Now that the seasons are changing I seem to be wanting different flavours on my plate. I head towards the produce section with renewed vigour and if I'm cooking meat or fish it's in a lighter sauce. Maybe I'm motivated by the lack of bulky sweaters that covered my winter indulgence in stews and rich dishes. But I don't just want to eat salad and it's not like tomatoes taste like anything yet. So what does a tasty, interesting spring meal really look like? Well, follow me on my shopping trips this past week...
We were at the Kelowna Farmers & Crafters Market last Saturday and found some fun inspiration from Scott Moran, expert forager. Scott had beautiful fresh dandelion greens. He's a wonderful local resource if you're interested in wild ingredients. Watch for him at the market and sometimes at Urban Harvest's store. I got some lovely blue potatoes, and Green Croft Gardens had some exotic radishes that we took home too; black, watermelon and daikon all went into the quinoa salad I made that night. Later in the week I made a wilted salad with the dandelions and some oven-roasted blue potatoes, golden beets, carrots and red onion, and served that with a piece of Lois Lake steelhead that we got from Jon Crofts at The Codfathers.
The next time I was out shopping I already had recipes in mind, thanks to my Polpo cookbook. A few years ago my girlfriend took me there for lunch and I felt like recreating the vibe and the flavours. I stopped at Guisachan Village to get a fresh baguette at Okanagan Grocery and some Italian flat leaf parsley from Paul's Produce. Then I had to get some prosciutto, anchovy fillets and Buffalo mozzarella. I had arugula, pumpkin seeds, oranges and onions in my fridge all ready to go, along with a bottle of French Tavel rosé to complete our European repast. The chickpea and anchovy crostinis were just as I remembered, and my adaptation with proscuitto, mozzarella and some chopped olives with tomato seed oil was inspired, if I do say so myself :)
At the end of the week I had a sick husband as a dining companion, so that kind of cramped my style. As with most sickies, the request was for chicken noodle soup - out of a can. It took some doing to find one that wasn't full of MSG and/or salt, but finally I managed. I also had some roasted chicken to add to the soup to give it a boost. Since I wasn't sick I decided to fall back on my own childhood soup favourite - corn chowder. My mom used to make it with cream corn and a can of milk. I jazzed it up by sautéing onions and mushrooms first in the pot, then adding some chopped carrots, celery and cherry tomatoes. I added in the corn and milk, along with a few pieces of chicken and a dash of cumin. I let it come to a gentle boil, then finished it with some fresh cilantro and a splash of the Chardonnay I was going to have with it :)
I hope my adventures have helped offer you some new ideas. I'd love to hear your inspirations- it seems often the hardest part is deciding what to cook! You can share with me on Facebook or on my blog. Or maybe I'll see you out shopping! (We're the people with the crazy-coloured shopping bags.)
My Mom used to say that when I was a kid. It should be said that she was a mean maker of cookies, still is (when I get one). She made lots of treats and cookies were the most fun as a kid because they were so transportable. She made all kinds: hermits, chocolate chip, ginger snaps, butterscotch... all of them containing that wonderful magic that is only found in a home-baked goodie. I was a fortunate child.
We mostly had homemade cookies in our house. The one store-bought cookie that sticks in my memory is OREOs. Mom always bought those for summer holidays camping. There's nothing better than a sandwich cookie for a treat, because it provides its own entertainment. You can try to pull it apart, and if you're successful in getting the top cookie off unbroken, then it becomes like a token. You can work to peel or lick the middle off the bottom cookie. You can double-up the bottom cookies with filling and feel decadent. (Just so you know, we did this long before some marketing executive spoiled it and started selling the "Double-stuffed" version.) OREOs even work in a game of checkers when one person plays with open-faced cookies. The only down side is that you can only play one game :) Those were the days, when eating a simple cookie could fill an entire afternoon.
My other experience with sandwich cookies was selling Girl Guide cookies. It was a daunting task the first time I went out with my unit. I was a Brownie, 8 years old, and I had only been door-to-door on Hallowe'en to trick or treat with my friends. I remember, the first house I went to, I had to run back to the leader's car to ask how much a box cost - I forgot the price! (They were $2 back then; it was a long time ago.) Not much has changed, interestingly enough. Nowadays I work with a unit of Rangers (girls aged 16 and 17) and they are selling lots of cookies to help raise funds for a Guiding trip to Australia this summer. The cookies are more expensive now, as are most things, but the girls still behave the same. They cheer when they sell a box, and they are crushed when people say no. We once went out with the young Sparks (aged 4-6) to help teach them the ropes of safe selling. One girl laid down on someone's lawn and cried the first time someone declined her cute request to buy a box (she had sold to four houses in a row, so it was a bit of a shock).
