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Yes, we have garden tomatoes!

winter-troops-2013

It’s the dead of winter here. Even though we don’t have big snow drifts anymore, there is no such thing as fresh-grown local produce in January in the Okanagan. At best we have local food that has been stored, but usually that means apples and root vegetables. As a chef I once worked with said one winter, “How much parsnip soup can one person eat?!” But here at Rabbit Hollow, we have been very fortunate.

This past summer’s bounty was particularly delicious, and it continued longer than usual even for this pocket of Canadian paradise. I use edible flowers from the garden for our catered BBQ events with The Chef Instead, and I was able to do that this year up until the very end of November. img_3624 img_3633 I didn’t harvest the last of the vegetable garden until after Thanksgiving (in October for us Canadians, a time when frost is usually on the ground in most parts of the country). We have a wonderful root cellar which this year held summer and winter squash, potatoes, tomatillos, peppers, carrots, green tomatoes and apples (in case you’re wondering, the apples have to be kept in a separate room or they hasten the spoiling of everything else). I’m not trying just to brag here; I want to put things in perspective, so you won’t think I’m offering “alternative facts” when I say we used the last of our stored veggies in tonight’s salad. Yes, we have no bananas, but we did have garden tomatoes (insert cheeky emoji here to help justify my title).

There’s something especially inspiring about eating our hard-earned produce in January. Such a meal deserves special treatment. And it got said treatment. My hubby was inspired to make a delectable blue cheese dressing and make a wedge salad highlighted by our harvested morsels.

Now you may still be unclear on why I titled this post the way I did. It comes down to terroir. Nowadays it’s not difficult to buy any vegetable I want at a grocery store. But most tomatoes this time of year don’t taste like much. Even after they have ripened in my basement, my garden tomatoes still have the beautiful complexity of homegrown produce. They taste like summer. So did the last carrots and the roasted pumpkin. We savoured every bite. Iceberg lettuce never tasted so good.

wedge-salad-happy-gourmand

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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

Revelstoke, B.C. – a funky small town for food and drink

the Revelstoke Farmers' Market is a warm place even on a cool grey day.

the Revelstoke Farmers’ Market is a warm place even on a cool grey day.

We spent a weekend in Revelstoke recently and had the most amazing time. I remembered this small mountain town from my childhood, but more as a stopping-place when we camped in the region or a pit-stop driving from Calgary to Vancouver. Although the small peek you get of the river as you cross the bridge is a pretty view, you are missing the fun if you don’t go into the town itself.

We were fortunate enough to arrive on a Saturday morning when the farmer’s market was on. The sincerity of the vendors was absolutely charming, and the small businesses that operate on McKenzie Street were the perfect pairing to compliment the market. I had a deliciously seasonal pumpkin latte made with a homemade sauce from Conversations Coffee House. That made for the perfect way to warm up to the market ambience.

There was a live turkey on display (he looked a bit nervous). One of the farmers was displaying her pumpkins for their natural art – the designs created on the skins. She was getting all kinds of feedback from people, and so I ask you to join in the chat… what do you see?  🙂 There were homemade baked goods and breads, stone roasted coffee, farm fresh eggs and sausages, and some pretty interesting artisan accompaniments. We picked up some of our ingredients for dinner and headed on our way to meet our friends and look for our main ingredient.

what do you see in the pumpkin?

what do you see in the pumpkin?

this vendor had Vampire's Jelly too... perhaps to fend off possible Hallowe'en attacks?

this vendor had Vampire’s Jelly too… perhaps to fend off possible Hallowe’en attacks?

The main purpose of our trip was to hunt for wild mushrooms. Yes, we were going foraging – that cool new pastime that’s all the rage with foodies these days. Autumn is mushroom season, and with the weather we had this year (moist, and then warm, and then moist again) it made for perfect conditions. My chef husband was very excited; going into the forest to look for mushrooms is his version of spending time at the spa. He has been foraging since long before it was cool.

It was a humid grey day and our friends took us deep into the forest above town. WIthin a few minutes we saw a number of different mushrooms, but we were looking for specific species. We expected to see lobster mushrooms, and we hoped to find some chanterelles too. We got lucky on both counts. The lobster mushrooms are easy to spot, as they are the colour of cooked lobsters. It’s a great sense of accomplishment, especially if you are a novice picker, to see something like this in the woods and know it can be part of dinner.

lobster mushrooms peek out from under the moss

lobster mushrooms peek out from under the moss as they grow

It was a magical afternoon, wandering through little clearings that sported all manner of fairy toadstools amidst a thick blanket of moss. The views we got along the ridge were spectacular, showing the flood plain of the Revelstoke River far below us. Even the dogs were inspired. We headed back with bags full of our harvest and ready to celebrate with a glass of wine. If it had been earlier we would have stopped in at Mt Begbie Brewery for a beer tasting 🙂

Martin made beautiful ravioli with mushrooms in a cream sauce for dinner, and we enjoyed some bruschetta with the last of the heirloom tomatoes brought from our garden at Rabbit Hollow and bread from Okanagan Grocery to share with our friends. The magic of the forest seemed to permeate our evening as we shared stories along with the food and wine in a stunning house that showcased the view. That’s what weekends should be all about!

NOTE: If you’re interested in recipes from my husband including some with wild mushrooms, check out his website The Chef Instead.

both Ella and I enjoyed the view overlooking "the flats" as locals call them.

both Ella and I enjoyed the view overlooking “the flats” as locals call them.

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