Guest Post – Restaurant review of Pizzeria Prima Strada

My Food and Travel writing courses start next Monday! Some people wonder about what exactly it is that they will learn and how they can use it. With more and more bloggers posting restaurant reviews, I teach you how to do a proper review, paying attention to the key factors that should be noted in every review. To register or learn more, click here.

Here’s a sample of what one keen student was able to achieve after following my template and a bit of judicious editing. It’s good to be anonymous when you are reviewing, so my guest reviewer will simply be known as RC:

Pizzeria Prima Strada: A slice of Italy at home

Photo courtesy Pizzeria Prima Strada

A trip to Italy, fourteen years ago, completely destroyed my desire for pizza – the North American version, that is. All that changed when Pizzeria Prima Strada opened its doors in the vibrant Cook Street Village.

The restaurant is a much-longed-for addition to a city brimming with foodies. Let’s face it; pineapple and barbecue sauce swimming in a puddle of cheese atop a deep-dish crust does nothing to nurture one’s inner Italian. Unfortunately, that is what passed for pizza before Prima Strada stepped onto Victoria’s culinary scene.

Pizzeria Prima Strada has a rather unassuming exterior being nestled, almost in strip-mall fashion, between a fast food joint, and a coffee shop. However, immediately upon walking through the door, the visitor is greeted by the wonderful homey aroma of freshly-baked pizza. The atmosphere is casual, and the room is abuzz with chatter, and laughter. The earth-toned interior exudes warmth only outdone by the show-stopper of the room – the traditional wood-fired brick oven.

First-time visitors might like to sit at the bar that surrounds the oven, and watch as the chefs stretch and twirl the dough, sprinkle it with fresh, locally-sourced toppings, then fire-roast it in the 800-degree flame. We’ve been before, so many times that, well, let’s just say the notion of having to someday attend a Prima Strada Anonymous meeting no longer seems far-fetched; tonight, therefore, we opt for a table.

The staff is fun, and friendly, some of them having been here since the place opened five years ago. Their camaraderie creates a lasting, positive impression on their customers, making it feel like a true neighbourhood trattoria.

Tonight I start with the caprese salad ($10), and it doesn’t fail to delight. Thickly sliced , ripe heirloom tomatoes that have been marinated in balsamic vinegar are loosely, but attractively, sandwiched between equally-sized slabs of soft, white, mozzarella di bufala. Small glistening dollops of brilliant green basil pesto add a tang that balances the sweet balsamic, making me feel euphoric.

There are four of us, so we decide to split two pizzas. The first is hands down the most popular pizza on the menu – the Funghi ($15.50). The base, a mild porcini cream with a hint of pecorino cheese is topped with roasted succulent mushrooms, tender, sweet caramelized onions, and a pinch of fresh thyme. The crust is authentically Neapolitan – thin, crisp, yet chewy. We each pick up a slice, and fold it in half lengthwise – the traditional way of eating this type of pizza.

The second pizza, the Salsiccia Piccante, features house-made sausage, tomato, mozzarella, and roasted red bell peppers. The fennel in the sausage makes this spicy pizza pie quintessentially Italian. We share a bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC ($33), and the bouquet lends a liveliness of blueberry and cherry sensations, with hints of licorice that pair well with the earthy flavours in the pizzas.

There are six desserts on the menu, but the four of us, each armed with a tiny spoon, agree to share a tartufo – a large, hard ball of imported chocolate hazelnut gelato with a vanilla center ($6). Our waiter offers to top it with a shot of espresso, but we decline, as this delightful frozen orb comes already rolled in just the right amount of bittersweet cocoa powder to offset the sweetness.

Prima Strada succeeds at producing simple, and delicious Italian food. Owners Geoffrey Dallas, and wife Cristen DeCarolis-Dallas insist that the Caputo ’00’ flour is the secret to their perfect crust, and that minimal, fresh toppings prove their theory that quality trumps quantity. Clearly, they have done their homework, and judging by the nightly lineups at the door, it has paid off.

Don’t let the queue turn you away, though. A twenty-minute wait is a small price to pay compared to the nine-hour flight needed to get to Italy to find a comparable culinary experience.



