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Happy-Gourmand

A foodie alphabet

With all this time at home over the past year, I have managed to cook many of my favourite dishes and post them.

We have all had more of a focus with food, but now things are getting back into a busier routine and I am guessing many will have other things that pull them away from food as a focus.

I offer a reference post this week, an entire alphabet of ingredient and recipe inspirations. Bookmark it for the next time you have a hankering for something fun.

A is for apricots, a fruit that has the delightful combination of perfume and flavour. It was known as “the golden egg of the Sun” by the Ancient Greeks. Make an apricot pie and you will understand why.

B is for Bananas – as in, banana boats over the campfire (rolled in tinfoil with pieces of chocolate and marshmallow). If you don’t have a campfire, try some Bananas Flambées.

C could be for cinnamon, chocolate or coffee – this is the toughest letter to choose. (The interesting thing is that all three of these ingredients could be put together for delicious results. Cinnamon has that exotic flair, chocolate has the silky decadence that every foodie adores and coffee has the intense aroma that awakens the other senses.

D is for duck, if you are my hubby, Martin, (or would it be donut? He loves both.) It is also for dim sum, that fantastic experience of Chinese brunch with so many dumplings and pastries and fried goodies you don’t know where to start… or finish.

E is for eggplant. Even if you are not interested in tasting it, how can you not be impressed with a purple food? It does make a delicious dip, even the name sounds fun.

F is for “frites” – not French fries, because we have turned those into another animal altogether. But those wonderful crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside morsels are a real treat. If you want something healthier, how about fennel? I love the licorice taste of the bulb, sliced fine for salads or braised, and the seeds in bread or toasted with pickled beets

G is for gougères, one of my first food adventures in Europe years ago. To call them a cheese cream puff is to not nearly do them justice. These little pillows of taste are much better than sliced bread or crackers at a wine tasting.

H is for hollandaise sauce, the thing that takes asparagus to the level of Cinderella at the ball. It is also for honey, which the Greeks wisely decided was delicious drizzled over yogurt with nuts. I like to use it in sandwiches and not just with peanut butter.

I is for ice cream, but it’s also for “ile flottante” (floating island ) I’ll never forget that mesmerizing dessert of meringue islands floating in a sea of caramel. I first saw it in Foquet’s window on the Champs Elysées on my first trip as a foodie.

J is for jelly-roll, one of the first things l learned to make, and succeeding without having the filling squirt out the ends gave me the confidence to continue in the kitchen after the age of 10.

K is for kumquats, kiwis and one of my favourite breakfast treats, kugelhopf – an Alsatian sort of yeast bread that is a cross between a bundt cake and an angel food cake, with raisins or currants in the dough.

L is for lobster, possibly the symbol of decadence in the savoury world, and a sexy food, as demonstrated in the movie Flashdance. It is a delicious summer treat on the grill.

M is for mussels, mushrooms, mustard, morbier cheese with that lovely stripe of ash through the middle, Mirabelle plums, meringue, mango, maple syrup, Macadamia nuts… M is a good letter.

N is for nougat, that sticky meringue/ toffee-like candy that is a specialty in Montélimar. (Doesn’t that just sound cool, to be from there? It’s in the southeast part of France.) N is also for navel oranges, my best fruit friends in winter.

O is for olives, something I learned to love early (although when I was a kid they only came in a jar, with a piece of pimento in the middle.) It was my Gramps who got me to try them, along with many other food wonders (see the entry for W, below). Olive oil is equally as wonderful, even in baking.

P is for pancakes, which can be as simple as those piled high on a Sunday morning with syrup and butter. (I like mine with ½ cup of buckwheat flour in the batter.) It can also be for parsley, which is underrated as a seasoning.

Q is for quince, another fuzzy and unique fruit. It has a hard flesh, which is bitter when raw but delicious when cooked. In France, quinces often sit atop the kitchen cupboards in the fall where they perfume the room as they ripen. They taste slightly fragrant, sweet and tangy, beautiful for Tarte Tatin.

R is for rice krispie squares. (The mixture of marshmallows and those little puffed kernels and then maybe a secret ingredient or two Mars Bars, dried cranberries and coconut) – that is really a unique kind of treat. If you want to take the idea to the next level, try these cookies with krispie bits.

S could certainly be for “sauce” in general, for every food experience moves to a new level when adorned with another set of flavours. But if I had to pick one thing, I can safely say “spätzle”, a delightful specialty in southern Germany and Alsace which consists of tiny dumplings served in a bit of cream sauce or butter.

T is for tuna casserole because you just can’t go through life without comfort food. And if you wanted to jazz it up, then T could be for tarragon, a very cool herb that sits under most people’s radar.

U is for unsalted butter, the best way to pay homage to a homemade bread. It is also for ugli fruit (no really, it does exist – it is a hybrid from a tangerine, grapefruit and an orange. At least they didn’t call it “homely fruit”.)

