Food Matters – Christmas Gifts for the Kitchen

It’s getting down to the crunch. One week left until Christmas and you still don’t have the perfect gift for the cook on your list. I visited Jo-Ann Roberts on her next-to-last day as host of All Points West on CBC Victoria with a pretty good-sized basket full of stuff.

I took a bit of a different approach this year. Instead of bringing you all the latest gadgets, I’m taking a ‘you must have one of these’ in the kitchen of whomever you’re gifting. I took this angle for a number of reasons: Parents of next year’s high school graduates who are already thinking about their kids starting moving into their own apartment. Going to a friend’s place and helping out in a kitchen that is hopelessly ill-equipped. And, having just come back from renting a holiday place that had the worst set of kitchen knives, EVER! So here are a few essentials I think everyone should have. If the person you want to buy for is deficient in even one of these pieces of gear, you have a perfect gift. You might have to do a bit of snooping, but worth it in the long run!

Messermeister peeler

Messermeister peeler

Microplane grater

Microplane grater

Starting with stocking stuffers. Everyone should have one really good peeler and one really good utility knife. I really like the ones from Messermeister. The peeler has a serrated knife which is great for rough-skinned things like ginger root or a fuzzy kiwi fruit. The utility knife is serrated as well and cuts through tomatoes in an instant and makes the slices as thin as a sheet of paper.  And a microplane grater, don’t forget that, your giftee won’t want to use any other grate after trying this one.

Along with the utility knife you need one good general purpose chef’s knife. And here you need to spend a bit of money. But don’t forget that a good knife will last a lifetime. Right now I think Japanese knives really are the best deal for sharpness and durability. I really like the line from Global. They are all metal, so you never have to worry about the handles breaking, they’re light, and even the small 6-inch chef’s knife I brought in to show Jo-Ann can be used for almost anything. You might also want to consider the Mac or Shun line, but they are a little more pricey.

Global Knife

Global Knife

Larchwood End Grain Cutting Board

Larchwood End Grain Cutting Board

With knives you need a cutting board, and I’ve become a real fan of wooden, end-grain cutting boards. They cost a lot but again, they last forever. I have one from Larch Wood Enterprises in Cape Breton, but you don’t have to go that far, in Brentwood Bay you will find Acres Away Woodworks, beautiful cutting boards, made by artisan Neil Bosdet, but also knife blocks, rolling pins, and pizza peels.

 

 

T-Fal non-stick pan

T-Fal non-stick pan

All Clad pan with lid

All Clad pan with lid

I’m going to say 2 good fry pans. One that is non-stick that you don’t have to spend a ton of money on, like the one I have from T-Fal.  One that ONLY gets used to cook eggs in on relatively low heat. It will last a long time. Then, another frypan, anything with high sides and a heavy bottom, with a lid. Could be cast-iron, which will last forever, or stainless steel with a layer of copper in it. All-Clad, Lagostina, Cuisinart all make good ones. You can use that fry pan for almost everything else, simmered dishes, stews, with a metal or ovenproof handle so you can put it in the oven, even under the broiler. And then one good stockpot or Dutch Oven style pot. Again, a heavy bottom so you can use it to brown foods, but at least 6 to 8 litres in size so you can put your whole turkey carcass in there so you can get more food value out of that turkey!

Instant-read digital thermometer

Instant-read digital thermometer

ONE basic suggestion when it comes to food safety… a good instant-read thermometer to help you determine degree of doneness and proper cooking temps for ground beef and chicken. If you think that’s too plain a gift, how about a remote thermometer probe? I also have one from iDevices that will talk to my iPhone via Bluetooth, you could use it for your turkey or for your steak or salmon you’ve got going outside on your barbecue.

 

 

Abeego wraps

Abeego wraps

It’s not a must-have but it caught my attention this year. Abeego wraps, which are made from hemp and cotton cloth and blended with beeswax and jojoba oil, are made right here in Victoria and are a great reusable alternative to wax paper and plastic wraps. They warm up in your hands and become really flexible, then you just wrap them around a piece of cheese, for example and they stiffen in the fridge. You just wash them in cold water after you use them and come in a variety of sizes.

