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 go..wow!
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."

Back to the Garden

For many chefs, there can be a disconnect between the produce we use in the kitchen and the farm, ocean, or forest it comes from. This was brought home to me last weekend, as I spent some time in my friend Heather's garden. She has a verdant green thumb and is as passionate about gardening as I am about cooking. I helped her dig her garlic harvest: huge beautiful bulbs fragrant, white and firm. Heather has been cultivating her garlic for about 4 years. Each year she singles out the largest bulbs and propagates them for the next crop. We dug about six rows and they yielded about 150 heads of garlic. It certainly wasn't difficult work and any time spent outside is relaxing and actually quite therapeutic after a busy week in the kitchen.

It did make me think, though, of the amount of work that goes into the food we use in our kitchens. And it made me think yet again that we need to treat all of the food that comes through our doors with respect and celebration. Even an everyday item such as garlic can be used in wonderful and creative ways. Roasting a whole head can be a sensual pleasure, both in the fragrance it throws around the kitchen and the rich, mellow flavour spread on warm bread with soft goat cheese.

To roast garlic just take 3 heads of garlic and cut off the top 1/4 inch to expose the top of the buds. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the garlic in an ovenproof baking dish and drizzle with about 1/2 cup of good olive oil. If you wish you can place some herbs like rosemary and thyme in the oil along with about 12-14 whole black peppercorns. Cover the garlic loosely with tinfoil and place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until the garlic is soft and lightly browned. Remove from the oven, cool the garlic and squeeze the heads. The garlic will slip out and you can use it for all sorts of things. Reserve the oil for cooking as it will impart a lovely light garlic essence to whatever you are cooking.

I firmly believe that any chef or apprentice should spend time every growing season on a farm helping and seeing the work that goes into the production of their food. I also think it would be a good thing for farmers to spend a day in the kitchen to see what happens with the fruits of their labours.

My friend Ian at Mariposa Farm in Ontario has worked closely with chefs to raise cattle, pigs and vegetables. This experience gives young chefs an awareness that every part of the animal should be utilised and that it often takes more skill to make an off cut edible. Anyone can fling a filet mignon on the BBQ and it will be tender. But to take cross ribs and braise them properly with deep complex flavours and coax tenderness out of them until they are falling off the bone, now that takes some chops.

So I'm heading back outside to set the garlic to cure and go for a swim in the ocean. Does life really get better than this?

Monday, June 27, 2011

sunday breakfast

My favourite meal of the week is Sunday breakfast. It is not just a meal but a frame of mind. It is about having a day off, the time to relax and being with someone you care about. Even when alone making a nice breakfast for yourself, cracking your favourite newspaper and spending a leisurely hour at the table is luxury.

The ritual of making Sunday breakfast starts with the right music. Frank Zappa is not what we are looking for! No, we need something soft and passionate. Ella, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday are some of my personal favourites.

Two other important breakfast items are flowers and a breakfast tray. I have always held that one of the nicest things you can do for someone is to cook for them. Whether it is as simple as tea and toast, or a full on breakfast, it is a loving gesture. I am still searching for one of those wicker breakfast trays with the holders on the side for the newspapers. If I am preparing breakfast for my sweetie, I want to take it to her in bed. I also love a nice vase of flowers. A Chinese philosopher once said "the person who has two dollars for dinner will spend one dollar on food and one on flowers."

Sunday morning breakfast is not the time for diets and weight watchers. We can go for a nice long walk, or work in the garden later. Sundays are a time for gentle decadence and satisfying our souls with good food. My two favourite breakfast dishes are french toast and pancakes with fresh fruit and maple syrup. In the following recipe for my pancakes, you can use pretty much any combination of flours and grains you like.

I like to take about 2 cups of fruit, preferably fresh and in season. Yesterday was sliced mangoes and fresh local strawberries, warmed in about 1/2 cup maple syrup. Pour this over your pancakes and you will surely be in heaven.