V could be for veal or venison, but I think better suited is vanilla, that ubiquitous flavour without which so much of our baking would lie flat (see the reference above mentioning food not being boring). Although many see vanilla as a boring flavour compared to others, it is one that we would certainly miss if it had not been discovered.

W is for watermelon, one of the first treats I remember as a kid. My grandfather told me when he was little, living in Manitoba, he never saw a watermelon. They didn’t have them because they only grew way down south. (This is a great example of the old version of the 100 Mile Diet.)

X is for Xavier (you thought this one would stump me, didn’t you? I give thanks for my foodie dictionary, The Larousse Gastronomique.) Xavier is a cream soup, but no ordinary soup: “garnished with diced chicken Royale. It may also be flavoured with Madeira, garnished with small savoury pancakes or serves with threads of egg white cooked in the soup." The modern version is more usually with dumplings. It sounds like the perfect food for a rainy day.

Y is for Yorkshire pudding , that British specialty without which roast beef cannot (or at least should not) be served. I remember once having to call long distance to my aunt to get the recipe when my Mom’s cookbook could not be found!

Z is for zabaglione, a fitting end to the alphabet with its razz-a-ma-tazz name. It is one of those “a-la-minute” dishes, made by whisking egg yolks, wine and sugar over gentle heat. It is one of those delicacies that disappears inside your mouth, transporting you with it to another world all in the act of a mere swallow.

We don’t always use the whole alphabet for our words, and food is the same. But you can consider this an inspiration to broaden your horizons, or at least stretch your eating muscles.

Here’s to enjoying every bite, of all the food you eat and life in general.



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Breakfast of champions

Those of you who are in my age bracket will remember this title as a slogan for a brand of breakfast cereal.

Nowadays, breakfast cereal is hardly even a topic of conversation, but back then it was iconic food.

Wheaties was the breakfast of champions. I remember it because it had many famous athletes on the box, like Rusty Staub (he played for the Montreal Expos).

There was an expression in those days, used for when people gave a special effort in something. You said to them, “Wow, you must have had your Wheaties this morning!”

I did not like Wheaties. They went soggy almost immediately after you added the milk to the bowl. In my humble young opinion, they were not worth buying.

I could cheer for those champions without eating soggy cereal.

I was more of a Grape Nuts girl, or maybe Shreddies. Spoon Size was pretty tasty, too, with a bit of brown sugar on top – and slices of banana, or berries if they were in season.

For the most part, my parents weren’t keen to buy sugary cereals. The one exception was when we went camping for summer holidays.

Then, my mom bought those assorted mini boxes of cereal that you could open from the side to make a bowl.

My brother and I would divvy up the Fun Pak, as they called it. We would hope our parents would want the Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes. He loved Fruit Loops, so then I got the Apple Jacks. The Corn Pops we sometimes played rock-scissors-paper for.

There was one novelty cereal that became a treat in our house, and although it did taste great, I do believe it was ingenious marketing that sucked in not only us kids but my parents, too. That was Hunny Munch, a cereal that had Winnie the Pooh on the box.

Christopher Robin and his “silly old Bear” were childhood icons in our household. In the days before Elmo, Teletubbies, Barney, Dora and all the rest, book characters had far more clout.

Pooh and his friends were charming and believable as characters (they weren’t too cool, like that Tony Tiger guy). They had fun adventures, and they stuck together.

Maybe Pooh’s gourmand nature was part of the attraction, too. A honey-glazed cereal sounded like the definition of decadence in my little mind. A

nd for a while, there was even a little friend in the box too – a plastic character, one for each of the gang. I still have a few of them in my shadow box of keepsakes.

We called Hunny Munch “Pooh cereal” at our house. It was uniquely available in Canada, made by Quaker Oats Company (they had exclusive rights to the story characters in Canada).

It was not in the stores long where I grew up, and I was sad when it disappeared. I have had Corn Pops, which look and taste similar, but they are not the same.

Nostalgia has a special flavour to it, and it is not just about the experience of our taste buds. The wonderful part of it is the memories connected to it, which lingers even if we never get to taste the flavour again. Did you know taste and memory are connected?

I will never eat Hunny Munch cereal again. I may buy a Fun Pak this summer when my hubby and I go camping. And I will most certainly read the tales of Pooh and his charming friends to our granddaughter. That even beats getting a prize in the box.

Remember to eat your breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day.



How do I thank my mom?

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. The pressure is on from the marketers to recognize those women in our lives who nurture us. But how does one properly do that?

I send my mom a card every year at Mother’s Day, saying how happy I am for the times we have shared and the many important things she has taught me.

It doesn’t do more than cover the tip of the iceberg, however. How does one say that the best thing someone else did for them was let them be themselves?

This year, instead of getting messages in my Inbox about where to take my mom for brunch, I am getting emails about how to send her something from Etsy or suggestions of virtual classes we could take together.

It all sounds lovely, but not nearly enough.

One of the things my mom taught me early on was that personalizing a gift is what makes it special. Going for brunch or dinner was delightful, but she loved it even more when we cooked something ourselves.