Salton induction burner

Salton induction burner

And for about $100, you might consider one of those portable induction burners, especially if the person you’re buying for entertains a lot and need a spare burner. They’re much safer and easier to use than traditional electric hot plates or those finicky butane heaters, as long as you have access to an electrical outlet.

This is my last column for 2014. I’ll be back next year with new Island Artisans and features on sustainable eating. Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Food Matters – Holiday Gift Suggestions: Books

You still have a baker’s dozen of shopping days left to complete your list. I’m spending this and next week’s column to bring you some suggestions. This week it’s cookbooks and more. While I love talking about cookbooks, and getting them as gifts, I also like to read culinary memoirs, and about what’s going on in the world of sustainable food production. And a large part of how we cook is increasingly affected by recipes we find on line and how we can plan our meals while we’re out shopping with the aid of our mobile devices. So I want to spend a little bit of time talking about apps today as well.

ottolenghiI’ll start with cookbooks. It’s no surprise that Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty More’ is at the top of many ‘Best Cookbook’ lists this year. It’s the sequel to this Mediterranean chef’s first vegetarian cookbook, Plenty. Wonderful photographs that make you wonder why vegetarian food used to just mean brown rice and tofu. You might have to search out some of the ingredients that aren’t commonly available in supermarkets, but especially in Victoria we are lucky enough to have Fig Mediterranean Delicatessen on Cedar Hill Crossroad where you should be able to find all the ingredients.

 

banhmiAlso in the ethnic realm this year is a little book about one of my favourite Vietnamese foods, the banh mi sandwich, which in the classic version, basically takes a French baguette, stuffs it with some sort of meat, quite often a paté, then loads it up with pickled vegetables, fresh cilantro and sliced jalapeños. If you’ve never had one you don’t know what you’re missing. There are a few places to get these kind of sandwiches on Vancouver Island but it’s not a banh mi mecca like Vancouver. So if you want to make them yourself you need to pick up the Banh Mi Handbook, written by Andrea Nguyen. She is a Vietnamese cookbook author from California who writes excellent books to demystify Vietnamese cooking and this one is no exception.

Paris KitchenOne more exotic-type foreign book, but also written by an American, is David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. He’s a professional chef who has been living in Paris for the past decade and this is a collection of sweet and savoury recipes, once again with wonderful photos but more importantly, many stories about his life in Paris. I think he is just an excellent writer and this is a book you will want for the whole package, recipes, photos and stories.

 

 

OliveLocal authors: There are many to choose from, and I’ll start with a culinary memoir by Julie Angus called Olive Odyssey. Julie lives in Comox but she doesn’t spend much time at home. One of her previous books was a best seller about her voyage as the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean from mainland to mainland. Olive Odyssey is all about the voyage Julie, her husband Colin and their newborn took in a sailboat around the Mediterranean in pursuit of more knowledge about the history of the olive and olive oil. I just picked this one up when I met her at an author’s gathering but I know I’m in for a good tale.

 

SkinnyChefAnother culinary memoir is called ‘Never Trust A Skinny Italian Chef’ by Massimo Bottura, who is a Michelin-starred chef from Modena, Italy. The recipes are not necessarily that easy to put together, but it’s a great story of his rise. This would be a great gift for anyone who is considering getting into the restaurant industry.

 

 

 

ForagingBack into the cookbook realm with local authors, I have to include Chef Bill Jones from Deerholme Farm near Duncan and his Deerholme Foraging Book. This is a follow-up to his Taste Canada shortlisted Deerholme Mushroom Book. Bill and I were selling books together a couple of weeks ago and people were really going for the Foraging book as searching the woods and fields and your own backyards for wild edibles has become quite the thing over the past couple of years.

 

SoboYou also won’t go wrong by gifting the Sobo Cookbook by Lisa Ahier along with food writer Andrew Morrison. Anyone who has been at Sobo Restaurant in Tofino knows they make great food there and this cookbook has 100 favourite recipes from the restaurant in Lisa’s style which includes influences of local ingredients and her Tex-Mex culinary roots.