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Food Matters – The One Where Don Had To Go To The Hospital

Food allergies seem to be much more common these days, and they can be deadly. Peanut allergies have become so severe airlines no longer serve them on flights and many schools have instituted peanut-free policies, some even have dairy-free policies. When an adult gets suddenly stricken with a severe food allergy, though, it often comes as a complete surprise. That’s what happened to me and I’m finally ready to tell you about what happened.

I haven’t discussed my sudden allergic attack here on my blog or on my All Points West column since it happened last spring, since the source of the food allergy was a mystery then, and it’s still somewhat of a mystery, but after some testing and consulting with an allergist I have enough information to have sort of an eating plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again…

The day after my attack. Still 'stuck' with hook-ups for the heart monitors. That's my sister beside me.

It was the Saturday before Easter Sunday, so the end of last March. I had purchased some chunks of halibut on Friday. I made some skewers that I grilled that night, and for lunch the next day I made another skewer and then some ceviche with the leftover pieces. So, lime juice, fish sauce, chilli pepper, probably some garlic or green onion. Not too long after lunch the trouble started. I felt dizzy. Went to the bathroom, had the dry heaves for a couple of minutes, then felt better. 15 minutes later I was back in the bathroom. I was burning up, had a metallic taste in my mouth, and started to get dizzy again. Told my wife I was going to faint…and I did. She found me sitting on the toilet, unconscious. Called 9-1-1. She said my lips were blue and swollen. The first responders didn’t know whether I was suffering from heart attack or allergic reaction. I came to in the ambulance, on the way to the hospital in Duncan. I was probably out for 15 minutes or so.

At Cowichan District Hospital they worked on me for hours. Hives, swollen lips, low blood pressure, but a racing heartbeat. I kept asking for water, because my throat seemed so dry. That was actually because it was closing up, I guess! Finally they got me stabilized, and kept me overnight for observation of my heart and blood pressure. The ER doctor said I had an anaphylactic reaction to something I ate, that it was not food poisoning of any sort.

I have never had any kind of reaction like this before, and certainly not to halibut, which is one of my favourite fishes to eat. So I got a referral to an allergist in Victoria. This is where you discover the strain on our health care system. I had my attack on March 30th. I had to wait until October 31st to get an appointment with the allergist. In the meantime I avoided ALL seafood, and started carry around an epipen. During my first appointment he did some scratch testing, all negative. And he sent me for a blood test that would specifically test if I were allergic to halibut. Negative. He cleared me to eat shellfish, so shrimp, crab, clams, squid, octopus. But he said make sure I carry not just one epipen, but two. He asked me to come back on January 14th, so another two and a half months in between appointments, and bring some raw and cooked halibut with me. I did, he did scratch tests again with the raw and the cooked, no reaction, then I stayed in his office for nearly three hours, eating a few more bites of halibut every 20 minutes or so. No reaction.

Anisakis Simplex, a parasitic worm found in halibut

So my allergist is stumped for the time being. He says I can eat fish again, but to avoid fresh, raw fish. So sushi from a reputable restaurant is okay, because the raw fish has to be frozen before serving. Keep carrying the epipens. There is one other possibility he will investigate for me. There may have been a parasitic worm in the halibut I ate that day. It’s called Anisakis Simplex and you can be allergic to that parasite, to the point of the kind of attack I had. But there’s no simple test he can do for it. If I can get my hands on a piece of halibut with a worm in it, he can mush it up and do some more skin testing on me. At the same time, he advised me that in adults, some 30 percent of the cause of these anaphylactic attacks is never found.

I promised my wife that I would try to never submit her to that kind of experience again. She was so upset by the whole thing, since she was there for the whole experience while I was drifting in and out of consciousness. They had the crash cart there, a big team of people working on me, right out of a TV show, I guess. But I have gone back to eating shellfish, but I will avoid any kind of fish that might have that parasite in it. At the same time I feel challenged to solve the mystery, and my allergist is committed to helping me test for the parasite. I have to tell you it will be a while before I feel comfortable eating fish again…even though the tests show I don’t have an allergy to it. And the whole incident and process has given me a lot more understanding of what children and adults with food allergies go through and why they have to be so careful. And if I ever figure out what caused my attack, I’ll be sure to let you know.