Girl Guides will be going out door-to-door starting this weekend with the classic sandwich cookies. (For those of you who are mint fans, those cookies come out in October.) If you can spare five bucks, the girls would appreciate your support. Camping and crafts and field trips and all that happens with cookie money. Guiding also provides another opportunity for girls to get the magic that comes from a role model like Mom, whether it's with a cookie that heals or just a listening ear. And just think, with a box of vanilla and chocolate cookies you can build customized cookies when you pull them apart! You can support Canadian traditions that are almost a century old, and feel like a kid again. How is that not a good idea?
We talk often about how every day in life should be enjoyed and it is important to make the most of every moment. Movies illustrate that point for us on a regular basis, whether the story is about everyday life, like this year's "Boyhood" and "Still Alice" or about an extraordinary life like those depicted in "The Theory of Everything" or "The Imitation Game". Sometimes we need to make sure we share our point of view, like in "Birdman" or "Selma". And sometimes we get a better understanding of others when we spend time with them, as I did with "American Sniper" and "Grand Budapest Hotel". Almost always I have enjoyed sharing the journey, and that is why at our house we celebrate Oscar night. It's a way to remember all those great shared moments, and to share them with friends as we celebrate - with some fantastic food, of course!
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 actually was part of a movie crew when I was 17 years old. 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 it was done right when people in the movie theatre were touched in some way by what they saw. 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. I like to know that those who succeed in making that magic are recognized. The optimist in me likes to believe that sometimes the good guys do win out, even amidst today's world rife with political agendas and conniving marketing plans.
My husband Martin and I met while we both worked as caterers in the movie business. Combining food and movies has always been a fun part of our relationship, so our feast on Oscar night holds an especially dear place in my heart. We are actually working on Oscar night this year so we'll be getting creative and enjoying our nibbles with a "pre-party" where we decide our picks. I've listed some past menu items for you in case you might be inspired to join in our tradition. We don't go as crazy as Wolfgang Puck with the Governor's Ball in Hollywood but we do have a good time.
Stuffed Mushroom Caps
Take a white mushroom, remove the foot with a melon baller and stuff it with a mixture of crab meat, mayonnaise, and Cajun spices. Bake on a cookie sheet until done, around 20 minutes. Let them cool on a paper towel before serving.
Sausages on a Crouton
Grill Hungarian sausages from "Illichmann’s", slice them thin and place them on a slice of fresh baguette with a spicy mayonnaise (mix in some chipotle BBQ sauce or paprika and cayenne).
Lime Thai Prawns
Buy 21-25 prawns at a reputable fish market. Grate the rind of a lemon on your peeled prawns 4 hours ahead of time to marinate them. In a large enough pan start cooking your prawns. Once they are almost finished cooking, add a few spoonfuls of green curry paste, the juice of a lime and one whole bunch of chopped 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 finely chopped green onions or chives and top the whole thing with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Bake until done, around 12 minutes.
Local bubbly is fun to have on such an occasion, and there are lots of good ones to choose from. These are some of our favourites, but feel free to experiment and try what strikes your fancy!
- See Ya Later Ranch Brut
- 8th Generation Integrity Frizzante
- The View Distraction Rosé Sparkling
- Sumac Ridge Stellar's Jay Brut
- Summerhill Cipes Brut
Maybe your indulgence is something different, and if so, then my advice would be to embrace it, celebrate it. Super Bowl Party? March Madness? Season finale of your favourite TV show? The summer solstice? Anytime you can share your passion with others, they appreciate it. Enthusiasm and heartfelt joy have a way of rubbing off. Whatever you choose as your reason for celebrating, enjoy! After all, every one of us deserves a happy ending, don’t we?
With Valentine’s Day this weekend, I thought decadence would be a valid column topic. Often we speak of the importance of everyday food in a tone that is more about comfort or health than luxury but there is nothing wrong with a bit of decadence now and then. In fact, I think it should be required to keep one’s stamina up! I hope you won’t think I am trying to justify a delectable Valentines’ Dinner or assuage guilt over past indulgences. If anything, see me more as a missionary on the hunt for prospective converts to the religion of gourmandise…
Let me start by offering a definition:
Gourmandise is technically a French word that can either mean being greedy or as a noun, a sweet treat. However the true use of the concept relating to “gourmand” is more in terms of someone who is very fond of good food.
