We talk often about how everyday in life should be enjoyed and it is important to make the most of every moment. Sometimes, this means not taking things too seriously and just having fun, but other times you need to be very serious about how you plan your event. Rolling out the red carpet and toasting with a glass of bubbly is never a bad idea. We are that way when it comes to Oscar night. It is a big night that involves much planning and research, and the event itself is celebrated with close friends and festive food. This week I thought I would share how we enjoy this night, and I asked Martin to put in his two cents and give a few chef tips on how to celebrate in style.
Oh I know – you are probably thinking we are a bit nuts. Why would we want to make a big deal about the Oscars, another award show in a whole season of them, like another silly not-so-real reality show. Well, perhaps if I give you some background, you can better understand our point of view…
I grew up in the film business. Most of what I saw over the years was for the small screen, but my Dad did work on a few films and I was actually part of a movie crew when I was 17 years old (it was called "The Red Pony"). I used to dream of seeing my father accept an Oscar when I was little. I loved the “smoke and mirrors” – the magic of how a story came together and was conveyed onto the screen. It was like plugging into someone’s imagination, when it was done right. You knew that had happened when people in the movie theatre were touched in some way by what they saw - like when everyone gasps, or people sniffle, or cheer.... To know I was a part of that was to be a part of changing people’s lives for the better. Stories of underdogs, or lifelong dreams, long lost love or even a spy double-crossed… any of them could draw you in and make you forget the rest of the world for a few hours, and when you left the darkened theatre you felt different than when you entered. You also knew that there were others sharing in that experience, because you were not at home alone, but in a theatre full of people. Sounds corny, doesn’t it? Well, I believed it. I still believe that a good movie is worth its weight in gold… Oscar gold. I like to know that those who succeed in making that magic are recognized.
Martin and I share another link to the world of film: we met in the movie business. We were both cooking for film crews when we first went out, and we quickly learned a common interest was seeing movies. We actually even saw a film the night we got engaged, and the first night after our wedding! So, to say that movies hold a fond spot in our hearts is certainly not a stretch.
Maybe your indulgence is something different, and if so, then my advice would be to embrace it, celebrate it. Anytime you can share your passion with others, they appreciate it. Enthusiasm and heartfelt joy have a way of rubbing off on others. After all, every one of us deserves a happy ending, don’t we?
From Chef Martin:
Kristin and I like to go and see a movie in the theater every week. We both enjoy the outing and the big screen. I am not ashamed to tell everyone, I like the Oscars. It may not be the best show on TV, but it’s an annual thing for Kristin and I ever since we have been together. This weekend we will be working so we won't roll out the red carpet, but we'll record the show and watch it late when we get home. Just like at the movies, I'll get to snuggle up with my girl, and that's always good!
I thought I would give you recipes for a few simple appies, in case you are planning to watch the show, too. Feel free to have a snuggle after you've eaten :)
Take a white mushroom, remove the foot with a melon baler and stuff it with a mixture of crab meat, mayonnaise, and Cajun spices. Bake until done, around 20 minutes.
Sausages on a Crouton
Grill some nice Hungarian sausages (in Kelowna, "Illichmann’s" on Gordon has nice ones). Slice them thin and place them on a piece of fresh baguette with a spicy mayonnaise or your favourite mustard.
Lime Thai Prawns
Grate the rind of a lemon on your peeled prawns 4 hours ahead of time to marinade them. In a large enough pan start cooking your prawns. Once they are almost finished cooking, add some green curry paste, the juice of a lime and one whole bunch of cilantro.
Smoked Salmon Tarts
Buy some mini tart shells and fill them up with some cooked shredded smoked salmon. Add some fresh cream (35%) mixed with a bit of parmesan on the salmon and top the whole thing with some more parmesan cheese. Bake until done, around 12 minutes.
Whatever you do, enjoy good food and good wine in good company. Cheers!
Words like "pamplemousse" and "flambé"... aromas of tropical fruits and flowers in a wine glass... combinations of flavours like curry and coconut in a marshmallow... all these are reasons why I am a food geek. There is wonder not just in every bite of food or sip of wine, but also in the sounds and the smells. Food is fun! Isn't it true that watching someone flambé bananas is a whole experience? You hear the crackle, smell the caramelizing sugar and the brandy as it flames, and you taste the rich sweetness and the complexity of the flavours combining.
In the dead of winter, I thought perhaps I could offer a few suggestions to spice up your everyday diet of food experiences, in hopes of making you smile on a grey day. I've even got something for the meat-and-mashed-potato people :)
Let's start with breakfast. How about something new on your toast in the morning, like tomato and cream cheese and maybe a sprinkle of basil? If you eat yogurt, try toasted nuts or seeds (you can toast them ahead of time so you're not rushed in the morning). They add flavour and texture. Dried fruits work well too. Oh, let me guess, you're one of those people who doesn't do breakfast. I think you are missing a great opportunity to start the day happy but if you insist, how about a pinch of cinnamon in with your coffee grounds, or added to your cup of coffee? It's not just good on lattes!