I have written before about the chocolate mousse my brother and I made that had a teaspoon of “strong coffee.” In our childhood wisdom, we thought that meant a heaping spoon of coffee grounds. Mom told us she liked the extra crunch.

I love you, Mom.

When we made our first crescent rolls, she admired our rolling skills. Thankfully, she hadn’t been to Paris yet to have a real croissant for comparison.

I was so glad when I got to share my love of French food with her on a spring trip to Europe when I was 19. It felt like I was making up for past sins of the palate.

To this day, we share happy memories of fresh strawberry tarts, crêpes from street vendors and the hole-in-the-wall cafés of the Left Bank.

We have shared many food-and-drink events together over the years:

  • A champagne tasting at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival (we learned how to open a bottle with a saber)
  • Spanish tapas and wine in the basement of a tiny Seattle bar we found long before there was Google and Trip Advisor
  • Delectable fresh sourdough and seafood chowder (and wonderful shopping, too) at the Pier in San Francisco
  • Amazing barbecue at a place in New York City that was so small it was only known by the name of the street, Great Jones Street
  • Paella at a summer long table dinner at Miradoro restaurant in Oliver.

This year, as it was last year, our celebrations will be virtual. We will take turns describing the delicacies we have prepared with each other in mind, looking forward to when we can share them again at the same table. We will clink glasses through the screen.

We will probably send recipes via email. Some of hers are posted on my blog — just look for “Nancy” or “Mom” in the title.

Since last March, Mom and I have been meeting on WhatsApp for a video call once a week. Many times, it has been the highlight of my week, getting to chat with her.

I took her on tours in the garden during the summer and showed her my Christmas decorations in the winter. She oohed and aahed and applauded my efforts, and it was almost as good as a hug.

My mom has always been a good listener, and she loves a good debate. We have worked toward solving the problems of the world many times. If only we had taken notes, things might be different in the world (or so I thought after a few glasses of wine.)

Maybe to thank her for Mother’s Day, I should just send Mom this column. Perhaps if she knows how much the memories have meant to me, how important it was to learn the magic of appreciating every moment…

Or I might just need to recreate an early card I gave her. Even though I didn’t know it then, it encompassed my character. It said, “To Mumsy, from Clumsy — Happy Mother’s Day!”

I asked her once in my teen years if being clumsy was just a phase. “I’ll grow out of it, right?”

She replied, “No, dear, it’s a lifelong state of being. You will just have to learn to live with it.” And she smiled. So, I knew I would be alright. Thanks, Mom.



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A bit of pomp, ceremony

My hubby, Martin, and I have always made a big deal about Oscar night.

We do much planning and research, culminating in a celebration with close friends and festive food.

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 the sets I visited over the years were for the small screen, but my Dad did work on a few feature films.

I loved the “smoke and mirrors” – the magic of how a story came together and was conveyed onto the screen.

I used to dream of seeing my father accept an Oscar when I was little. The crews of people I got to know over the years were like family, all helping to make the magic of movies happen.

Recognizing those people was important; it made the magic even more real.

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 dated, and we quickly learned a common interest was seeing movies as well as helping to make them.

Over the years, we have seen films on birthdays, on vacation, on the night we got engaged, and even on our first night of married life. So, to say that movies hold a fond spot in our hearts is certainly not a stretch.

This year the movies we have seen have been at home, just the two of us. The last time we were in a theatre was March 12, 2020. The Oscars will not be the same show, but we will still be celebrating another year of magic on the screen and another year together.

In the spirit of keeping some traditions alive, I offer up some tips my wonderful chef hubby included when we wrote about our Oscar festivities way back in 2007.

He Says:

This weekend we will drive to Calgary to visit some friends and enjoy the Oscars with them. Just like the big movie stars in California, we will dress up, kick back and cheer for our favourite movies, congratulating the winners and celebrating so many great memories.

I thought I would give you recipes for a few simple appies, in case you are planning to watch the show, too.

Stuffed Mushrooms:

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 tray in a 350F oven, around 20 minutes.

Sausages on a Crouton

Grill some nice Hungarian sausages (in Kelowna, Illichman’s Deli has tasty ones). Slice them thin and place them on a piece of fresh baguette with a chipotle mayonnaise or horseradish mustard.

Citrus Thai Prawns

Choose medium prawns (21/25 per pound, 3-4 prawns per person.) Grate the rind of 1 lemon and 1 lime on raw, peeled prawns, four hours ahead of time to marinate them. In a large pan, start cooking your prawns.

Once they are almost finished cooking, add some green curry paste, the juice of a lime and a few handfuls of cilantro.

Smoked Salmon Tarts

Buy some mini tart shells and fill them up with some cooked shredded smoked salmon. Add some fresh whipping cream mixed with a bit of Parmesan on the salmon, and top the whole thing with some more parmesan cheese.

Bake in a 375F oven until done, around 12 minutes (pastry should be golden and filling bubbling).



More Happy Gourmand articles

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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."

 

E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com

 



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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