 

 

 

Dirty ApronFrom the mainland one more title, the Dirty Apron Cookbook by David Robertson. I haven’t been able to spend much time at the Dirty Apron, which is a cooking school in Vancouver, but all of my food writer friends rave about it, and this cookbook is worth raving about as well. Nothing revolutionary in terms of recipes, but a solid collection that would be a great gift for someone starting out on their own who wants to learn more about tools and techniques. (and then there’s that book about Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands…great gift! Proud to say it was placed 5th in the top ten list of BC books for 2014 in the Vancouver Sun.)

BeefBooks for foodies concerned about sustainability:  here’s a list developed by the folks at Food Tank organization, but two books on that list caught my interest in particular. Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production by Nicolette Hahn Niman. Niman is a biologist and environmental lawyer turned rancher. In the book she advocates for pasture-raised meat as part of a healthy diet.

And…The Edge of Extinction: Travels with Enduring People in Vanishing Lands by Jules Pretty. This book goes from China to New Zealand and beyond to introduce us to people who are living close to the land and how small communities live sustainably.

RatioFinally, for the digital age: First, for foodies that like to take photos of their food and share them, I really like the CameraPlus app. It has some very powerful editing tools built right into the app that can make your food photos really come alive, and I like that it allows you to share to Facebook and Twitter at the same time. For someone who likes to invent their own recipes or scale them up or down according to how many people they need to serve, I recommend Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, at $4.99, which gives you 32 basic recipes that can all be adjusted according to what you want to do with them. For example, the bread recipe will always give you the right quantities of flour and water, or a cake recipe the proper proportions of fat, sugar and flour, and so on.

How To CookFinally, a real deal at $14.99. You get two complete books. Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. These are huge tomes that get squished into your phone so you can research a recipe from wherever you are, and even email yourself a list of ingredients to shop for at the grocery store. If you’re a fan of ordering books from Amazon.ca, each link on the books I mentioned will take you there. Any purchases you subsequently make on the visit will send a small percentage of the cost to my Amazon account, which will help me buy more books! (thanks in advance)

Next week, gourmet gadget gifts.

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Food Matters – Holiday Platters

New shop just down the street from me!

New shop just down the street from me!

The holiday season is officially in full swing, with many calories to be consumed at dinners and parties now until New Year’s. If you want to be on trend with some of the goodies you plan to serve your guests, here’s some advice I shared on this week’s edition of Food Matters on CBC Radio’s All Points West program.

Sometimes I think I could almost live exclusively on cured meats, cheeses, sausages and all the condiments that go with them. These kinds of foods have been making a big splash in Canadian restaurants and specialty shops for the past few years, and more and more at home as part of cocktail and dinner parties. I was at the Out of Hand Craft Fair in Victoria over the weekend and saw one artisan selling refurbished barrel staves to be used as charcuterie platters and saw a few people walking around with these beautiful staves in their shopping bags and they were quite pleased with their purchases, looked like their guests are in for a treat during upcoming parties.

Two of Cure's Terrines

Two of Cure’s Terrines

There are a lot of choices to make, though, when you are considering putting together a platter, and that’s why I sought some help from Chef Brad Boisvert. Many people in the Cowichan Valley know him from his restaurant, Amuse, which has been in a few different locations of the years, he’s now comfortably ensconced at Cherry Point Vineyards, but Brad has also recently opened a little shop in the Valley View Mall called Cure, Artisan Meat and Cheese. Because the restaurant at Cherry Point is more of a seasonal operation, he decided to devote even more time to a craft he has been fond of for years. Brad says it started when he was in training at the Culinary Institute of America. There was one class in charcuterie, it was only 12 hours long, though! He knew he wanted to do more so he took as many extra classes from the instructor as possible. What hooked him was the ability to take a piece of meat and turn it into so many different things, like using pork belly to make pancetta and bacon.