***Update*** Thanks to those of you who emailed me or All Points West after hearing the show. Some of you thought I might have had a reaction to MSG in one of the sauces I used in the ceviche. Nope. I have been using fish sauce and soya sauce, no reactions.  Others thought the symptoms resembled scombroid poisoning. They did, except scombroid poisoning is not usually linked to a fish such as halibut. It is more common in fishes like tuna, mackerel, sardines and anchovies. Could there have been cross-contamination from other fish being stored in the same cooler as the halibut? Perhaps, but neither my wife, who also ate the halibut, or any other customers of the fishmonger reported any signs of illness.

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Food Matters – Vij in Victoria

Celebrity chefs are a part of a cultural phenomenon Canadians have embraced in the last twenty years. Unlike an actor, they don’t have to go to Hollywood to make it big. Give them a good cookbook or especially a show on Food Network Canada and they are halfway there. But they still really have to know how to cook. Yesterday I spent some time with one of Canada’s celebrity chefs on his quick visit to Victoria. To listen to our entire conversation, click here to listen to the mp3 audio file.

Vikram Vij is probably the most well-known East Indian chef we have here in Canada, especially to us here on the West Coast. Anyone who is into a more modern style of Indian food has likely been to the eponymous Vij’s in Vancouver, or perhaps to Rangoli, his more casual eatery right next door. He has a food cart in Vancouver called Vij’s Railway Express, there are cookbooks, Food Network appearances, and more.

Vij and the crew at Sutra

Last year he lent his support to another food outlet at the Victoria Public Market called Sutra, which has Vij-style take-out food, but also offers his complete line of frozen ‘boil-in-a-bag’ take-home dishes as well as a selection of his spices and spice blends. He came here to check up on the new operation and do a couple of cooking demos, one of which was at the Victoria Public Market yesterday at lunchtime.

People were clearly excited about his visit because all the seats in front of the Market kitchen were full about half an hour before his arrival and a little buzz ran through the crowd as he arrived. Karen Elgersma from Shaw TV was there to do an interview before the cooking demo and she admitted she was quite shaky and nervous just to be in his presence. Now that’s celebrity status.

What is it about him that people love so much? It could be because of his piercing blue eyes…and of course the taste of the food he has developed over the years with the help of his mother and his wife Meeru, but I think the main attraction is that he is so personable and honest with everyone. He doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen at Vij’s during service, he is circulating throughout the restaurant, greeting people, offering them some hot chai or snacks if they have to line up, which you frequently do, he does not take reservations, but he makes you feel special and is genuinely concerned about the experience he wants you to have. He finds that after all these years, even on the West Coast where we have a large Indo-Canadian population, Indian food still needs to be explained to people.

Part of Vij's Spice Palette

It’s not easy, because it can be so diverse, but to give you an example, he asked everyone at the start of his demo if they were allergic to curry. Vikram says at least once a day, someone walks into his restaurant and says they are allergic to curry. “But curry is made up of so many different ingredients. Maybe you’re allergic to cilantro, but you can just leave cilantro out, then. People tend to lump everything together. How can you be allergic to curry?

Vij's Indian Cuisine Cookbook

So that was the first lesson …curry can be a blend of many different spices and flavours and doesn’t have to be exactly the same each time.  Vikram then proceeded to take us through the recipe that has the most food stains on it in our copy of this cookbook he and his wife published a few years ago, Vij’s Inspired and Elegant Indian Cuisine. Vij Family’s Chicken Curry. I watched him make it, then went home and checked the recipe so I could make it for you. And I have to tell you that he definitely did things differently yesterday than what is printed in the book. But that’s okay. His analogy always is that of an artist using a palette of colours. If the artist wanted to make an entire canvas black with one dot, he can do it. If you want a curry with tons of hot pepper in it, you can do it, because you are the one that is ultimately going to enjoy it.

Vij's Chicken Curry

So I took to heart some of his tips and also went with what I had on hand at home. I used butter to cook the onions instead of vegetable oil, I had cumin seed instead of ground cumin, used up some frozen tomatoes along with fresh, and although the recipe calls for sour cream to blend into the curry, I used a can of coconut milk instead.