A gourmand is different than a “gourmet” as the original connotation of a gourmet is someone who is a connoisseur, knowing food and cooking well and also preferring the finest of ingredients. Today of course the word most of us employ instead of gourmand is “Foodie” but don’t you think that brings the concept to a much more mundane and unimportant level? Gourmands love it all – the rustic picnic and the four star dinner – and I think in today’s world any time taken to appreciate anything is valuable. Why should we only appreciate the fancy or expensive things?
Okay, so now you are thinking I have written myself up against the wall. No, I just want to reinforce the fact that everyday appreciation helps encourage the desire for variety. It is easier to appreciate something when you don’t have it all the time. (Some of you will probably be figuring I am now justifying not being able to afford more decadent meals – perhaps I am, but the same truth still applies. So there!!)
One of my earliest decadent food memories came from a trip to Europe, and it was around Valentine’s Day, interestingly enough. I was only 18, and could not nearly afford to enter Fouquet’s, a famous restaurant on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. But I did stand with my nose almost touching the glass, staring at the dessert cart parked in the window. The most impressive item on the cart was a huge brandy-snifter shaped glass bowl that housed something I learned later was called “Ile Flottante” (“floating island”). These little meringue islands floated over a sea of custard, and little rivers of caramel syrup wound their way through the islands and dissolved into the custard sea, creating beautiful patterns.
This moment exposed me to something more decadent than I had imagined was possible, and that mesmerized me. I stood there for longer than was proper, but I remember the maitre d’ didn’t give me a nasty look. It was more of a knowing smirk, a fleeting moment when I felt a kindred spirit through that window glass. I knew then the importance of indulging in things like Ile Flottante: it is a celebration of life. Just look at holidays like Easter and Christmas if you don’t believe me – we indulge after Lent or in the dead of winter to remind ourselves that we should appreciate our existence, and by doing that amidst more humble meals we show respect and we heighten our appreciation at the same time.
So, now that I have written myself back to the dining room table, let me toast your good health and encourage you to have that extra chocolate from the Valentine’s box. Or, if you are the poetic type, let me leave you with the words of the Bard himself:
Sonnet 75 - William Shakespeare
So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet seasoned show'rs are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then bettered that the world may see my pleasure;
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Save what is had or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.
For those of you who want to create your own impression, I have asked my chef husband to supply a recipe for that wonderful dessert. It's actually not too hard to do, but it can produce a fabulous reaction (wink wink).
"Ile Flottante" / Floating Island
- 4 egg whites
- 3 tbsp sugar
- Enough milk for boiling the islands (approx. 2 cups)
- 2 cups of milk
- 4 yolks
- 1/2 cup castor sugar (this is finer than regular white sugar)
- Good quality Vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean
First, make the meringue or 'islands':
1. Beat the egg whites in a bowl with a little pinch of sugar, until the eggs form a peak. Keep beating the eggs and add the remaining sugar. When you have shiny firm peaks, stop beating.
2. Drop big clumps of egg white mixture into a large pot with a slow boiling milk and vanilla mixture to cook for 2 minutes or so. Remove carefully and let cool on a tray, but do not refrigerate. (This milk can be used for something like hot chocolate afterwards if you like.)
Next, make the custard or “ocean”:
1. In a bowl mix the egg yolks and ½ cup of the sugar and set aside.
2. Heat the 2 cups of milk with the vanilla, being careful not to burn it. (A trick here is to rinse the pot with cold water first, and that helps the milk not stick to the bottom.) Heat until slightly bubbling, then remove from the heat and pour the hot milk on the yolk mixture while stirring quickly. Pour back the mixture into a clean saucepan, and RE-heat over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. It should not boil during this second time. After a few minutes the custard will have gotten thicker.
3. Remove the vanilla pod if that is what you used.
The custard can now be put into flat soup bowls or regular bowls or even deep plates, and the islands placed on top.
The ile flottante is now ready to eat straight away as by that point the custard is warm and the meringue is at room temperature.
If you drizzle caramel sauce on top of that and put it in a fancy dish it will look like a million bucks.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- Breakfast: best way to start the day Feb 7
- Beginner's guide to aphrodisiac foods Jan 31
- Chase away the winter blues Jan 24
- Sprinkles on broccoli, really?! Jan 17
- I resolve to... Jan 3
- The right way to start the New Year Dec 27
- We need to believe Dec 20
- Nuts at Christmas Dec 13
- Christmas without a Santa-size tummy Dec 6
- Christmas is for sharing Nov 29
- Nuttier than a fruitcake Nov 22
- Gastro sexual Nov 15
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