Bruce's Breakfast pancakes

1 1/2 cups milk mixed with 3 tbsp. yoghurt
2 eggs, separated
1 tbsp. melted butter
2 tbsp. white sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup grains ~ oats/cornmeal/9 grain cereal mix, or any combination of the above
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch salt

In a bowl mix together the egg yolks, milk/yoghurt, sugar, vanilla and melted butter and set aside. In another bowl whisk together the dry ingredients.
Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Gently mix the dry ingredients into the wet alternating with the egg whites. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes while preparing your pan.
Pre-heat an electric griddle or frying pan to 350 degrees. If you are using a frying pan on the range heat it to medium.
Place a small pat of butter in the pan/on the griddle and when melted add the batter to the pan in 1/2 cup sized dollops.
Allow the pancakes to cook until you see bubbles forming on the surface. This will take about 3 minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook a further 2 minutes. Remove to a warmed plate and serve with breakfast sausages, fruit & warm maple syrup.

And, lastly, poetry. It is always nice to place something from your favourite poet on the breakfast tray. And so I will leave this post with the words of Pablo Neruda, since he brought me and my breakfast companion together.

You are the daughter of the sea, oregano's first cousin.
Swimmer, your body is pure as the water;
cook, your blood is quick as the soil.
Everything you do is full of flowers, rich with the earth.

Your eyes go out toward the water, and the waves rise;
your hands go out to the earth and the seeds swell;
you know the deep essence of water and the earth,
conjoined in you like a formula for clay.

Naiad: cut your body into turquoise pieces,
they will bloom resurrected in the kitchen.
This is how you become everything that lives.

And so at last, you sleep, in the circle of my arms
that push back the shadows so that you can rest--
vegetables, seaweed, herbs: the foam of your dreams.

Pablo Neruda

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

exciting news

Exciting news this week. Bruce's Kitchen got mentioned in Frommer's guide as one of the 15 best restaurants in the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island and San Juan Islands. We were also mentioned as a special insider place worth a visit.

It is at times like this that a lot of the hard work, long hours and anxiety of owning a small business begin to feel worth it. I don't work for these kind of accolades, the joy of cooking for people I know makes me happiest. It is, though nice to get recognition of this sort especially when it will help the Kitchen grow.

I suppose the only small bit was the reference to "big Bruce behind the stove". Considering my recent weight loss I like to think of myself as the ever shrinking Bruce.

I should thank all of my hardworking, dedicated staff, without whom Bruce's Kitchen wouldn't be what it is. Their commitment to making the business work and their customer service are beyond compare. And thank you to all of our local customers who keep us going throughout the year.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Welcome to Bruce's Pantry, the well-stocked cupboard behind the culinary magic of Bruce's Kitchen. There's lots of fresh, local food here, sure, but poetry, music, art, and food activism are also some of the ingredients that go into my recipes.

Recently, a young apprentice who worked for me when I first opened Bruce's Kitchen graduated from high school. Watching him receive his diploma made me reflect on when I started in the trade. In 1981, as I dragged my tired, overwhelmed body home from my first night in the kitchen, I had two thoughts. The first was "These people are lunatics!" considering the frenetic pace and trying to juggle a million things simultaneously.

The second was "I want to be part of this lunacy!" It was like seeing the world in colour - a world of creativity, adrenaline and camaraderie.

What led me to become a chef? The ambrosia salads and sausage rolls of the 1960's Toronto of my childhood were hardly inspiring. One of my earliest food epiphanies involved going to my Aunt Joyce's for family dinner. My Dad had 10 brothers & sisters so family gatherings were generally huge, rambling affairs with predictable menus.

However, my Aunt Joyce had married a Ukranian man and so when the plywood went down on top of the pool table, and the table cloth was unrolled there was this sort of food dichotomy going on. On one side of the table were salads which jiggled luridly when the table was bumped, along with devilled eggs and other delights of the suburban 60's.

However, on the other side were savoury pierogies, earthy mushroom salads and garlic redolent cabbage rolls. I recall thinking "What's going on here? Why is this side so good and the other so...well, boring."

This early question started me on the road to embracing a love of good, well-prepared food which has continued to this day. Food does not have to be fancy, it simply has to have good ingredients chosen with care and reflect love in its preparation.

Next, I will delve into another food epiphany and share a great tourtiere recipe and the recipe for my Mom's catsup.