Here’s the recipe:


Number of Servings: 6


½ cup (130 ml) canola oil

2 cups (500 ml) onion, finely chopped

1 3-in cinnamon stick

3 tbsp (60 ml) garlic, finely chopped

2 tbsp (30 ml) ginger, chopped

2 cups (500 ml) tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp (15 ml) salt

½ tsp (2.5 ml) ground black pepper

1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric

1 tbsp (15 ml) ground cumin

1 tbsp (15 ml) ground coriander

1 tbsp (15 ml) garam masala (an aromatic blend of spices often used in Indian cooking, available in specialty stores)

½ tsp (2.5 ml) ground cayenne pepper

3 lb (1350 g) chicken thighs, bone in

1 cup (250 ml) sour cream, stirred

2 cups (500 ml) water

½ cup (130 ml) cilantro, chopped (including stems)

DIRECTIONS – In a large pan, heat oil on medium heat for 1 minute. Add onions and cinnamon, and sauté for another 4 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, tomatoes, salt, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala and cayenne. Cook for 5 minutes, or until oil separates.

Remove and discard skin from chicken thighs. Wash thighs and add to prepared mixture. Stir well. Cook chicken thighs for 10 minutes, until chicken looks cooked on the outside. Add sour cream and water and stir well. Increase heat to medium-high. When curry starts to boil, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times, until chicken is completely cooked. Poke thighs with a knife. If meat is still pink, cook for 5 more minutes.

Remove and discard cinnamon stick. Cool curry for at least half an hour. Transfer cooled chicken to a mixing bowl. Wearing latex gloves, peel chicken meat off the bones. Discard bones and stir chicken back into curry. Just before serving, heat curry on medium heat until it starts to boil lightly. Stir in cilantro. To serve, divide curry evenly among six bowls. Serve with naan or rice.

My version of Vij's Curry

Places to find East Indian grocery items in Victoria:

Gobind Food Market 8-4011 Quadra St, Victoria 250-479-8884

Sutra at the Victoria Public Market also sells Vij’s spice products.

And check out this directory on Chef Heidi Fink’s website.

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New Classes Start Soon!

Write for food, or cash!

It’s a new year, it’s a new time to learn. Food and Travel writing are two of the most popular forms of writing these days. Online publications are devoted entirely to these topics and believe it or not, new magazines in print are springing up, and they all need content. My in-person or online Food and Travel writing courses begin January 27th through the UBC Writing Centre and it’s not too late to sign up. If you’ve ever thought of turning your travel or food experiences into stories or blogs, these are the courses for you. If you’re in the Greater Vancouver area, in-person Food and Travel Writing starts on Monday, January 27th at 7pm at the Point Grey campus.

Food and Travel Online begins on the 27th as well, but the beauty of this course is that you can be anywhere in the world to take it! (as long as you have a computer and internet connection) Each week a new segment of the course is revealed to you on a UBC website and you get to correspond with me and your fellow students on a daily basis. It’s great for people who can’t commit to being in a classroom at the same date and time eight weeks in a row. You can access the material in the course online 24/7.

Click on this link to learn more about the courses and to find out how to register.

I’m also teaching a relatively new course designed for people who want to start their own blogs. Your blog can be about any topic, food and travel included, and the course is really designed to get you thinking about a theme and focus for your blog. At the same time, I look at your writing style, grammar and spelling to make sure your blog visitors are in for a good reading experience. The technical ins-and-outs of the blog are left up to you, I mostly help you with the words you’re putting on the page, although there is a segment devoted to basic photo techniques to help you when you want to illustrate your blog with pictures. Follow this link to find out more or to register for Creating and Sustaining Your Blog.

Hope to see you online or in-person soon!

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Food Matters – 2014 Food Life Advice (and trends)

One of the most common resolutions for the New Year is ‘go on a diet’. It’s probably one of the most oft-broken resolutions as well. But you don’t have to go on a diet to feel like you’re doing something different. Today on Food Matters, I sifted through some of the advice and trends offered this year to help guide you with some non-dieting resolutions.

