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Get right in it!

One of the things I love about cooking is the hands-on approach. You have to touch the food, feel how it behaves as you mix it, taste it as you transform it. Cooking is a never-ending discovery of sensations.

As I was making Peanut Butter Criss Cross Cookies this afternoon it occurred to me that Spring Break started this weekend in the Okanagan. With apologies to anyone allergic to nuts, I thought what a great recipe this would be for kids to make.


Cookies are always a good thing to start with for a young cook and who doesn’t want to get their hands right in the bowl?! Squishing the dough between my hands as I made balls to be “criss-crossed” with a fork took me back to my childhood. There was a delicious sense of abandon at being able to get messy on purpose.

Okay, the secret is out – I live a double life. I love to be a girl, dressing up and being feminine and soft and delicate; I also love getting down and dirty in the kitchen and the garden. Is that bad? I don’t think so – the opposite nature of the two sides has helped me find a balance in my life, and feeling food and the earth it grows in keeps me connected to the universe.

So I suppose as much as the big kid in me just thinks kids would love messing around, I also believe it gives them roots in the world and connects them to something bigger than just us.

It’s not quite warm enough to muck in the dirt yet (although jumping in puddles is a highly underrated activity, especially with good gumboots). But at least you can get in a bowl of cookie dough and feel the inner peace that comes from creating something.

Happy Spring Break!

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Let’s Talk Turkey

This is a guest post by my husband, Chef Martin Laprise. Martin offers many of these tips at his festive season dinner parties and they are always met with lots of grateful thanks and visions of light bulbs over the head. I hope they offer you some assistance in enjoying the holidays as much as possible and not stressing out 🙂

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Cooking a holiday feast is always a lot of pressure for the cook. There are lots of dishes to prepare for this dinner, and everyone expects it all to arrive at the table hot and beautiful. I have news for you – this takes practice, and just like the girls on the covers of magazines are retouched, so are the turkeys! So set yourself up for success with these few pointers:

  • Brining your turkey adds moisture, so if you are worried about a dry bird, use this technique before you cook (usually overnight for a turkey). There are lots of great recipes on the internet for brines – choose the one you like. NOTE: basting your turkey will NOT make it more moist. I don’t care what Gramma told you. Once the meat starts to cook, no moisture will go in. This is not my opinion, it’s a scientific fact.
  • If you want a beautiful turkey to present on your table, start out with it covered in foil paper. You can always make it darker at the end of the cooking with a blow torch (like the magazine people do), but if it gets too dark, you’re stuck. Also, during the cooking time rotate the turkey at least 3 times (make sure it completes a whole circle) – even if you are using a convection oven. This will help it to cook evenly.
  • To make a stress free gravy, buy an extra turkey leg and make the gravy with that while your turkey finishes cooking. Brown the leg really well, make a stock, thicken with flour and voila! Awesome gravy that didn’t have to happen at the last minute.
  • If you want a stuffing recipe, you can check out the one I put up on my website for Thanksgiving turkey – it works great at Christmas too.

If you would like more cooking tips from a handsome Okanagan chef, book me for a dinner in your home. I will come to your house with the ingredients and cook everything from scratch. You can watch and ask as many questions as you like 🙂 Feel free to send me an email to arrange a booking. To see more of what I do, check out my website at www.thechefinstead.ca

Apples Galore

It’s harvest season in the Okanagan and apples are the feature at the moment. I asked my husband Martin to weigh in this week, as he is a chef and a big fan of apples. He even offers his recipe for apple compote, which he calls “goop”. Please feel free to offer your two cents in comments with a favourite apple recipe or variety!

apples galore Okanagan Happy Gourmand

She says:

Apples are a symbol of so many things – certainly autumn, as they fill the fruit stands by the bin and taste of the fresh crisp fall air; also good health, being the quintessential simple nutritious food that could “keep the doctor away”. They have become a symbol of technology too – Steve Jobs apparently liked the apple because of its simplicity and beauty. Maybe there is a lesson in all that symbolism, that life itself can be simply enjoyed.

