The Canadian Food Experience: Mustard Pickles

This is our first month participating in the Canadian Food Experience Project which began June 7 2013. As more than 80 participants share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice. This months theme is Regional Canadian Food.  You can see all of our posts in this series here.

September already?  Holy schmoly.

It’s already time for another installment of The Canadian Food Experience Project.  This month’s challenge is to write about our “Cherished Canadian Recipe.”  When I read the theme I knew instantly what I had to write about.  I also knew that I was pushing, if not breaking, the rules.  I’m going to share with you my absolutely favorite recipe of all time; but I can’t share the details.  I have to write about the recipe, and not share the recipe.

And I’m not being falsely modest or mysterious.  I’m not locking away a secret recipe.  I can’t share it because, according to most sources (including the National Center for Home Food Preservation), it’s just not safe.

My cherished Canadian recipe is my Meme’s (Grandmothers) French Canadian Mustard Pickles:

The Canadian Food Experience: Mustard Pickles Canadian Food Experience [Read more...]

On Love, Loss and Dandelion Wine

Today’s post is about sharing a story and marking a moment. We’ll share the recipe and technique for Dandelion Wine next week if that’s what you’re looking for!  And, while it may start a little morose, it does circle back to the reason I write here; it’s the story of how food (specifically preserving) brings comfort in tough times.

I lost a dear friend this week. I won’t trouble you with the details spare that it had been coming for some time and that he was far too young to have passed.  Our friendship is a tough one to describe to others but we never had to describe it nor defend it to each other and that’s what counted.

On Love, Loss and Dandelion Wine milestones [Read more...]

The Day After: A Recap of 12 Courses

Happy New Years!  I hope 2013 is off to a good start for you!

I am writing this at 6:30 in the evening.  I’ve had an incredibly lazy day with a lot more lazy planned for the evening.  Last night was an amazing evening; we served 12 courses to 13 people last night.  Several friends helped in the kitchen and we had a real casual dinner that spanned more than 6 hours.

It’s my second time cooking 12 courses in an evening.  I actually gave the option to quit to our friends several times and they surprised me by wanting to keep going – both impressive an exciting.

The theme was a mixture of new and old – just as several friends joined our traditional New Years feast for the first times and many returned, several of the dishes were repeats of years gone by as well as some newcomers.  The dinner is a great way for me to see what I’ve learned in the last year and lets me really test myself.  I enjoy making it as much as I enjoy eating it.  The biggest revelation?  I am learning how to make homemade food much quicker – our last 12-course tasting menu took 3 days of cooking in total; this one took less than 24 hours (on the calendar) and had 3 times the amount of homemade ingredients.

We’ll share some recipes in the coming days but here’s the progression we served last evening:

  1. Mini-pizzas; simple warm-ups with salami, mozzarella and oregano at the last-minute.  Used this pizza dough-recipe which has never failed us.
  2. Cured Artcic Char (with salt, maple syrup and ramp-infused vodka).  Served with a simple chevre and honey-infused orange zest.
  3. Side Striped Prawn Ceviche.  Served with fried sunchoke chips dressed with salt and deep-fried rosemary.
  4. Pole-caught Ahi Tuna Sashimi served similar to the ‘Italian Sashimi‘ we made a few years back.
  5. Smoked Mackerel warmed in evaporated milk and potato fritter.  This was a tribute to my Grandfather who ate a similar dish for breakfast for years.
  6. Lobster Bisque (using the leftover shells for our Chirstmas Eve dinner)
  7. Ling Cod Fish tacos with homemade tortilla and apple slaw.
  8. Lentils with cold Pork Tenderloin (that was brined with, amongst other things, pieces of our Christmas tree).
  9. Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Orange-infused Honey.
  10. Squab with matchstick potatoes and buttermilk-cheddar biscuits with fermented hot peppers.
  11. Braised beef-cheek pasta.
  12. Apple pie with Rumtopf.

Happy New Years – my couch beckons once again!