I think most so-called diets are set up to fail, and I really think you just have to figure out what works with you. Any diet that totally denies you from eating certain foods or encourages you to do something you just don’t like is earmarked for failure, in my opinion. But you can maybe modify some habits that you feel are detrimental to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, or start new ‘home food policies’, I’ll call them…

There is no shortage of advice out there at this time of year. I’ve certainly been bombarded by email and web features telling me all about how I should be living my life, so I’ve combed through a bunch of them and picked out some of the notable points for you…

I subscribe to a newsletter from Food Tank, which is a food think tank co-founded by Ellen Gustafson, a sustainable food system activist and innovator, and Danielle Nierenberg, an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. They have a list of 14 different food resolutions for this year and they have some really great ones. Some of my favourites are ‘Meet Your Local Farmer’, ‘Eat Seasonal Produce’, and ‘End Food Waste’. Those are noble ambitions I’ve been talking about (and trying to practice) for years, but here’s a few more I like: ‘Go Meatless Once A Week’, cook more for yourself and others, and try to make sure more food knowledge is passed on from generation to generation.

To cook you need to shop, and there is a round-up of posts to help you specifically with shopping from TheKitchn, an offshoot of the popular Apartment Therapy website, and after reading through a few of these posts I think they’re quite valuable. Some of them don’t apply to Canadians, like ‘best shopping tips for Trader Joe’s’, but I do like the guides to eating on a tight budget, making the farmers’ market the only place you shop and how to read food labels to tell if you are really getting whole grains as an ingredient. My favourite has to be ‘Stocking a Healthier Pantry From Whole Foods for $99, Can It Be Done?’, since many people have nicknamed Whole Foods as Whole Paycheque. There is also a link to an infographic on The Shelf Life of Food, which can really help with cutting down on food waste, it lists a wide range of foods and how long it’s safe to have them on the counter or in your panty, in the fridge or in the freezer.

If your problem is that you just have too much stuff in the kitchen cupboards, then you need to visit the Epicurious post on ’10 Things to Toss Out of Your Cupboard for 2014’. This puts in black and white all the advice you’ve been afraid to take action on, like:

1. If you can’t remember when you bought those spices, it’s probably time to replace them.

2. Have plastic storage containers that were once part of a set and are now scattered in the cupboard? Match lids to bottoms, and recycle any without partners.

5. Have doubles of kitchen tools? No one needs two electric can openers — donate one.

8. Did you buy a case of pasta sauces your family didn’t really like? Went crazy in the big-box store? No need to feel guilty wasting money — donate items you know you won’t eat to a local foodbank and reclaim valuable cabinet space.

When it comes to trends, there are a couple of good posts on the Eating Well website, although I have to laugh at some of the ingredients mentioned since I think we’ve already been eating them here on the West Coast for years…

A new buzzword the editors say we’ll be hearing a lot of is ‘Clean Eating’, instead of healthy eating. They define it as “eating more vegetables, less meat, less sodium, watching your alcohol, limiting processed foods and choosing whole grains”.  Which is advice that’s been out there for quite some time, but ‘Clean Eating’ sounds better, right?

They also think 2014 will be the year when we start eating more ‘trash fish’ or species that are commonly considered bycatch or not as desirable from a commercial standpoint, and that cauliflower is going to replace kale as the ‘it’ vegetable this year. How do you feel about cauliflower?

And what about quinoa? I have made it known in the past that I was practically sick of quinoa as soon as it became a trend, but now I might have to put up with ‘Kaniwa’. This apparently ‘Baby quinoa’, similar to quinoa but smaller. It’s also from the Andes, cooks quickly and is high in protein.

Also look for fermentation to blossom as a hot trend, we’re talking things like sauerkraut, kim chee and kambucha tea, some of which are already found in abundance here on the coast, and more people will turn to making their own wine and beer.

My personal resolutions for my food life in 2014? A big one is to get into my freezer and cupboards and use all the stuff I have stored there. Pounds and pounds of berries in the freezer, lots of canned beans and rice and other grains in my cupboards, and I also want to clean up the leftovers from the holidays, so for the crew on All Points West today I brought in a casserole full of cinnamon buns and a couple of cans of macadamia nuts I brought back from Hawaii.

