Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Eve Dinner

New Year’s Eve
Six courses of Festive Faire at Bruce’s Kitchen
Saturday December 31, 2011 at 7 pm

Salmon consommé with hot smoked salmon, enoki mushrooms & fresh dill

Kia’s handrolled squash gnocchi
tossed with a spicy Phrog vodka & tomato crème rose

Torchon of Quebec foie gras and morels with a pickled cherry gastrique

Oven roasted sablefish with a pear and leek soubise, micro greens
& Italian parsley & cold pressed canola oil puree

Hazelnut crusted Moonstruck camembert with Heather’s Quince paste

Chocolate walnut & rye whiskey tarts with maple custard & raspberry coulis

I was lucky enough to attend the six-course dinner at Bruce's Kitchen on New Year's Eve. My little digital camera did not do a great job of capturing the beauty of the presentation, and the alder table top showing through the glass plates is not how I would have styled the shot, but those are my only quibbles with the evening, and my fault entirely. 

Chef Bruce pulled out all the stops for this exquisitely crafted and creatively inspired meal. A neighbouring diner was overheard to exclaim, "I have eaten at Michelin starred restaurants that weren't as good as this!"

It was the first time I have eaten foie gras (which was sourced from a farm where ducks are treated humanely), and it was ethereal, with the pickled cherry gastrique acting as a perfect counterpoint to the richness. The sablefish was gorgeous and perfectly cooked. The rich dessert tart was as celestial as the plating makes it look.

- Guest Blogger Heather Cameron

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Venison Stew and Spaetzle

It's winter and time to start cooking my favourite dishes: stews and long cooked braises. Plenty of time in the oven renders less expensive yet wildly tasty cuts tender & succulent. Root vegetables, mushrooms, tons of herbs and rich wines round out the flavours of these preparatons.

This weekend I prepared a Japanese inspired stew using local venison. I probably saw the deer wandering around the field right outside my window just before it shuffled off this mortal coil, courtesy of a local hunter. (The deer around here are pretty, but a nuisance to farmers, gardeners and drivers - they eat everything in sight and have a tendency to leap out in front of cars.)

The recipe was loosely based on one in Jane Lawson's book Yoshoku. I say loosely a little tongue in cheek, since being a chef I could no more prepare a recipe without tweaking it somehow than breathe. So instead of an actual recipe I am going to walk through the process since it could easily be applied to other animals and cuts. Beef short ribs would be great as would lamb shanks.

The first step is to marinate the meat. This is as much for flavour as tenderness. I had about 4 lbs. of meat so I took 1.5 cups sake, 1.5 cups red wine, 1/4 cup good soya sauce, 2 cloves garlic slivered, the leaves of 3 branches of fresh thyme and a 3" piece of ginger slivered. I mixed in 2 tbsp. kosher salt and placed it in the fridge. It may seem a lot of salt but I didn't add any when searing the meat. The salt pulls the marinade into the meat through osmosis.

The next day I drained the meat from the marinade reserving the marinade, which I heated in a small pot. I then seared the meat in a dutch oven and placed it in a large ovenproof Japanese casserole. While the meat was searing I sauteed several Japanese eggplant, one pound of shiitake mushrooms, and 4 nice fat leeks in olive oil and kept them seperate from the meat. I also had about the equivalent of one cooked butternut squash which I cubed and put in the bowl with the other vegetables.

After the venison was seared I added one half pound of my home made bacon. You should use a good quality double smoked bacon cut in small dice. Add a minced onion and brown well. Add the meat back to the pan with the marinade and one cup of water. Place the whole adventure in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and cook for 2 hours. You can give it a stir after an hour. At the end of the 2 hours add the eggplant/leek/squash mixture and stir well. Place back in the oven and cook for a further 30 minutes. This will keep the vegetables nice and fresh and not overcooked.
Remove from the oven and serve hot.

I made spaetzle, the great little pasta like dumpling, to serve with the stew. The trick to good spaetzle is to fry them until crisp in a hot pan with butter and olive oil.


2 large eggs
one cup white all purpose flour
one cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. poppyseeds
butter & olive oil for frying

In a bowl beat the eggs with half the flour, the salt and poppyseeds. Beat in half the milk and then the remaining flour and milk, mix to a smooth paste. The batter should be about twice as stiff as pancake batter. Cover the batter with saran and let rest 20 minutes.

Bring a pot to a boil with about 3 litres of well salted water.

Using a spaetzle press (see note) scrape the dough into the boiling water. As the spaetzle float lift them into a bowl. While the spaetzle are cooking heat a saute pan over medium heat with the butter and olive oil. When all the spaetzle are cooked add them to the hot pan and toss well with the butter abd oil. Cook until crisp and hot.