Cure platter with duck liver pate, smoked duck breast, cheeses, mustards and pickled quail's eggs

Cure platter with duck liver pate, smoked duck breast, cheeses, mustards and pickled quail’s eggs

When it comes to making a platter with all the choices that are out there, Brad is always looking for balance. And balance is in the textures of the different items, chicken or duck liver pate, a nice sausage, smoked duck breast, for example.  And you can’t forget the cheese. Brad says we are very fortunate here on the island since we have so many local cheesemakers making some products perfect for a tasting platter, including Salt Spring Island Cheese, The Happy Goat and Hilary Abbott’s Creamery at Cheese Pointe Farm.

Cheese counter at Cure

Cheese counter at Cure

The condiments are a very important part of any platter, Brad makes several of his own, including three different types of mustard, a spicy ketchup, red onion jam, and these beautiful little pickled quail’s eggs. When it comes to your starch, you don’t want to get in the way of the flavours in your meats and cheeses. Simple baguette, or perhaps, some crostini, thin slices of baguette toasted with a little olive oil and some sea salt. To drink, Brad loves some of the Alsatian-style whites produced in the Cowichan Valley, especially a champagne-style bubbly from Cherry Pointe Vineyards, high in acidity and crispness to help you cleanse your palate in between bits of all that rich meat and cheese. Brad and I had a much longer chat about his love of charcuterie and his new shop, so click here for your listening pleasure

Time challenged? Let Brad make up a platter for you. And if you’re in Victoria, I heartily recommend the products and platters done up by Cory Pelan at The Whole Beast Salumeria. Act soon, these shops are probably already busy with orders for the holiday season.

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Food Matters – Mylkmaid Beverage Company

In today’s world of food allergies, intolerances and ethical eating, having different choices is key, especially when it comes to beverages. This week on Food Matters, I profiled a dairy alternative that’s making a splash on the local market.

Mylk, 3 flavours

Mylk, 3 flavours

Mylk  gets its main flavour from almonds, and is manufactured in Victoria by the Mylkmaid Beverage Company and Kiley McLean. Kiley started making and drinking almond milk about five years ago. “I had just been reading about how some of the cows in the large scale industrial milk production system are mistreated and thought that I should try an alternative, like almond milk. But when I tasted it and started reading the labels on commercially available almond milk products I wasn’t that impressed. When I figured out that it should just basically contain almonds and water, I started experimenting with making it and came up with something that tastes much better, you can actually taste almonds.”

 

Kiley McLean of Mylkmaid Beverage Company

Kiley McLean of Mylkmaid Beverage Company

Once her family and friends tasted her almond milk she started making it for them, and then got the idea of doing it on a small-scale basis and selling it weekly at the Moss Street Market Saturday mornings. With that market over for the season, Kiley decided to reach out to some local grocery stores like Fairfield Market, Niagara Grocery and Peppers, and it’s growing from there. Part of what made her carry on was the positive response she got from tasters at the farmer’s market, some of whom had tried commercially made almond milk in the past and didn’t like it, but they liked hers because of the fresher flavour and creamier texture. Her basic product line consists of three flavours, all starting with Pure, which is just organic almonds, water and a touch of Saltwest sea salt. Vanilla adds a sweetener made from organic Medjool dates and a vanilla bean, while Cacao adds cocoa powder. Over the summer and fall Kiley made seasonal favourites using strawberries, figs and she just finished up with a batch using fresh pumpkin. One of her holiday flavours adds some peppermint into the cacao version.

Price: I think you can put them in what I would call a premium quality price range. $4.99 for 250 millilitres. Keep in mind it’s an organic product, and organic almonds are particularly pricy, but people are still buying, says Kiley: “People are kind of wowed at the difference, but the stuff in the store can barely have any almonds at all, and it just has so many different additives in it to make up the consistency of milk. The thickness of our Mylk comes just from the almonds. I find that with our Mylk you just maybe need a little less, because it’s so cream, and maybe you are just adding a little to your coffee, or maybe to smoothies, a lot of people are putting almond milk in their smoothies, and you really just need like a splash, you don’t need a whole cup of it in your smoothie to make it creamy.”

This is just a part-time job for her now, she would like to turn it into a full-time career, and to do that she would like to get some cafes and coffee shops carrying her product for use as creamers or in lattes. This weekend Kiley will be spreading the word on Mylk at Silk Road Tea in Chinatown as she shows people how to make tea lattes with her product.