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Food Matters – Chef Connor Butler in Hawaii

View from Daylight Mind Coffee Company

For the past few years I’ve been taking some pre-Christmas vacation time in Hawaii. I call it a vacation but I usually find some sort of story of interest to folks back home. This year is no exception, so I talked to David Lennam of All Points West this afternoon from Kona, on the big island of Hawaii.

This year I caught up with a fellow Vancouver Island foodie named Connor Butler. He was born in Bremerton, Washington but moved to Nanaimo when he was young as his father was stationed with the U-S Navy at the Nanoose Bay Maritime Testing Facility. When he graduated from high school he trained as a chef in what was then known as the Malaspina College Culinary Arts program. I met him in Vancouver while he was running his own restaurant on Granville Street, but after the restaurant closed I lost track of him until I discovered he was here through a mutual friend via Facebook, of course.

Chef Connor Butler

Connor gave up his restaurant just before the 2010 Olympics when the landlord tried to jack up his rent, and was kind of down on the way the restaurant industry was abusing its ingredients via sustainability in the ocean and on land, and moved to the BC interior, where he and his wife spent a year basically living off the land, growing, hunting, fishing, while he was learning how to make wine. They came back to Vancouver where he was a consultant to a new restaurant and then came The Moment. “I hit this wall of drinking great coffee every day, and thinking, ‘I’m never going to be able to grow this here!’ But my wife and I had been to Hawaii before, the big island, and we decided to come back and continued to fall in love with the place. I want to have a farm, and grow coffee beans and all the other great stuff you can grow here, lemons, ginger, sugar cane, and even tomatoes at higher elevation.”

But he’s not a farmer yet, still a chef. Has to build up the nest egg to purchase the ten acres of land he wants to farm. So after a few months of getting to know the lay of the land he found a job as the executive chef at a popular café here in Kona. His wife, who has a background in the finance end of restaurants, also found a good job, but like most chefs, Connor was always looking for another opportunity. He found it just down the street at the Daylight Mind Coffee Company. It’s funny, because last year when my wife and I were here we walked through this unused part of an open air mall that sits right on the ocean with a more than 180-degree view and we remarked how it was a waste of beautiful space. I guess the owners had the same idea, and with Connor’s help, have created a complex where although the focus is on coffee, they roast their own beans, it’s also a bakery, a pastry shop, a bistro, and soon to become a coffee education centre as well for up and coming baristas and the general public.

Connor told me he really used the brewpub or winery cafe model when he was helping develop the idea for Daylight Mind. Something that has a focus, in this case coffee, but can branch out in many different ways.

The food is delicious. Connor has built a high-tech kitchen which eliminates the traditional grills and griddles and deep fryers and uses a combination of induction stovetops, sous vide and an amazing oven that can bake pizzas or roast a hamburger to perfection. The burger I had the other day was made using grass-fed beef from the big island, and for breakfast I had a Kona Kine Benedict, that’s a nod to good old fashioned smoking of pork shoulder, which Connor handles with a smoker on the rooftop of the building. Even the edamame, or boiled soybeans are done with a twist by adding some pickled daikon radish and passion fruit pulp in the dressing. As for the coffee, I spent some time with Alexis Hide, who was hired from the U.S mainland to come and run the roasting and coffee programs. Even though this island is rife with coffee plantations, she thinks there is a lot of room to make a better final product here.

Alexis Hide

I’m bringing some of Alexis’ espresso roast home with me, and some of Connor’s granola and some other Hawaiian goodies that might make it to the CBC office next year. Happy Holidays to everyone out there, and I’ll be back with you in the New Year.

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Food Matters – Kitchen Gifts 2013

Today on Food Matters I was supposed to feature clips from my chat with Pat Joya, the person in charge of the housewares department at Capital Iron in Victoria. Somehow some technical gremlins invaded the radio station and my column from last year’s show aired instead. So if you listened and you want to know about the gadgets featured last year, you can re-visit this blog post. She shared the scoop on all the new innovations (and some treasured stand-bys) that you should consider as kitchen gifts for this holiday season. Our entire conversation can be heard by clicking here. You’ll get an mp3 player popping up in a new window.