Note: A spaetzle press is a unique device that is necessary for the making of spaetzle. It can be found in any good hardware or kitchenware store, costs about ten bucks, and works like a charm. Simply fill the sliding tub with spaetzle dough and then slide it back and forth over boiling water.

Serving and Wine Suggestions:
This stew is great served with the spaetzle, a big green salad and warm bread for mopping the bottom of the bowl. And of course wine, I served a lovely 2005 Salice Salentino from Puglia in Italy. A nice Spanish Rioja would not go amiss. If you were prefer beer I would serve a rich Belgian style ale like Maudite from Unibroue in Quebec, which you could also use in the marinade in place of the wine. You should always use wine of a decent quality when cooking - if you wouldn't drink it don't cook with it. So if using wine in the marinade use Negroamaro the inexpensive red from the South of Italy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Food Shows

I spent the last couple of days in Vancouver attending the GFS (Gordon Food Service) semi-annual trade show. They very kindly put me up in a hotel for the night and covered my travel costs, and the following observations are in no way influenced by their generousity.

These 1-800-tractor-trailer food shows are interesting affairs. I use GFS for everyday items like packaging, chocolate, organic flour, and other staples. They also have a fairly reasonable assortment of good cheeses ( I was delighted to see Daniel there from Salt Spring chevre) and sustainable fish. Freybe which is a good higher end local sausage and charcuterie processor was there, as well as a number of equipment and smallwares companies.

I live on a small island and run a small kitchen. The focus of our business is to provide good food, ethically sourced and produced. So this show with its aisles of Australian lamb, jalapeno poppers and Chilean pork ribs doesn't exactly get me all excited about food. It was suggested that I line up for the "truckload sale" - a huge savings on meat and some seafood and smallwares. I couldn't find a single product that I would serve in my restaurant.

I do like to have some fun and ask suppliers if the corn in the cornstarch cutlery comes from GMO corn, and when asked why it matters explain that it can't be composted organically if it is. But what really comes across is the difference between the large corporate food world out there and my little kitchen. At one booth I was given a deck of playing cards as swag while two guys obviously representing a large account were given very nice fleece pullovers.

I was part of this corporate world once, and while we made lots of our food from scratch we still utilized many of these convenience items. I am also fully aware that I live in a gastronomic paradise and that it is a luxury to produce food the way we do. But I genuinely wish some of these larger companies would put more thought into sourcing food on a more sustainable basis. I know people still want raspberries in January and endless mountains of shrimp. However, there is an environmental and social cost to all of this and we as consumers also have to step up and start eating more sustainably and locally.

I arrived home on the ferry knowing that the 20 year celebration of Island Natural Growers was going at our Tuesday Farmer's Market and glad to be part of a small community that supports local, sustainable food.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tools of the Trade

Every trade has specific tools which are required to complete specific tasks. When I was 13 I worked for my Dad and his brothers, who owned a very high end house painting and wallpapering business in Toronto. These guys were the ultimate craftsmen. They could mix colours, hang any wallpaper and had an inherent love of the trade. The right tools were very much part of this. I believe that working for my father instilled in me a love of technique and the idea of using the right tool for a specific task has carried through to this day.

I am often asked what my favourite tools are and what I can't live without. I will save knives for another post since they are a discussion unto themselves. Ditto for pots and pans and appliances. Here we will discuss hand tools.

There are three things I absolutely can't live without in the kitchen. First is a set of good wooden spoons. They should be of hardwood and of varying shapes. A good spoon makes stirring a risotto or the vegetables for a soup that much easier and more satisfying. There is an undefinable quality in the way different chefs prepare food. If you make say a batch of scones in a hurry when you are in a bad mood they will taste that way. If you relax and use the right fork to mix the dough and a good sharp cutter to form them they will be light, flaky and sublime.

The feel of a good wooden spoon in your hand, with the right slant to the end will make the job easier and more enjoyable. I loath the sound of a metal spoon or tongs in a pot. All that jarring, scraping metal on metal is awful. Recently I bought a curved, slightly concave spoon from a woodcarver on Lasqueti named Ingo Dyrkton.

At the Saturday market he had a wide array of spoons arranged on a blanket on the ground. As he and I talked I picked up and put down a dozen spoons. I finally picked up one that just felt right. Since then it has become indispensable in my kitchen at home.

At the restaurant I have several wooden paddles made by a Thai woman who sets up her booth at the Saturday Farmer's Market outside our store. They are straight ended and work beautifully for all manner of tasks from stirring veg for soups, to folding cornbread batter together.

The second tool I can't live without is a Lee Valley rasp. For everything from lemon zest to cheese it is what I reach for. We only use freshly grated nutmeg in the kitchen and it makes all the difference here as well.