Apples are one of the first foods ever recorded, being a symbol for not only knowledge but also temptation. Did you know that as far as the 17th century, all fruit and even some vegetables were referred to as a kind of apple? Tomatoes were “love apples”, and cucumbers were “earth apples”. Apples have been at the centre of many tales in history, both true and fictional… Snow White succumbed to an apple from the evil witch, Sir Isaac Newton is said to have come upon the idea of gravitational forces and apples abound in religious and mythological stories from Norway to Greece to Wales. They certainly seem to have an impact on our lives, so I think it behooves us not to make sure we enjoy them. candied apples

apple bobbing Happy GourmandIf you can’t think of anything better, perhaps a bit of apple bobbing is in order for Hallowe’en? At least a candy or a caramel apple seems appropriate this time of year. If you want festivities, check out your local events calendar for fall fairs and farmers’ markets. The Kelowna Farmers and Crafters Market happens outside through the end of October. There are lots of great vendors featuring local products, including my friends from Westbank Harvest who have a delicious apple cider they only produce in the fall. The Family Pumpkin Fest is on at Davison Orchards in Vernon this weekend, and they have very tasty caramel and candy apples 🙂

Kristin

He says:

Well, believe it or not the summer is over and apple time is back. Most orchards are just picking the last fruit off the trees and soon will be closing their doors until next summer.

My daughter is now 20 years old and like most kids that age, hanging out with dad at a fruit stand is not as much fun as it used to be. barrel of applesThe good news is that I did that many times with her when she was younger so my hope now is that she passes it on to my grandchildren one day. Food values are not something that comes naturally to our children like many other values, we as the parents need to educate, show by example and even push upon them that eating one apple a day is still a good idea. Eating something that grew on a tree has to be more important to them, more so than eating any old thing – like frozen pizza pockets flushed down with a Red Bull.

Food values come to children just the same way as if you tell your children eat broccoli and don’t eat soap. Early on in their lives, you decide what is good for them and what isn’t and later on you hope that these short lessons stuck with them so that as they grow older they make the right choices. Guess what, eating dinner, sitting down at a table the whole family together is still the best place for those lessons.

If you are having a hard time selling this to your kids, try showing them the IPOD, or IPAD or even a MAC computer… and show them the logo… “yes honey, it’s an apple, and guess what there’re a bit missing in the apple to show you that apples are good for you, honey!”

Good luck

Chef Martin
waffles with apple goop

Make Apple Goop with your kids this Sunday and show them that cooking is simple and good for them.

Recipe Testing – you win some, you lose some

recipe box

So I decided to try some recipes that I saw in my surfing this week… I must admit, I still do more surfing in good old-fashioned print than I do online, but nonetheless there is lots to sift through. I have taken to pulling pages from magazines to minimize the stock in my recipe bookcase, as after 25 years of surfing I would be suffocated otherwise 🙂

Fall always makes me want to cook, with all the goodness of harvest overflowing at the market stands. This last week I found a few fall dessert recipes and I got to making 3 of them. Two were a hit, one was a miss. I am posting the links to both here, and would love to hear comments – have you tried them,, or similar recipes? Did you like them? Do you read recipe reviews? Do you believe them? Do you trust recipes in print more than online, or vice versa?? When I started gathering recipes they were the ones I had tasted or had come from cooks I knew (my Mom, my Aunts, my best friend… you know how it used to work). One of the recipes I made was supposedly from a restaurant chef, and yet it was a total fail. How do I know in today’s remote world what to trust? Help!!

The first recipe I made came from a blog that is hosted through a shop I love in Seattle, World Spice Merchants. They have the most complete selection of spices and herbs I have ever seen under one roof, and their staff are extremely knowledgeable. Cardamom and Olive Oil Cake was the title. I was interested by the uniqueness of the recipe, and how it offered an “outside the box” combination of ingredients. I have posted on the blog asking if I made some error in the recipe preparation but I have not heard back.  (I printed the page and followed the listed directions explicitly, using the noted weights and not measurements in hopes of being the most accurate).  I’m still interested to try the recipe if there is something I missed, but the way it came out it’s not my cup of tea. I suppose I should have taken a picture but it was so sad – only 1 cm (1/2 inch) high, and pale and oily. Not nice.