Here are the descriptions of the items I talked about on the air with Jo-Ann Roberts as well as the ones Pat and I covered during our lengthier chat in the shop. Thanks to Pat for providing the descriptions and some of the prices as sold in Capital Iron. If mail order is your thing, I’ve put a link to the product page where applicable to

SOUS VIDE - water bath cooker than ensures perfectly moist, “edge to edge” level of doneness. $369 and up, depending on whether you purchase the vacuum sealer with it or not.

A neat kitchen tool because it will hold the food in the cooker at a constant temperature – unlike an oven or BBQ where the food keeps cooking to the temperature of the cooking unit.  The food will stay at your set temperature  (Med. Rare if that is your preference),  for up to 12 hours!    Fabulous taste – consistent reliable performer.

LODGE CAST IRON – All round versatile cooking vessel, various prices.

Highly functional because it gives great low & slow even temperature, and the same pan can be searing hot when needed.  Lasts for years:  its ”coating” does not wear off;  it can be re-newed when over-used, adds a little iron to your diet, and just gets betterthe more frequently it is used.

VICTORINOX KNIVES  –     Every kitchen needs good knives. 3-piece set from $139.50

One of the best knife brands on the market is also one of the most affordable.  Pat could get poetic about these knives for various reasons:  They hold their edge; they are versatile in their grip – meaning they suit a wide range of people and give allowance for grip styles. They are fabricated from superior steel (x50) and are tempered well – so their molecules line up properly!  They have a thinner Japanese style edge so have exceptional cutting ability.  They are cheap in comparison to most other brands, but superior in performance – lots of bang for your buck and tools to use for years.

RICE CUBE  – New, easy for all to use, innovative and fun – $21.95

From Kids to Caterers – this simple gadget makes bite sized cubes  of rice  to which your choice of food bits from peas to smoked salmon to berries can be added to create flavourful meal bites or snacks.  Press rice into the mold, push together and instant sushi  squares.  Kids can make their own rice squares – even young children.  Perfect for party appies.  Quick & easy.

COVER BLUBBERS          Stretchy, re-usable food covers to replace plastic wrap, $4.99 and up.

Super stretchy food saver that you can use to cover food or containers of various sizes.  Think of covering the end of your cucumber to store in the fridge.  Made of super food safe silicone Sticky Rubber it stretches & clings, seals airtight.   It will form fit around fresh cut food or food container.  There are several sizes for various diameters of food 

CHARLES VIANCIN  Fun Silicone Pot/Microwave/Bowl Covers $10 and up

Part of the wave of fun and interesting products made of silicone.  These lids are flower & botanical shapes in bright colours. They are heat safe for using on the stove or the microwave & provide an airtight, watertight seal.  Completely foodsafe and re-usable.


RAINBOW SCRUBBIES   What the world needs now! $2.99 each

The most versatile unassuming little cleaner around.  Use it on your tires – on your glass cooktop, for your veggies, or your cast iron pot.  Cleans up mineral deposits on your bathtub, coffee stains on your cups.    Tough and gentle at the same time – will not scratch your China or steel pots or those tires!   Just one of the handiest things to have in your kitchen and a genuine treat to give – for its helpful abilities. 

ORIGAMI NAPKINS   Innovative – yes     Useful – yes.  $9.99

In  the days where everyone is stretched for time these paper napkins are just a treat.  They are just a premium quality napkin that folds out into a star shape – and makes any dinner table into an instant occasion.   New on the market and just a really nice touch.  Watch for new shapes to follow as these are hot and trending item – will be big all next year.


CUISINART YOGHURT MAKER –  Great features, $99.99

This unit will automatically adjust the temperature – when your yoghurt is ready, it automatically adjusts to a chill temperature.  This means you can set it up either at night or in the morning, and not have to worry about foodsafe issues.  The machine makes soy or almond milk yoghurt –  sans additives –  for a non-dairy diet   The capacity is great – up to 1.5 litres, but in one compact unit rather than several small cups.


ADJUSTABLE NUTCRACKER  Convenient multi size capability,  and of the season.