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Food Matters – Ampersand Gin and a New Era of Distilling in BC

DSC_4459Changes to liquor laws in BC have meant good news for anyone with an interest in creating spirits for the local market. Small to large distilleries are springing up and the entrepreneurial spirit of the industry is alive and well. This week on CBC Radio’s All Points West I profiled of one of the new kids on the block.

We have already been through and continue to benefit from a greater choice in beverages like wine and beer and mead, now it’s time for spirits to step up. Artisan distillers are quick to thank the pioneers of this era like Merridale Ciderworks, Okanagan Spirits, and Island Spirits Distillery on Hornby Island, the makers of Phrog gin. We’ve had Victoria Gin for a while and Shelter Point Distillery near Campbell River has come on stream with vodka and their single malt whisky will soon be available. Arbutus Distillery is also a newcomer to the field in Nanaimo.

Jessie bottling

Jessie bottling

Jeremy Labelling

Jeremy Labelling

But for now, come with me just outside of Duncan to Sol Farm, a family-run organic farm that is now also home to the Ampersand Distilling Company. Down behind the house in a small shed close to the raspberry bushes I was picking from this summer I found Stephen Schacht, his son Jeremy and Jeremy’s girlfriend Jessica McLeod. Stephen showed me around as Jessie was carefully filling bottles of Ampersand Gin, then passing them on to Jeremy for labelling, everything done by hand in this fledgling business. I asked Stephen why he wanted to get into distilling in the first place:  “Our family has always been independent entrepreneurs, and we’re always looking for something to do that will keep us close to home. Jeremy went to school for chemical engineering but when he graduated most of the job opportunities were in industries like the oil sands and chemical plants, places he didn’t really find attractive. So one day he said, ‘Dad, do you think we could build a distillery?’ And the rest of it came out of that little conversation.”

The 'secret weapon'

The ‘secret weapon’

There have been a lot of crazy ideas hatched over a simple conversation, and in this particular instance Stephen and Jeremy started from scratch. They welded the stills together, built everything by hand, and even created a machine that would turn a spool of wire into these tiny spring-like devices that are used to purify the alcohol in the distilling column. I saw the facility as it was coming together and it had the whole air of ‘mad scientist’ to it, and at times Stephen admitted the whole process seemed a little daunting: “We weren’t even sure that it was going to work. In the few weeks before we started distilling I was lying awake night after night thinking ‘oh god, what have we done, if this is going to work so well why isn’t anyone else doing it?’ But what we kind of discovered is that gin has been made in basically the same way since the 1800’s, the distillers using the same kind of stills, and the technology has never changed. But we’ve decided to take a totally different approach and it seems to be working amazingly well.” 

Organic BC Wheat

Organic BC Wheat

The other factor that has worked out well for them, according to Jeremy, are the recent changes in BC liquor laws. “Yeah, you could always start a distillery but it didn’t really make a lot of sense to do so, under the old tax structure. But now, because we are making our gin from raw BC agricultural products (we make it from BC-grown organic wheat), we get a different distribution agreement with the government. In essence we can sell directly to restaurants, liquor stores and consumers, like at the farmer’s market, and that has helped us a lot to start a distillery and be able to charge reasonable prices for a quality organic product.”

Jessie, Jeremy and Stephen

Jessie, Jeremy and Stephen

Farmers’ markets have been a big part of their marketing so far. It’s a great chance to talk to customers, let them taste and buy right there, and that just happened a couple of months ago and it’s great to see these other forms of BC agricultural products at the markets.  While All Points West host Jo-Ann Roberts was sampling the Ampersand Gin Stephen told us why they chose Ampersand as their name: “The ‘And’ symbol (&) means ‘in combination with’ and we just like the feel of that, we’re bringing this new technology to an ancient art, the making of gin, along with our organic farming practices, and in our place of healing the earth by growing things without a lot of chemicals and it’s been a pretty joyful experience and I think it was a good choice of a name.”

