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strawberry pavlova

strawberry pavlova

This fresh, summer Pavlova proved to be quite the crowd pleaser at a house party I attended last weekend. With so many of us hungering for summer to finally arrive, perhaps it was the glistening red encouragement of the first of the season’s fresh strawberries that brought about such a positive response. Like so many recipes that are popular today, no one knows who first created the Pavlova. “But the name and the recipes first began appearing soon after Russian prima ballerina, Anna Matveyevna Pavlova (1881-1931), toured both Australia and New Zealand in 1926 and Australia again in 1929. Anna Pavlova was considered the greatest ballerina of her time and her visit to New Zealand has been described as ‘the chief event of 1926.’ It was said ‘She does not dance; she soars as though on wings.’ From this you get the sense that this is a light, airy dessert.”

Anna Matveyevna Pavlova

Anna Matveyevna Pavlova- rumoured to be the name sake of this now famous, much enjoyed dessert.

Strawberry Pavlova

Meringue:

6 egg whites
1 cup + 2 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 325* F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whip the egg whites with an electric beater until satiny peaks form. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Pour the meringue out onto the cookie sheet and spread out evenly into the shape of a circle, about 11-12” across. Be sure to shape the outer edges so that they are straight. Place in the oven, reduce the heat to 300* F and bake for one hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When the meringue is completely cool, gently remove it from the cookie sheet and place it on a large, flat serving platter.

Whipped Cream:

2 cups whipping cream
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Add all ingredients in a medium size bowl. Whip until soft and thick.

Berries:

5 cups of fresh, washed strawberries, hulled and sliced
¼ cup sugar
1/3 c brandy

Gently combine all 3 ingredients in a large bowl.

Assembly:

½ cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted (garnish)

Pour the whipped cream onto the meringue, spreading evenly and to the outer edges. Top with the berries and drizzle with any juice that may be at the bottom of the berry bowl. Sprinkle with slivered almonds. Slice and serve as you would any pie or cake.

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waldorf salad + blue cheese

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When summer finally gets here, this salad will make for a fabulous picnic item. With the longest day of the year a mere 6 days away, here’s hoping for some warmer, brighter, al fresco dining weather.

The apples in this recipe provide some sweetness, while the crunchy celery and meaty walnuts bring a slightly bitter contrast. If you are not a blue cheese fan, simply omit it from your version. Then pack it in your cooler along with some fresh bread, thirst quenching libations, plus any of your other favourite picnic nibblies……. grab a willing companion and head for the nearest beach, park, lake, backyard…….

Waldorf Salad + Blue Cheese

2 red skinned apples, cored and thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 cups watercress, rinsed and dried
½ c walnuts

Dressing:

¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (smooth or grain)
juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp cold water
salt + pepper to taste

Garnish (optional)

2 heaping tbsp crumbled blue cheese.

Add the salad ingredients to a medium size bowl. In a small dish mix together all dressing ingredients. Pour dressing (just enough to cover the salad- you may not need it all) over the salad and gently toss. Serve on 2 large plates. Garnish by sprinkling 1 tbsp of blue cheese on each salad.

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edible calendula flowers

edible calendula flowers

This year’s Calendula Flowers blooming in my garden.

I must admit that I’m a girl who loves her bling, which is probably why I am so stoked that the calendula flowers in my veggie garden are finally starting to bloom. They don’t have any particular fragrance and their flavour is nothing to speak of, but their clipped petals scattered over a soon to be consumed menu item provide a confetti of vibrant orange and yellow that thrills me to no end.

A member of the daisy family, the name Calendula stems from the Latin word kalendae, meaning first day of the month, presumably because pot marigolds are in bloom at the start of most months of the year. This is uncanny, as this year’s bumper crop began to sport its blossoms last Saturday, the 5th of June.

As for its medicinal effects, calendula extracts have been found to have anti-viral, anti-genotoxic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also used topically in tinctures to treat acne, reduce inflammation, control bleeding and to sooth irritated tissue and dermatitis.

Thus far, I have enjoying this dynamic daisy strictly for its garnish factor. The Casesar Salad photo below is of a recipe from Day 95 of my 100 Day Raw Challenge last summer. See how much fun a salad can be? Other edible flowers that I enjoy are chive blossoms, nasturtiums and lavender blossoms….. but none quite so much as the calendula.

zingy caesar salad

Zingy Caesar Salad

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b.c. spot prawn smoothie

b.c. spotted prawnsb.c. spotted prawn bisque

Just kidding….. it’s actually ‘B.C. Spot Prawn Bisque‘.