The second recipe I made was a much more mainstream item but it looked good.  Apple Cake with caramel sauce It came out of a Walmart magazine if you can believe it 🙂 Apple Coffee Cake. We live in the Okanagan and it’s harvest season so an apple cake seemed like just the thing. Full disclosure: I did tweak this one a bit by adding dried cranberries along with the apple. It’s not racy, but it works, even if you want to go more healthy and omit the caramel topping. (We almost always have homemade caramel sauce on hand so I used that for a few pieces and we ate the rest plain.)

buttermilkThe third recipe I also found online, through a search based on an ingredient.  We had a litre of buttermilk in the fridge that was nearing its expiry and so I thought it would be good to make some muffins using buttermilk. This recipe from Williams Sonoma looked to be the best reviewed of the ones I found. I tweaked this one too at the last minute, adding a few spoonsful of mixed peel just for fun. These were tasty – great breakfast muffins. banana buttermilk muffins

It’s coming up on Thanksgiving and I’m thankful I’m not testing recipes on my guests for the holiday. I’d hate to have something “not nice” come out of the oven and have to make excuses for friends and family. Having a husband as a chef that is a cardinal rule in our house – we test things at home and might use each other as guinea pigs, but people we invite get treated to tried and true recipes we know and love.

Do you have any cooking disappointments? What’s your philosophy on cooking a new recipe for guests? At the end of the day I suppose the most important thing is gathering people together around the table, so even if it’s to decide as a group that pizza needs to be ordered, well that’s OK too.

Happy Thanksgiving. May your kitchen be full of good smells and good company.

Learning S’more about ourselves

personality type cartoon Happy Gourmand

We like to put things, and people into categories. It seems we can be defined by just about any preference or value and food is no different. Are you a vegetarian, or into the Paleo diet? Maybe you eat gluten or wheat-free. But I’ll bet you never sat down and thought about what kind of marshmallow personality you have…

Summer arrives officially next week and with it comes the bonfires on camping holidays and on the beach as twilight fades and everyone settles in for the night. It’s a season for a bit of indulgence, and so it’s only fair that eating salad and fresh fish is then offset with a few s’mores around said campfire, don’t you think?

smores supplies

For the few deprived people out there who might actually not know what a s’more is, it’s the combination of a roasted marshmallow and chocolate in between two graham wafers, usually considered a campfire snack (i.e making them in the microwave doesn’t really count) They are so named because they taste like “s(ome) more” (imagine saying it with a mouthful of marshmallow, kind of like the “fluffy bunny” game).   Girl Guide campfireFull disclosure: As a Girl Guide leader for many years I have to tell you I consider myself a s’more specialist, but I am here to tell you there is plenty of room outside the box!  Here is what I can tell you about s’more habits and what they have taught me about people:

Do you like to burn your marshmallow? – You’re the impatient type, aren’t you?

Do you roast your marshmallow slowly to a perfect golden brown? – You have high standards.

Do you like to roast the end of the marshmallow, figuring out the angle needed so it won’t slide off the stick but will get toasty? – You will do well in physics 🙂

Do you have a special roasting stick you use, with extra features like telescoping or rotating knobs? – You might want to watch that obsessive tendency to make everything a project.

Is there a burning desire in you to parade around the campfire with your marshmallow ablaze, waving it to put the fire out? – You should be careful, you could traumatize someone for life if that marshmallow ends up in their hair (cousins can be especially known for this flamboyant habit, I have discovered)Flaming marshmallow

Do you like to stuff your chocolate into your toasted marshmallow so it melts more? – You will be a foodie when you grow up.

Do you prefer to use chocolate covered graham wafers instead of chocolate because you hate waiting for the chocolate to melt? – You burned your marshmallow, didn’t you??

Did you bring additional fillings for your s’more, like cherry pie filling or peanut butter, or change from the traditional graham wafer? – You will lead a life full of adventures.

In the Okanagan summer, it can be challenging to have a campfire once things heat up. But right now we have had some rain and you should be just fine to load up your s’more ingredients with the rest of the camping tackle. When it does get hot, you can try what we used to do at Brownies with the young girls and make mini s’mores over a tealight, using mini marshmallows roasted on a skewer and combined with chocolate chips and teddy grahams. (I know, too cute, right?) Regardless of the crazy habits of your bonfire buddies, you can revel in the sheer joy of summer indulgence. After all, a s’more is not an everyday normal sort of thing.

normal cycle

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