The third thing essential tool is a good pair of tongs. Tongs can be used for all tasks from turning meat to lifting pots out of the way - they become an extension of your hands. I like the shorter, heavy duty ones with the plastic handles.

Although wooden spoons, rasp and tongs are my essentials, there are many tools in the kitchen that are used on a daily basis. I choose these with care. For instance, all the wire whisks at the restaurant have wooden handles, they just feel better in your hands. Rubber spatulas are all of the high heat silicone variety - to my mind they are one of the greatest things ever invented.

I have tools that I bought in 1980 and still use. The other day I picked up a melon baller to use to make a salsa. It is oval and has a rosewood handle. Our young apprentice was admiring it. It fits my hand, makes lovely oval pieces of melon and was built to last.

Most of my tools tell a story. I recommend only buying a kitchen tool if you are going to use it on a regular basis. The kitchen can easily become so loaded with single use gadgets that we can barely remember why we bought them. Because I have a minimal number of tools I can pick up a melon baller or wooden spoon and remember where I was and what I was doing when I bought it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lasqueti Dinner

Recently, I helped with a charity dinner on Lasqueti Island, held at the rustic heritage building pictured above. The goal was to raise funds for the island
community health centre. In all, $15,000 was raised for the centre! The event was organised by the talented and energetic Bonny Joy. Whose ability to encourage people to donate both time and items for the silent auction was impressive to say the least. It was a weekend of great people, good food and wine, and the knowledge that we were doing something to help make our corner of the world a better place.
This is the menu from the event, matching wines were served. All the produce came from Lasqueti farmers and the only thing that wasn't local was some lemon for the seafood and a few condiments.

The Lasqueti Last Resort Society Gala
August 31, 2011

Tasting plate of sustainable BC fish and shellfish
Local tuna poached in cold pressed canola oil, chili & preserved lemon
Cold smoked honey mussels, prawn and crab vinaigrette
With salsa & sourdough crostini

Salad of tender Lasqueti greens & flowers
Summer tomatoes & cucumbers
Herb & cider vinaigrette

Salish Sea smoked sea salt, Eden garlic & rosemary roasted Lasqueti lamb
Minted huckleberry & red onion relish, Moonstruck feta tsatsiki
Medley of Lasqueti vegetables with herb butter
Roasted baby potatoes

Le trou Lasqueti-
Blackberry wine and black pepper sorbet floating in Slivovitz sirop

A selection of exquisite homemade Lasqueti desserts
With Chantilly cream

Delicacies to end your feast-
Moonstruck cheeses, Beddis bleu & Karl’s Bigleaf Maple Sirop marinated white grapes
Wolf Island chocolates, seasonal fresh fruit & hazelnut biscotti

We started the weekend before by butchering three feral sheep. The lambs were split from nose to tail, boned out and rubbed with an aromatic mixture of rosemary, local garlic, juniper, smoked sea salt (provided by one of the local volunteers)and cracked black pepper. The boneless meat was then rolled and put in a very cold fridge to marinate for the week. On the day of the event the boneless lambs were wrapped in pork caul fat and slowly roasted. The caul had the effect of forming the meat into tight rolls that held their shape when sliced. Served with a minted huckleberry & balsamic relish and a jus that had been reduced for three days, the lamb was succulent and delicious.
Janine a local woman who had been Hospitality Director for Holland America, decorated the room and provided advice on how to run the service. It was a glittering, elegant display that made everyone who walked into the room stop and!
Despite being a long and arduous day it was helped by the able and good humoured assistance of several local women. Annie, Gail, the two Kathy's, and Wendy were amazing, helping to prep all the vegetables, seafood and fruit, prepare a beautiful salad topping, and serve the meal. I could not have had a better time: hand feeding lamb to my lovely assistants and making bad jokes made the day go remarkably smoothly. (not to mention the judicious application of some fine fermented grape juice)
I have always been well supported by the local community on Salt Spring, so when I was asked if I would help with this event it was a no brainer even if it was on another island. (Not to mention that my girlfriend was one of the ones doing the asking.) It has become important in these difficult times to know that when help is needed you can rely on your neighbours and community to come forward. The bond that has been made with these people is something I feel profoundly and it is part of what makes me happy to live where I do. As a chef from a different generation, I did an apprenticeship that was partially subsidized with Government (and indirectly taxpayer/community) support, and so to return the favour when asked is something I do gladly.
Photos by John Martin(thank you) with additional photos by Heather Cameron

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Canadian Cuisine ?

This posting I would like to introduce a guest writer, Heather Cameron to whom food is not just fuel but an exploration on many levels.

Here’s the question: Which is the more Canadian dish? A plate of poutine made with potatoes from Idaho, cheese from Holland, and canned Heinz gravy from Pennsylvania, or a Chicken Chow Mein made with all ingredients sourced from your own (assuming you live in Canada) back yard? It brings up the old chestnut of Canadian identity crisis: being essentially a nation of immigrants, what makes us Canadian?