I love it when nice boys bring me shellfish. Not only is there the initial meal to be enjoyed, but roasting the left over shells provides the decadent starting point for simmering up a pot of bisque. One year ago, it was my pal, Pedro who brought over fresh lobster to share. Of course, the ensuing preparation of a ‘Lobster Bisque‘ was inevitable. Sunday night, it was my new friend, Blair who showed up at my door with a bag of still wiggling B.C. spot prawns. Their season is a short one (starts in May and lasts approximately 80 days), so get ‘em while you can!

Prawn Bisque

Stock:

heads and shells from 1 lb of prawns
2 1/2 litres cold water
1/2 onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 bay leaves
8 peppercorns

Preheat oven to 300* F. Scatter prawn heads and shells onto a cookie sheet. Roast in oven for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. In a large pot, add shells, water and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, continuing to simmer for 30 minutes. Strain stock, reserving the liquid and discarding the rest. Set stock aside.

Bisque:

1 T olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 T butter
2 T flour
1 litre of prawn stock (approx)
½ t salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 dashes of paprika
1 pinch of nutmeg
1 pinch of cayenne

1/2 cup half + half cream

Bring a large pot to medium heat and add olive oil. Next add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add celery and carrot, continuing to stir. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Melt in the butter and then sprinkle with flour. Stir for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne. Continue to simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat on the stove. Pour soup into a blender in batches, filling blender about 2/3 full each time.

VERY IMPORTANT: Before blending, remove cap from inside of blender lid, leaving a hole exposed in the middle. Cover this hole with a tea towel (preferably one that is not your favourite, as it will get some soup splashed on it). The reason for this is to allow the hot steam to escape safely, so that you do not make a big mess and get a nasty burn. Strain blenderized soup through a sieve and return to pot. Stir in the cream. Serve immediately or allow to cool, refrigerate and serve later.

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creme caramel

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…..France’s answer to baked custard. “Creme caramel. A light egg custard that is baked in a caramel-lined mould in a water bath. After the custard is baked, it is chilled and then turned out of the mold….In Spain, it is called flan and in Italy, crema caramella.”
-The International Dictionary of Desserts, Pastries, and Confections- By Carole Bloom

I think that it sounds best in Italian, but it tastes great in any language. Last Sunday was my first ever effort at making this dessert, though I’ve loved eating it for years. It’s an easy one, I promise. It can even be made a day ahead and left to chill in the fridge until right before serving. And any leftovers should have no problem finding an appreciative diner. I garnished each serving with a mint leaf, but I think that a simple, colourful selection of the upcoming season’s summer fruit and edible flowers could really elevate the presentation.

Crème Caramel
(Serves 4-6)

Preheat oven to 325*. Place an 8” round or 4-6 small ramekins into a high sided pan baking dish.

Caramel:

To make the caramel, put 100 grams of sugar with a few drops of water in a small, heavy-based saucepan at high heat. As soon as the sides start to colour, lower the heat and swirl the pan around to distribute the heat. Watch the sugar closely as it can burn quickly. When the caramel is a deep gold, remove it from the heat and pour it into an 8” round or the ramekins. Set aside.

Custard:

3 eggs
½ tsp vanilla
75 grams sugar
2 cups homo milk

Heat the milk in a saucepan until almost boiling. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and sugar. Add a ladleful of the milk of the hot milk into the egg mixture and whisk to prevent from cooking. Slowly whisk in the rest of the milk, trying not to make too much froth. Strain the custard slowly into the round or ramekins. Add enough boiling water to the baking dish to about half way up the round or ramekins. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the custard is set but still wobbly. Remove from the water bath and leave to cool. Cover with saran and refrigerate for at least a few hours, until well chilled.

To Serve:

1 c whipping cream whipped with ½ tsp vanilla

Gently loosen the side of the crème caramel with the back of a spoon or your fingers. Put a serving dish or dessert plates (for ramekins) over top, quickly flip upside down and give a light tap, until the pudding gently plops down. Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and garnish with a mint leaf.

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beet ‘noodle’ salad

beet 'noodle' salad

Yesterday I rekindled an all but forgotten love affair with my vegetable spiral slicer. Normally I am not one for acquiring space hogging kitchen gadgetry- but this one is truly worthy of the storage real estate it occupies. It was during last summer’s 100 Day Raw Challenge that I first discovered this tool. It cuts carrots, beets, zucchini, turnips and so on into long noodles (think Grandma’s apple peeler), instantly turning any salad into a fiesta!