Lunch is easy to kick up a notch, even if you pack it. Kids can have fun weird things - like a bit of homemade dip for veggies or fruit, granola to munch on, sandwiches or wraps with weird combinations like chutney and chicken or cheese, olive tapenade and cured meat or cheese or canned fish, hommous with shredded carrot and cucumber... the sky's the limit! If you're making something fresh, how about considering the concept of bread for a grilled cheese like a blank canvas? You can combine any cheese with any veggie or meat or spread... gruyere with bacon and mushrooms, cheddar with apple and green onion, brie with chicken and almonds. Leftover meats are good to use too - how about some butter chicken with the brie, or spice-rubbed pork roast with smoked cheddar? Any condiment in your fridge likely has potential too - sundried tomato tapenade or antipasto, mustards, chutneys, pickled veggies even! Live dangerously if you feel adventurous and see what you like best. Think of flavours and textures you like.
Dinner is all about planning, because we know life is busy. Start by giving an old favourite a new twist. This is the birth of your own sort of fusion cooking - you can add a spice, or a topping, to a dish - it can kick up the flavours or add a bit of crunch or creaminess, depending on your whim (spicy chilis,fresh herbs, nuts, croutons, melted cheese). For you meat-and-potatoes people, how about a dash or horseradish or roasted garlic or Dijon mustard in your mashed potatoes? Or some lemon zest grated over roast potatoes or home fries when you pull them from the oven? If you're feeling gutsy, try a new version of a recipe you like - maybe making lasagna with sliced zucchini instead of noodles. Switch meats - how about pork cacciatore instead of chicken? If you want to up your game and increase your repertoire, try setting a goal of one new recipe per week, or month even. With all the Food Network shows and blogs and newsletters with recipes, there is plenty of fodder out there to use!
Dessert is my favourite. I like to enjoy different things at the end of a meal, as a salute to my sense of adventure. Any time I see a dessert recipe that's new I want to give it a try - whether that means make it or taste it. While we were in Jamaica I had grapefruit mousse with tamarind sauce over a chocolate brownie. It was like a beach party in my mouth! Yesterday I made cookies from a recipe I've had for years, but this time I substituted raisins for nuts, and added a bit of buckwheat and cocoa with the all-purpose flour. They were a new kind of delicious.
I have a great winter dessert on my blog for you to try, and it offers all the WOWs I mentioned... Pamplemousse Pie. It's a recipe I found in France, so I kept the French word for more fun; "pamplemousse" is the French word for grapefruit. This may sound like too much tartness, but trust me, if you can tolerate even a little bit of marmalade, you'll enjoy this. Try it with a dollop of whipped mascarpone for added richness.
I hope I have encouraged you to step outside the bounds of your kitchen comfort zone. Short grey days shouldn't be reinforced with boring winter food. Bon Appetit!
We just got back from ten days in Jamaica, another epic vacation. We stay at two different all-inclusive resorts - one in Negril, and one in Jamaica. Both have their specialties in terms of activities and sights to enjoy, and we like to make the most of our time away to have new experiences. Of course, being foodies we like to sample the local food and drink as well, but this is not considered a foodie-focused trip. With most of the meals being buffet style, we focus instead on choosing what we think we will enjoy most. When people find out Martin is a chef and I am a Sommelier, they always ask how we like the food, in that tone that intimates we must think it is disappointing at best. This column is about how you can set yourself up for success like we do to make the most of any meal experience.
Let's face it - we go on holiday to relax and get away from the stress of everyday life. Eating should not be stressful. I say don't worry about the diet so much on holiday - it's OK to treat yourself a bit. But if you want or need to be strict, then take a positive attitude about it. Usually it will mean you are eating fresh local seasonal ingredients to stay healthy, and they are some of the most intense flavours you can enjoy at any meal. If the meal is from a buffet, take a smaller size plate to limit your total consumption. Eat slowly; it will give your body time to register that you have eaten and you won't feel like going back for more quite so much. If you want to try each course, wait a bit in between trips.
Buffets are all about trying lots of items but we have a tendency to over-achieve, and mix too many flavours. If you want to mix a bunch of stuff on one plate be aware that the curry sauce will likely run into the green salad if you put them on the same plate. You can try to be an architect and plan out your placement but it's much better to just get a few plates with less on them. Make as many trips as you wish; walking helps you burn a few calories anyway!
Sticking to local ingredients is always a good philosophy, in my book, as my regular readers know all too well. Martin once had a heated discussion when we were on holidays in Cancun with a fellow who complained about the beef. He said, "Do you see any cows near here on the beach? Have you noticed how many fishermen we see? You might want to order the fish tonight". Even if the beef is prepared well (and it often isn't when that is not a regular meal for locals), it won't be as fresh as the seafood if you're staying on an island.
