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Happy Pi Day!

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The Perils of Peach Pie

The Perils of Peach Pie

March 14th is Pi day (3.14), I hope you are celebrating with real pie, I’m just sticking with pictures of pie. Up top is my Perfect Peach Pie and below is Not So Sour Cherry Pie. Enjoy!

Cherry Pie Serenade

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Cranberry Craze

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When the leaves twist and turn and fall into colourful piles, waiting for boots to crunch their way through, it’s time to prepare for comfort food simmering on the stove. Years ago we started a tradition for Thanksgiving and Christmas that Young Fresh Chef and I make a batch of homemade cranberry sauce. Mostly I do the prepping and cooking and he just lets me know when it is sweet enough. I had always been a fan of the canned variety, piling it on turkey sandwiches and maybe even eating a spoonful on the sly. 

But when you look at the ingredient list on the can it is short and sweet: CRANBERRIES, GLUCOSE-FRUCTOSE, GLUCOSE, WATER. I knew I could do better. I researched recipes years ago and I took the bits and pieces that appealed to me and created my ultimate cranberry sauce! The least daunting of the traditional turkey accompaniments, it’s a great take along if you are invited to a holiday feast.

Living in the heart of B.C.’s cranberry country, I can usually buy cranberries in the Fall, fresh from the bog, at the local Farmers’ Market. They are also easy to find in the produce section in your grocery store this time of year. I usually pick up some extra to fill a vase or pile around a pillar candle for a centre-piece.

Once you have the cranberries, next come the seasonings, and while it is necessary to add some sweetener to balance out the pucker inducing tartness of the berries, you can also add some holiday spice to add layers of flavour. The key to keeping it on the savoury side instead of being jelly is bay leaf and white peppercorns. By placing the smaller spices in a tea ball (or a cheese cloth pouch) you don’t have to fish them out individually, or wonder where that last clove is hiding.

While cranberry sauce completes the holiday table and elevates turkey to a special occasion, it’s also great mixed in with yogurt and granola, slathered on a peanut butter sandwich or maybe just a straight spoonful or two!

Recipe for Spiced Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries

1 3/4 cups apple cider or juice

3/4 cup honey (or other sweetener to taste)

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

zest of 1 unsprayed/organic orange

3 whole cloves

4 white or black whole peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 piece of nutmeg seed (optional)

1 thread of mace (optional)

1 allspice berry (optional)

1 star anise pod (optional)

3 cardamom pods (optional)

1 piece crystallized ginger (optional)

salt to taste

Method:

1. Place small spices in a tea ball or make a cheesecloth pouch tied with string.

2. Place all ingredients in heavy large saucepan.

3. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

4. Simmer until berries burst and sauce thickens, stirring occasionally (about 20-25 minutes).

5. Remove cinnamon stick, bay leaves and spices.

6. Allow to cool, the sauce will thicken up even more.

7. Refrigerate sauce until cold.

8. Serve with turkey, or yogurt or swirl into muffin batter!

The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Share your favourite homemade holiday tradition in the comments.

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

Tomato Time

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Tomato TimeThe most common reaction, when I tell someone (who isn’t in the restaurant biz) that my husband is a chef, is a loud intake of breath, then an exclamation of “Aren’t you lucky!”, or some similar sentiment. I see the glint in their eyes as they picture me arriving home to a spotless kitchen filled with bubbling pots, a table set with fine china and my husband putting the finishing touches on an artistically arranged salad. I have to resist the urge to yell in their face, in my best Borat voice, “NOT!”

People, please. Stop for a moment and let reality sink in, like teeth sinking into a thick slab of warm fresh brioche. He works nights, minimum five, maximum seven. So, the most meals we will have together in a week is four (his metabolism can only handle two meals a day, plus snacks). Given that he slaves over a hot stove/cold cutting board for at least  twelve, but maybe more like sixteen, hours a day how many times do you think he’s woken up early and jumped out of bed just to create a multi-course rose-in-the-vase breakfast-in-bed for his loving wife? Approximately, no wait , PRECISELY, zero.

I’m not saying he NEVER cooks at home, I would classify it more as hardly ever. I’m not bitter about it. I accepted it a long time ago. Besides, I like cooking on the weekends, and of course we like to support our local restaurants. The upside is now that he’s added the owner slash to his “chef” title if I want to be fed by him I can mosey down and belly up. Of course, I still have to pay, no free rides, baby. But, when I play my cards right and bat my eyelashes fast enough I might get an extra course  or a sample of a new dish.

The point is, when he does fire up the tongs at home I try to kick back, relax and enjoy every moment. The smartest move I made this year was the charcoal grill I got him for his birthday, which led to a lovely summer of BBQ’ed deliciousness (I just had to supply the potato salad and the limeade). So, when he brought home a paper bag filled with Sun Gold tomatoes from Stoney Paradise Farms, I had visions of sweet tomato-y recipes dancing in my head. Sometimes when you have such a lovely ingredient to work with, especially at the tail end of the season, it is hard to commit to just one dish.