Beet ‘Noodle’ Salad
(Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side salad)

1 large beet, peeled and turned into ‘noodles’
1 green onion, finely sliced
1 1/2 c green pea shoots
2 tbsp fresh dill, roughly chopped
1/3 c pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted

Dressing:

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt + pepper to taste

Topping:

2 tbsp crumbled goat feta
2 fresh chive blossoms, trimmed from stem

Assembly:

In a medium size bowl combine all of the salad ingredients. Add the dressing ingredients. Toss and place on serving platter (or divide between 2 dinner plates). Sprinkle with goat feta and chive blossoms.

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sips + giggles with ‘red truck’ brewer david varga

Red Truck Beer Company

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” -Benjamin Franklin

Last week I was invited to pay a visit to Vancouver brewer David Varga, as he went about his workday, happily productive in his natural habitat. Taylor’s Crossing is the brewery where he practices his craft for Red Truck Beer Company. It is always such a pleasure to speak with those who are passionate about what they do, and Varga is just such a person. Upon meeting him, his enthusiasm for creating, producing and drinking quality beer was immediately evident. Dave knows beer well, and he loves to share his knowledge. After visiting with him for just over an hour, I now know a good deal more about the process, and even some of the finer details of how a craft beer is made.

Varga was initially turned onto the idea of making beer while studying microbiology at UBC. It was his beer loving ‘Fermentation Technology’ professor who first inspired him when, after teaching a class on the subject of brewing, he extended an invitation to any of his students who might be interested in joining him and his buddy in their weekend warrior home brewing project. Dave took him up on his offer, which later led him to independent home brew explorations of his own via kits and ‘you-brew’ stores.

There are no brewing schools in Canada, though one is slated to open this September at Niagara College in St. Catherines, Ontario. This two year ‘Brew Master Program’ has already filled its 24 available spaces, plus it has an ever growing waiting list. So how does one learn to make good beer when suds schools are not an option? On the job training, of course! Varga’s first two years in the biz were spent at Whistler Brewing Company, an experience he feels provided an excellent learning opportunity. From there he moved on to do a stint at ‘Tree Brewery’ in Kelowna, then two more years at Brewsters in Calgary and finally to Taylor’s Crossing, where today he spins his sudsy craft for both that location and the independent  Red Truck Beer Company.

Red Truck currently produces a lager and an ale. Seasonal brews are done in smaller runs, the current offering being a Czech Style Pilsner which is available for quaffing at the Alibi Room as of May 10 (for part of Craft Beer Week). Also on the way very soon will be a limited run Blueberry Beer for Summer 2010.

How to make beer:

1-Malted barley (seeds that have been allowed to sprout half way, halted suddenly by forced heat, a process that creates enzymes within the grains) is fed from the outdoor silo to the indoor mill where it is crushed into a flour.

2-The flour is then placed into a mash tun (cooking vessel) along with warm water -about 1 part barley to every 3 parts warm water. The mixture is then stirred to a porridge-like consistency. This process activates the enzymes which, in turn, begin to break down the starches and proteins. Next, the starch converts to sugar which dissolves into the water.

roasted malted barley

3- Additional (mostly roasted) malted barley grains are added to create unique flavour, colour and mouth feel.

4- The mash is separated from the sugar water. A local farmer comes to the brewery regularly to pick the spent grain to feed to his animals. Because his livestock have 4 stomachs, they are able to break down the cellulose in the husks and draw nutritional benefit from the mash- something human stomachs are unable to do.

5-The sugar water is removed from the mash tun and transferred a kettle, where it is boiled to sterilize. Hops are then added to provide flavours and bitterness. This bitterness serves to counter the sweetness.

6-Next, the liquid is moved to the fermenter, where yeast is added. Here the yeast grows and divides, feeding off of the sugars and leaving behind sugars it is unable to ferment. A step that takes between one and two weeks, this is when the alcohol, aromas and carbon dioxide are created.

cellar tanks

7-From there, the beer is moved to the cold room, where up to 23 cellar tanks wait to be filled. As the sediment begins to fall, it creates a sort of ‘net’ which collects more sediment as it continues to fall to the bottom of the tank. Here carbonation will be added the beer will be aged for a final 1-2 weeks.

Red Truck Beer Company

8- Then the precious elixir is poured into kegs.

Red Truck Beer Company

9- Finally, the kegs are loaded into the Red Truck for delivery!