Like they say, "While in Rome..." If you go to France stick to French cuisine, they are the best at it. Yes in France there are sushi restaurants and yes they also have burgers and pizza... but why not stick to what they do best and eat French cuisine. Most holiday resorts are trying to appeal to the wide variety of tourists they get every year so they create Italian restaurants, and Japanese and Thai and French but in reality what the cooks in those resorts know best is local food... So while in Jamaica eat Jamaican dishes and you may be surprised to find out it's actually really good.
Stepping outside your comfort zone to try new things doesn't mean you have to throw caution to the wind. If you are someone who usually doesn't stomach spicy food well, for example, don't dig into the Jamaican Jerk Pork with gusto or you're liable to blow the top of your head off with the heat from the Scotch bonnet peppers. Just because you can eat salsa at home doesn't mean you can handle the local stuff from a street vendor in Mexico - taste a tiny amount first, or ask someone else you know how hot something is to them - the locals are used to it so they might say it's not hot! We like spice, and we're fortunate enough to not be allergic to anything, but we have had times with friends when their meal was ruined because they were caught by surprise. (And if you get something that's hot in your mouth, remember that more beer won't help - have a glass of milk or a dollop of sour cream to calm your taste buds.)
In closing, here's a note on the drinking end of things ... make sure you can remember your holiday and make it to dinner by having at least an occasional glass of water in between the cocktails. I know it's all liquid but alcohol is not hydrating. The water balances out the dehydration effect and makes you a bit full, slowing your consumption just a bit. Don't worry, you'll still have plenty of liquid courage left to dance on the piano or at the side of the pool if you like :)
Yup, it's true - I am still on holidays. I am writing about my experiences - honest! - but I have sent in this reprint for you to enjoy as the internet is a bit iffy in the tropical heat. See you next week with a Jamaican recipe!
They say that February is the toughest month of the year to get through, what with winter blues and the lack of holidays to create so much as a long weekend. Apparently there is some scientific proof now that the lower levels of sunlight through the winter do reduce the levels of melatonin and serotonin in our systems, and these hormones affect not only our mood but also our sleep and our eating habits. That pretty much covers everything you do, don’t you think? No wonder so many people head off to Mexico this time of year!
Since we don’t have a flight booked I thought maybe some reminiscing of past travels might help… I spent some time surfing the web tonight watching the National Geographic “animal cam” in Africa and remembering my time on safari; the vibrant colours made me think of the beautiful costumes in Venice the year was there at Carnival time. With my mind wandering through these old memories my tastebuds decided to tag along and tastes came flooding back of wonderful meals in exotic places. Even a simple biscuit and a cup of tea still lingers as a euphoric food memory, because it was sampled on the salt pans of Botswana while watching the sun set. I need a dose of that in my living room this weekend – how do I get it??
I could turn the heat up and spread sand on the floor, but somehow I think it’s more complicated than that. The experts say that a light box will help reduce the symptoms of SAD (what a great acronym – “seasonal affected disorder” sounds a bit wussy, but SAD sums it up nicely!) If you can’t get to someplace tropical, why not have your own personal ray of sunshine? Personally I find the carbohydrate fix is what works for me; the other element that helps boost those –tonin levels and better your mood are complex carbs. (That’s why we crave chocolate and other goodies more in the winter – or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) Seriously, more fruits and grains, people!
Of course there is the old standby method – if you start to smile you will feel better after a short while even if you didn’t feel like smiling when you started. If we can’t have the special new association that turns a mundane meal into an exotic experience, let’s bring back an old one. So, pull out the photo album from your favourite holiday, and try this recipe I invented another time I was thwarted from escaping those nasty winter blues. These cookies have dried fruit, chocolate and grains so they should cover all mood-improving possibilities. Let yourself smile and turn your SAD into HAPPY (hormone-affected, party-preparing, yahoo!) Corny it might be, but I think it could just stave off the blues till spring has officially arrived.
Tropical Delight Cookies (makes 20-30 cookies)
- 1-1/2 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- 1 cup margarine or butter
- 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- 1 cup white chocolate chips (dark chocolate is okay too, if you prefer)
- 1 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
- ½ cup crystallized ginger, sliced OR dried cranberries (your choice)
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 2 large heavy cookie trays or place silicone baking sheets on trays.
Blend butter and sugar in large bowl till fluffy. Add orange juice and egg and mix till well blended. Mix dry ingredients in a large mixing cup (saves dishes!) Stir flour mixture into creamed butter and sugar mixture, then fold in nuts, fruit and chocolate.
Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto cookie trays. Bake till golden, about 15 min. Cool cookies on trays for 5 min, then move to wire cooling rack. Can be stored in airtight container for 1 week (if they make it that long!)
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- Fun foods from A to Z Feb 1
- Chicken soup, orange juice and hot tea Jan 25
- In the heat of the moment Jan 18
- Let's hear it for comfort food! Jan 11
- Keep the spirit alive Dec 28
- The Christmas Table Dec 21
- It's a wonderful life Dec 14
- A great idea back in Vogue Nov 30
- What's in your lunchbox? Nov 23
- Isn’t it funny... Nov 16
- Coffee and a donut Nov 9
- All by myself Nov 2
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