My dilemma was solved when the Executive Chef of the house took dinner by the reins and put his Junior Chef to work. I was demoted to photographer and documentarian. Since our boy-named-sous(chef) is a carboholic (he’s addicted to carbohol!), pasta was an easy choice. While I have a shelf with a varied selection of dried pastas, the boys decided to make some from scratch.

Now, there are not many things I enjoy watching more than an expert practice his craft, but I can say that watching said expert share his knowledge with the next generation definitely tops it. The big rough hands marked with scars and burns wearing a battered wedding band, guiding the cute little hands in kneading the pasta dough is on the top of my list for things that make me go *sigh*.

While Exec Chef demonstrated his wicked knife skills on the folded pasta dough, Jr. Chef ran out to our basil plant in the backyard for a fresh herbaceous touch for  the dish. The sauce was just the tomatoes with olive oil, butter, basil and some Parmigiano-Reggiano.

It’s the simple dishes that make the best use of extraordinary ingredients and it’s sharing the simple pleasures that make the best memories.

Caesar Seizure

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Caesar Seizure

When I met my husband, he was not yet the Executive Chef I know and love today. He was an apprentice line cook at a semi-veggie restaurant in our provincial capital. I loved taking my friends and family on Wednesday nights to sample his latest dish that he had created for their weekly appetizer special. My best gal, Lassette, STILL talks about the corn broth with cheese filled raviolis, even though it was over a (gulp) decade ago that she sampled it.

One of my favourite things about those days was when my boyfriend (tee hee) would call me at the end of his shift to see if he could bring me anything. Most nights I would reply with,”Oh, you know what I want, baby.” And he did, and he would deliver. He’d come home, I’d hear his key in the lock and cross the room to the door before he even had it open. I’d give him a kiss hello (if I remembered) and grab the bag from his hand. I’d already have our only mixing bowl out on the counter with utensils nearby. The first container held fresh, crisp romaine leaves that almost filled the bowl. Next, a smaller container chockfull of house made croutons, that started their life cycle as focaccia bread and then where blessed with copious quantities of garlic and olive oil. After that came the dressing (two containers if I was extra lucky), thick, creamy golden goodness to be scraped out over the leaves and croutons. Then I tossed it all together gently, to spread the dressing around in order to delicately coat each leaf and crispy cube of golden bread. Finally, the last container holding freshly grated Romano cheese was sprinkled over the slick surface.

Forgoing plates, and armed with forks, we’d take the single step to the couch and eat directly from the bowl. Those were the good old days, before we had a car, a kid or a clue. I think of those days fondly, and when I get to reminiscing, I am usually seized with a craving for that Caesar Salad of yore. Fortunately, the restaurant published a cookbook with their Caesar Salad dressing recipe. It’s pretty much the only way I can get my Chefs to eat salad without complaint (or conversation, we are all to busy enjoying). I usually add chicken to make it the full meal deal.

The croutons themselves are snacktastic. I don’t make them from focaccia, I use either sourdough (left over from making French Toast) or Italian (the bottom half only, the top gets used for garlic bread). I’ll freeze the cubed bread if I’m not using right away and let it fully thaw before letting them soak in olive oil flavoured with garlic, salt and pepper. I tend to snack on them while making the dressing, just the ugly ones of course.

I have the ingredients for the dressing memorized: roasted garlic, fresh garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, dijon mustard, capers, anchovies, salt and pepper. The roasted garlic is easy to do: cut off the tops of two whole heads, place it in the centre of a square of aluminum foil, douse it in olive oil and s&p liberally, pop it in the oven at 450 for 45 minutes (I love the symmetry of those numbers). I measure everything else by taste. Once the roasted garlic is ready it goes into the blender (well, right now I’ve been using my immersion blender, apparently I wore my pastel yellow Kitchenaid blender out). Half a lemon gets its juice squozen in (yes it’s a new word, feel free to use it), one large, or two small sliced cloves of fresh garlic, a nice pile of parmesan falls gently from the grater, a squidge (second vocab word of the day) of dijon mustard, five or six capers,one single anchovy (oops, suddenly not vegetarian), a few grinds of pepper, a generous pinch of kosher salt and a splash of olive oil. Then the blending/tasting/blending/tasting begins! The quantities are never exact because the flavours change with the season, or the brand. Somtimes I use oil packed capers and anchovies, sometimes salt packed. This changes the intensity of the flavour and the impact to the dressing. Lemons can be sweeter or drier, garlic can be subtle or strong. This is where the tasting comes in.

Once the first round of all the ingredients are in and all blended together, a tiny spoon drops a taste on your tongue. Whatever ingredient you can taste individually doesn’t need to be increased. So, just keep adding more of everything you don’t taste until it’s a beautifully balanced blend of all the players. The best way to tell when you’re done is when you just start eating, rather than tasting, the dressing (you just may be too hungry to care, but that’s fine). Leftover dressing makes a great dip for carrot sticks or croutons the next day. Just kidding about the croutons, they wouldn’t last more than a day around my house!

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.

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