Au Petit Chavignol

Running May 10-16, 2010, Vancouver Craft Beer Week is now in mid swing…..”a celebration taking place throughout metropolitan Vancouver …..aims to inspire a broader interest in all aspects of beer in order to cultivate a flourishing craft beer culture in the region.” The festival showcases 27 breweries via beer tastings, cooking classes and dinners featuring select brewers. Click here to check out some of the fantastic, beer-centric events currently happening around town. The Red Truck boys were kind enough (and they are very kind) to invite me to partake in last night’s lip smacking five course beer and food pairing menu at Au Petit Chavignol (Heaven on earth for cheese lovers! Located at 843 East Hastings). Events such as these are a chance for craft beer makers to elevate good beer into the mainstream of the general public, to show people how to enjoy pairing good food with well chosen beer, just as so many already do with wine. Our menu went as follows:

Cheese Tasting (8 Selections)
Red Truck Lager

Cheddar and Beer Soup (cooked with Red Truck Limited Release Stout)
Red Truck Limited Release IPA

Charcuterie Plate
Red Truck Limited Release Pilsner

Beer Braised Beef Brisket (cooked with Red Truck Ale)
Red Truck Ale

Warm Chocolate Cookies
Red Truck Limited Release Stout

Red Truck Limited Release Stout + Warm Chocolate Cookies

Red Truck Limited Release Stout + Warm Chocolate Cookies- Yum!

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pear tart art

pear and almond tart

Typically I like to share recipes on these posts that provide great results with minimal time and effort, as I believe that food preparation should be enjoyable and not take up a great deal of one’s time. This week’s feature…… er, not so much. Impressive? Delicious? Beautiful to look at? Absolutely! But this Pear & Almond Tart requires a good deal of time to prepare. So, if I have not scared you away yet and you are willing to invest a few hours, why not give this dish a try? It’s extra deadly topped up with a nice dollop of Orange Whipped Cream.

Pear and Almond Tart
(need 1 x 9” diameter tart pan with removable bottom)

Pears:

4 cups water
1 1/4 c sugar
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 medium-size firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled

Bring 4 cups water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Crust:

1/2 c powdered sugar
1/4 c blanched slivered almonds
1/4 tsp salt
½ c + 1 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
ice water

Blend powdered sugar, almonds, and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend. Next drizzle in ice water, a little at a time until dough comes together in clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Roll out chilled dough on floured countertop, about 12” across. Place pastry in a 9” diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork. Freeze crust 10 minutes. Bake crust until sides are set, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and lightly wrap outer edges of the tart with strips of tin foil, to avoid burning. Return crust to oven and bake for another 15 minutes. Cool crust in pan on rack.

Almond Filling:

2/3 c blanched slivered almonds
1 tbsp all purpose flour
7 tbsp sugar
1/3 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter, blending until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 350*. Spread almond filling evenly in crust. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of wheel with narrow ends in center. Return strips of tin foil to the outer edges of the tart, again to avoid burning. Bake tart until golden and toothpick inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.) If you like, top each slice with a dollop of whipped cream, especially the one described below.

Fresh Orange Whipped Cream:

2 c whipping cream
zest of 2 oranges

Put the zest into a small bowl with the whipping cream. Beat the cream until it reaches a nice thick consistency. Store in a sealed container in the fridge until needed. (This part of the recipe can be done hours ahead)

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baked halibut + minted green pea mash

baked halibut + minted green pea mash

I was hired to cook a dinner for ten people last week, providing me with the opportunity to concoct this entre for the main course. The minted green pea mash base for this dish had a creamy texture, fresh flavours and a very pretty colour…. a perfect compliment to the fresh baked halibut. This mash would go well with any fish, as well as with countless other meats and poultry variations (it’s dynamite with grilled lamb chops!) As it is Spring, I chose to add a layer of fresh steamed asparagus. Finally, the zingy, juicy roasted tomatoes served as a vibrant garnish.

Minted Green Pea Mash

3 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
¼ cup butter
1/3 cup sour cream
¾ cup cream (half and half), plus more as needed
2 ½ cups of fresh or frozen green peas, steamed until tender
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
salt + pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender. Strain and return potatoes to the large pot. Place about 1 cup of the cooked potatoes in a food processor, along with the steamed peas, mint and about 1/3 cup of the cream. Process until well blended. Meanwhile, mash the remaining potatoes that are in the pot, using a potato masher. Then add in the butter, sour cream, and the pureed pea mixture. Next begin to add the cream, a little at a time, until desired consistency is achieved (you may need more or less cream than just the suggested ¾ cup). Season with salt and pepper.

Baked Halibut

4 servings (about 5 oz each) of halibut fillets
3 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
zest + juice of ½ lemon

Preheat oven to 400*. Arrange halibut pieces on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Season fish with salt and pepper. Add the capers, parley, lemon zest and juice to the melted butter. Drizzle the melted butter mixture over the fish. Bake the halibut for about 10 minutes, just until cooked through.

Oven Roasted Vine Tomatoes

2 bunches of vine ripe tomatoes
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400*. Spread tomatoes out on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes. Note that these tomatoes can be done in the same oven, along with the halibut- just start the tomatoes 10 minutes earlier than the fish.

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