Expect more from Ampersand in the days ahead, a vodka, flavoured with tayberries grown on the farm, a beautiful festive red colour for the holidays, and perhaps a liqueur based on Cowichan Valley hazelnuts. Ampersand is available at a growing number of outlets, check their website for locations.

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Food Matters – Fermenting Workshop

IMG_0646There was a bit of a tangy aroma in the CBC Victoria studio this afternoon as I presented a Mason jar of my homemade sauerkraut to All Points West host Jo-Ann Roberts. I made it from scratch with just five ingredients.  Cabbage. Ginger. Garlic. Carrots. And salt. Squish them all together and wait a week or so and you get sauerkraut. If you remember back in April of this year I introduced you to Melanie Furman on Salt Spring Island and her Culturalive sauerkrauts and kimchis. Since I started eating her products I’ve taken a greater interest in these products, so when I got an invitation from Bootleg Betty to go to a sauerkraut making workshop in Duncan a couple of weeks ago of course I said yes.

Holly Howe, aka 'Bootleg Betty'

Holly Howe, aka ‘Bootleg Betty’

Bootleg Betty is really Holly Howe. Her husband came up the Bootleg Betty name since Holly teaches people how to make a fermented product, and the reference to bootlegging goes back to when making your own fermented alcohols like wine and beer was strictly illegal. She started eating sauerkraut for its healthy properties but became inspired to make her own after reading the book another recent Food Matters guest wrote. That would be Sally Fallon and her Nourishing Traditions cookbook. For the past ten years she’s been teaching these workshops to people who want to make their own kraut whether it’s because they want to save money or because they want to use the ingredients they prefer, as you can put many different kinds of vegetables and even some fruits into a sauerkraut.

 

Holly's different krauts

Holly’s different krauts

There were about half a dozen of us at a community kitchen in Duncan. Holly starts off with a bit of a lecture introducing us to the whole concept of fermented foods, which includes more than wine, beer and sauerkraut. Cider, mead, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and cultured butter are all fermented foods, as are breads, the yeast in bread produces a fermentation, soy sauce and miso paste, vanilla and other bean products like coffee and chocolate are also fermented as part of their processing. We also tasted five different kinds of sauerkraut Holly had already made so we could figure out which one we would like to make when it came time to start chopping and shredding.

Slice, grate and chop!

Slice, grate and chop!

They were all good so I had a hard time choosing. Ultimately I chose cabbage and ginger and carrots, but there was also cabbage and dill. Cabbage and carrots. Cabbage and beets and garlic and caraway seeds. And for kimchi, cabbage, carrots, green onion, ginger, garlic, radish and hot pepper flakes. And salt, it’s the salt that starts everything going. After you measure out the ingredients needed for your recipe into a big bowl, you add a tablespoon of non-iodized salt, and start mixing it together with your hands. Pretty soon the salt starts getting the veggies to release their liquids, and that’s when you’re ready to stuff a pound and a half of cabbage into a one-quart size Mason jar. You would never think it would fit, but it does. Holly showed us how to make sure the cabbage will stay under all the brine that’s produced and then you put on a plastic lid, and that’s it.

Mixing the kraut

Mixing the kraut

You’ve spent a few minutes chopping your garlic and ginger and grating the carrots and shredding the garlic. But then you just wait. You put the jar in a shallow bowl and leave it at room temperature. More and more brine will be produced, and some of it will even seep out of the jar, which is why you put it into a little bowl. It kind of sings to you, strange little gurgling noises. It’s ready to eat in about a week, but to get the full benefits of the good bacteria being produced in the jar you want to let it ferment for up to four weeks before you put it in the fridge. I made my jar on October 26th and by today, November 6th, it tasted great. I’ll soon be ready to make another jar!

 

 

Getting ready to close the jar

Getting ready to close the jar

If you really get hooked on kraut, you can purchase a special fermenting crock that will allow you to do up to five pounds at a time. Holly has two more workshops scheduled before Christmas, and if you’re further up island, the great people at Stir Cooking School in Lantzville near Nanaimo are doing a kimchi workshop in early January. Yes, people are already making plans for the New Year!

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