Happy New Years to You

Happy New Years!  I’m a bit early but better early than never!

We’re having dinner in (with friends) again this year.  It’s been a tradition for the last 5 or 6 years – we all get together, often here and have a big meal.  It’s relatively new to me – I used to stay in and hide from the New Year; the evening was often one of quiet reflection with immediate family and, maybe, a friend or two.

Dana and I have been fortunate to have friends who enjoy our cooking and offer to chip in (with work, costs, anything at all) so it allows for an unbelievable evening.  Everyone brings wine and we set in for a long evening of dining.

In an odd way, the evening hasn’t changed a lot.  I still reflect a lot on the year gone by – though mostly in a culinary way.  Having a chance to cook an all-out menu for a group of people year-after-year really lets me see how my progression as a cook has come.  It allows me to see what I’ve learned in the last year and reflect even further back to see how far I’ve come (and how far there is yet to go).

Almost everything on this years menu is made my hand: biscuits, noodles, pie and tortillas. 5 years ago I couldn’t imagine making any of it.  I was kitchen curious and even kitchen excited and maybe even kitchen passionate but I wasn’t as kitchen competent as I wished.

I still have a lot to learn (and signed up for a cooking class in January to start that path) but I’m excited to be tabling my second 12-course tasting menu of my life tonight.  Guests will start arriving in less than 3 hours and there’s still much to be done (including having a shower) but I’m really pumped to be serving a group of hungry friends.

The meal will be very casually-paced (about 4-6 hours) and with plenty of socializing breaks between courses.  We’re hosting it in a nearby coffee shop (owned by a friend) and have been prepping for the last two days.  I just get excited thinking about the evening ahead.  We’ve posted some teaser pictures of things being made on our Facebook group, will be sharing some pictures of the plates in the kitchen tonight and posting the menu tomorrow (many of the recipes will follow in the coming weeks).

I hope you have a wonderful end to 2012 and an awesome start to 2013.  And if, like me, you want to continue to learn more about traditional cooking, preserving and increasing your cooking repertoire, I hope you’ll join us in the journey and share your experiences as we go!

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! What’s for Dinner?

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving; most of us celebrate today or tomorrow with a traditional meal or spending times with friends and family (it isn’t nearly the giant shopping craze that is often seen in the US).

Many of our American friends have ham on US Thanksgiving – I’ve always rationalized that it was more ligical than Turkey given that their Thanksgiving is so much closer to the Christmas/ New Years Holidays that often sees it served then as well.  My assumptions have been somewhat challenged over the years as I’ve met many American friends who choose ham (or something completely different) for both.

Our Thanksgiving meal is completely dependant on the harvest.  My parents have been in the woods for about 10 days and they may have already harvested our thanksgiving meal.  If they haven’t, I’ll lend a hand and try to change fortunes before Sunday evening and hope to add some food to our harvest.

If we have no luck in the woods, we’ll have a turkey with us as well (it was brought up there frozen and won’t go to waste) and will enjoy the bounty of the harvest that we are lucky enough to share.  Partridge is a favorite but bear, squirrel, rabit and even deer (now that we are using crossbows) are all possible options.  Of course there will be a pile of vegetables as well.

Regardless of where you are in the world, do you celebrate Thanksgiving (and when)?  Do you have a traditional meal or dish that simply must be part of it?

Happy thanks giving to one and all!

The Preserving Legacy of My Meme (Grandmother)

My Grandmother hated having her picture taken.  I figure she’d be ok if I shared this photo of her because it’s far more embarrassing to me, as a child of the 70s than it is of her:

The Preserving Legacy of My Meme (Grandmother)   [Read more...]

The Value of New Life: How Garlic Made Me Smile

Today started with one of those phone calls.  You know the type – the ones that ring in the middle of the night and launch you into hyper awareness.  By noon I had driven almost 700 kilometers (about 400 miles) and I’m now back home.  For now I’ll leave the reason as personal but let’s assume it’s been a tough day.

