds me of the potions we used to concoct as kids, then dare each other to try. I find that Junior Chef consumes much more fruit when there are dippers present and he is smiling and giggling the whole time. Further variations include: Pear Dippers, Apple Dippers and Green Grape Dippers. So, go check your cupboards and commence dipping!

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