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark is quoted as saying, "Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord." Read more here.This is in keeping with the Canadian model of the cultural mosaic, as opposed to the American melting pot. The celebration of diversity is one of the hallmarks of the tolerant, small “l” liberal society we aspire to.

I was thinking about this after reading a less than enthusiastic review of the burgeoning trend of including “Canadian cuisine” on the menus of Vancouver restaurants. It is not enough to include butter tarts, maple syrup or pea soup and be able to pass as Canadian. Sourcing ingredients directly from a local farmer, fisherman or butcher comes a lot closer, but, given the Canadian climate, some things just have to come from other places. Olive oil, coffee, and chocolate are some of the essential items that would be very hard to live without.

As near as I can figure, having watched Chef Bruce Wood in action over the past several months, the notion of “terroir” is the most important factor in defining, first of all, good food; and second, the national character or style of the dish. Terroir is a French term that comes from the word for land, and denotes the special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place contribute to the unique qualities of the food grown there. Working from the idea of terroir, Chef Bruce creates very Canadian menus that draw upon his vast knowledge of culinary traditions, yet have a freshness, flavor and quality that say “Here. This place, and this taste, are one.”
I checked Catharine Parr Traill’s “Canadian Settler’s Guide” (published in 1855) to find out if this feisty British woman had anything to say about the unique food she encountered in her new country. Lots of recipes for maple syrup, suggestions for substitutes for hard-to-come-by items like coffee and tea, an enthusiastic endorsement of “Indian – Corn” and tips on how to deal with venison show that Traill took a no-nonsense approach to feeding her family with the bounty of the land. She also states the dual loyalty of the emigrant experience with her closing lines:
“I trust you will find kind hearts and friends, and much prosperity, in the land of your adoption: never forgetting you still belong to that land, which is the glory of all lands, and are the subjects to a mild and merciful Sovereign, who is no less beloved in her Province of Canada, than she is by her loyal people of Britain.”
Anita Stewart summed it up in an interview about the national celebration she started in 2003, Canada Food Day, which fell on July 30th this year:
“Canadian cuisine is a menu of stories in a land of ultimate culinary possibilities! The richness and biodiversity of the indigenous harvest – our original palate – is the foundation of it all. Built solidly upon that base are our iconic ingredients – wheat, beef, apples – enriching and embroidering the culinary traditions of a multitude of immigrant groups who have gathered together from the four corners of the globe, men and women with a passion for this land which they now call “home.” Canadian cuisine is at once a reflection of climate, history, immigration pattern and cultural traditions. It’s about pride and tenacity — and it’s about the pure sensual pleasure of tasting the richness of Canada on every level, from the physical to the intellectual.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Missing Link

Now that we have the requisite sausage pun out of the way, let's settle into the matter at hand. Recently I was asked to get involved in boning out, cutting up and turning into sausage five 14 kilo turkeys that had been in the freezer for a while. I agreed that this seemed to be a worthwhile project to get involved in and we set up a time to meet in the kitchen.

Sausages are a bit of a mixed thing, really. They can be badly made, full of filler, nitrate ridden disasters. Or they can be juicy, flavourful and redolent of whatever they came from, be it pork, lamb or poultry. I have even made wonderful seafood sausages. These seafood bangers were laden with cream and studded with bits of shrimp and scallop, flavoured with tarragon, white wine and shallot. Very good but very rich.

Which brings us to the first essential of a good sausage - you need a bit of fat. The usual cut for pork sausage is the shoulder because it has a good balance of lean to fat. (About 2:1 lean to fat) For the turkey sausages I ground skin, fat and all so the ratio was more like 1 1/2 :1.

Another way to keep sausages moist is with liquid. The last time I made turkey sausages I froze one litre of apple cider into a slushy like state and mixed that into the meat. I also added diced sauteed apple and dried cranberries - the result was excellent.

The second factor in making great sausages is they need to be highly flavoured and made of high quality ingredients. Fresh herbs, good quality spices, and excellent meat are all the cornerstones of a good sausage making.

For the casings I prefer natural hog casings. Collagen casings taste nasty and have a tendency to break. You can buy natural casings from any decent butcher.

Now that you have made or bought some excellent sausages - what to do with them? One of my favourites is a really good potato salad with sliced cooked sausages folded in. Coleslaw is also excellent with a good sausage. The sausages can also be used for pizza toppings, in pasta or simply on a bun with good mustard and sauerkraut. I am also a huge fan of toad in the hole. This involves cooking sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter with caramelised onions, mashed potatoes and gravy. Not exactly spa cuisine but fits with my culinary motto:"Wretched excess is only the beginning."