There was a time in my life that I couldn’t find a silver lining.  I’m now guilty of chronically looking for it.  One of the benefits of a late night- early morning drive into Northern Ontario is that you get to see spectacular sunrises like this one:

The Value of New Life: How Garlic Made Me Smile

That picture was taken early this morning on a surprise trip to our hunting cabin.  I wasn’t there very long but I did have a chance to see these:

The Value of New Life: How Garlic Made Me Smile

Our garlic is starting to peek through the soil and reach for the sun!

I would have normally thought that this was neat or cool or exciting.  Today I found it remarkably comforting.  To see food grow and to be part of the process is a vivid reminder of how connected we are to the planet, that sunrise and each other.  And, some days, that feeling is all you need to take the next step.

Sorry to be vague; but the point here isn’t my rough day – but rather the comfort that’s brought by being connected to something that’s growing and new.

The One Question to ask at a Diner (in this case, Mother’s in New Orleans)

Being passionate about something generally mandates continuous learning.  It’s pretty difficult to be passionate about something and NOT learn about it.  Despite being somewhat dyslexic, my career (outside of food) has revolved around education and training for most of my life.  It would be very fair to say that I am passionate about learning, food and learning about food.

In 20 years as a trainer of one form or another, I’ve learned that questions are the accelerator of learning.  Finding the right question can quickly expand your world and bring new information and delights that you couldn’t have imagined otherwise.  I’ve also learned that asking the wrong  question can have the opposite effect – it can shut down the person you’re asking and prevent the acquisition of such information.  Pursuing the right question (and how to approach it) can rapidly expand your experiences with food.

It was in such spirit that, a few months back, I shared the most important question to ask a real butcher.  I was particularly thrilled to learn that some people have started to ask the same thing and that their world of food is expanding.

As much as I enjoy diners and independent restaurants, I often find myself falling victim to plate envy.  I used to order what I thought sounded good and, while it’s often great, it never seems to fail that a regular patron walks in and orders something that has my enthusiasm crushed in an instant.  This is even more problematic when travelling as there’s rarely a chance for a do-over.

I graduated to asking people what they recommended and, while it sometimes helped, there were often problems in smaller restaurants:

  • I would get a generic “everything’s great”
  • I would be walked through the things most people eat if they were good or not.
  • I would be guided to the highest profit margin or special of the day.

But the biggest problem was far more sensitive: people felt pressured by the question and they would recoil into an awkward response either concerned that you wouldn’t like it or that they didn’t feel right reccomending for you.  This happened more often than I would beleive.

I’ve found that a slight modification to the original question has dramatically increased my results:

  • “What’s your favorite thing here?”

The question is far softer and less intimidating.  After all, I’m not asking them if I’ll like it or even for them to recommend it.  I generally receive a passionate, excited answer and suffer far less plate envy.

That’s how I ended up with a crawfish etouffe omelette at Mothers in New Orleans today.  I didn’t want an omelette, didn’t know what etouffe was and expected to be saddled with pulling shells apart to eat it.  My breakfast arrived and I was a little unsettled – it wasn’t exactly a work of art.

 The One Question to ask at a Diner (in this case, Mothers in New Orleans) February

I knew, after a single bite, that I was in bliss.  It was simply awesome; a special thanks to the young lady who lit up when she told me about how much she loved this dish.  I share her appreciation for it!

How do you avoid plate envy?

The One Question to ask at a Diner (in this case, Mothers in New Orleans) February

Brunch: A Tradition Continues

The sky is dull grey and dank; it kind of feels like a dubious looming candle that melts from the apex of the moon and into the asphalt on the ground.  You get the picture: it’s dull.  Drab.  Droopy.  Not delightful.

But I’m excited to be heading into the murky streets of Toronto this morning.  We’ll be crossing the city in a vibrant red streetcar (or my neon black truck) to meet friends for brunch.  Friends Dana’s had for most of her adult life and friends I’ve now shared for many years.  A group of ‘ladies’ that we used to meet monthly for the same meal (as in brunch not as in the same ingredients) in what was once an all-girl brunch club (I ruined the gender ratio).  They will be our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I’m generally not a big breakfast person.  I have a special place in my heart for pancakes and French Toast but find the truly homemade version is generally far superior to what one gets in many restaurants.  But I can easily pass on most of the meals other offerings; I’d far rather trade a hamburger for a fried egg or a plate of spaghetti for a pile of hash.  I know that many people love the concept of breakfast for dinner – I’m just wired the other way.

This morning is a return to chicken and waffles.  Yes, I am that excited.

But brunch has become about more than the meal.  It’s a small tradition that connects this small group of friends out of the context of our ‘normal’ friend ship with each other.  Brunch is a pattern interrupt and seeing them for this meal always feels different from our other encounters. Brunch is the cozy couch that’s wrapped in a warm blanket of our friendship.

I don’t know when it crossed the line from going for a meal to becoming a tradition, but it did.  Memories from across the city of shared breakfast and bleary eyes as we slowly become fully conscious of the world around us (aided a great deal by never-ending cups of coffee).  And food that is seasoned with tradition always tastes better than the alternative to me.

What are the small food traditions you value the most in your life?

Christmas Culinary Traditions – What are Yours?

The Holidays are fast approaching and I’m very excited.  This is my favorite time of year – lots of chance to spend quality time with those I love while generally sharing wonderful meals and libations.  I’m a sucker for the Holidays.

Christmas is a big holiday around these parts for us.  The biggest tradition is the gathering of Family and several days of living in tighter-than-normal confinement; the magic of the Holidays makes this not only tolerable but desirable and wonderful.  Our Family is so awesome and accommodating and don’t seem to mind sleeping anywhere needed (including on air mattresses which magically deflate while sleeping in the kitchen overlooking one of the busiest streets in Canada).

We are fortunate to have a few food traditions.  Some of them are more flexible than others, here’s a partial list and the length of time we’ve had the tradition:

  • Turkey is the main meal Christmas day.  I know a lot of Americans opt for ham as US Thanksgiving is relatively close to Christmas but ours is in early October.  We have bought a small-farm bird that was organic and free-run and are excited to be picking it up on the 23rd.  I’ve decided to brine the turkey this year – a departure from previous years (my Father is a fabulous cook who has never served a dry bird in his life).  This has been a tradition for generations and it a must.
  • Brussels Sprouts – served with butter and white vinegar (sometimes whole, sometimes shredded and cooked with bacon).  This is a tradition from Dana’s family and is also a long-standing must-have from her family.
  • Moose pie for Christmas morning.  A blend of my Father’s traditional hunting with my Mothers Acadian roots.  Meat pie is steamed to reheat – recent years have had only a top layer of a thick dough-like crust.  It’s served with the family made mustard pickles and starts the day like my Mothers family has for many years.
  • The Christmas cheese platter.  Something I started when we had our first Dana and Joel combined family Christmas 6 years ago.  Cheese is taken out of the fridge early on Christmas morning and left to come to room temperature before serving.  It generally includes some seasonal selections that are specific to this time of year.
  • Christmas Eve Lobster.  This is a traditional Acadian Christmas Eve dinner that we haven’t had for a number of years but plan on bringing back this year.  Christmas Eve is generally an evening of celebration that lasts long into the early morning (so long that the last one to bed sometimes put the turkey in the oven before going to bed).
  • Stuffing – made inside the turkey.  I know more people are getting away from it but I can’t see ever-changing.
  • Craft Beer from across the Province – this started only in the last year or two but I’m really enjoying having a wide-range of craft beers to sample (generally for the first time) through the lazy hours of the Christmas Holidays.
  • New Years Eve feast.  We have wonderful friends over for a fantastic meal and celebration of the year that was – and the one that will be.  Last year was a 12-course marathon.

Regardless of which Holidays you celebrate, what are the traditional foods you can’t live without?