Handy- Just drop whatever nut you wish to crack into the flexible sized holder.  The  holder is conical shaped – so the nut drops to where it fits snugly.  Just squeeze the 2 handles   which are joined by a coiled spring, and the nut is easily cracked.  The best thing is this will easily adapt to various sizes of nuts.


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Food Matters – Cookbook Gift Suggestions

Cookbooks are the perfect gift that keep on giving. But with so many cookbooks on the shelves, how do you know which one to give to the chef or budding cook in your life? It’s one of the most published genres of books in the world, which makes me happy, since there IS always something new to look at, and makes me sad, since I know my addiction to cookbooks doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down. That being said, there is a huge difference between a great cookbook and a so-so cookbook, so I hope I can help folks out a bit who are choosing. Some of the big books that caught my eye this year:

At Home with Lynn Crawford, by Lynn Crawford of Food Network fame, and owner/chef of the restaurant Ruby Watchco in Toronto.

The AOC Cookbook, by Suzanne Goin, who owns a flight of popular restaurants in California.




Feast, Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, by Sarah Copeland, a very attractive vegetarian cookbook, which is important to me since you don’t have ‘protein’ starring in the photos.


And speaking of vegetarian, out this year is Moosewood Restaurant Favorites – 250 of their most requested recipes. Molly Katzen, who got her start at Moosewood, has a new cookbook out as well.


I also polled my Facebook friends for some tips since I can’t spend ALL my time on line and in bookshops and they helped out, here are the most popular books they mentioned: Butter Baked Goods, The Book of Kale, Smashing Plates – Greek Flavours Redefined by Maria Elia, and anything by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi is still hot! Especially Jerusalem. My CBC Radio food columnist colleague Khalil Aktar recommends Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok, and a fun one I took for a spin last night called Mug Cakes. These are cake recipes you make in a mug, then divide between 2 mugs, then cook separately in a microwave for about one and a half minutes, then voila! Cake. It sounds crazy but it really works.

Lots to choose from this year from local authors. Joe Wiebe’s Craft Beer Revolution, Bill Jones’ wildly popular Deerholme Mushroom Book, On the Flavour Trail from the Island Chefs Collaborative and Cocktail Culture by Shawn Soole and Nate Caudle.  Happy shopping! (all the links here lead to if you like to shop that way for a discount, and a small percentage of each sale ends up in my pocket so I can continue to fund this blog. Thanks in advance.) ***Update! One BC book I forgot to mention here but mentioned on the show was Had A Glass, by James Nevison, Top 100 Wines Under $20. Great value for your gift giving dollars!


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Food Matters – Victoria Food Hub

Most sustainable food system advocates think a celebration is called for whenever another local food becomes available in the marketplace. But there are some problems created by too much success, including a lack of suitable culinary infrastructure. The Island Chefs Collaborative is trying to augment the facilities available and that was my topic on this week’s edition of Food Matters.

It’s a cliché, but you really can have too much of a good thing when it comes to local food. It’s actually quite a good problem to have. More food shoppers are demanding more local products, more people want to get involved in supplying those products. Many budding entrepreneurs start off by making their products in their kitchens at home, but depending on the type of product it is, they might have to make it in an inspected commercial kitchen facility, or quite often to take the next step up, they have to purchase equipment they just don’t have the capital for. This is where the Island Chefs Collaborative has stepped in, in a number of ways. At first these chefs would hold yearly fundraisers and donate money to farmers or producers to help them improve their businesses. Now that’s morphed a bit into a commercial microloan system, as was explained to me in a busy café the other day by the microloan administrator, Jason Found. Jason says they moved to a microloan system, with start-up funds from VanCity and FarmFolk/CityFolk, because they could help a larger number of people that way. The ICC fundraising then is used to pay off the interest on the loans, so they then become interest-fee for the farmers or food producers. All they have to do is show that the loan will help them increase the supply of local food.

They have been able to assist through these loans all kinds of things that most of us don’t often think of when it comes to food production. Fencing is very important on Vancouver Island given our deer population. Greenhouses to help extend growing seasons and protect against pests. Irrigation systems, and sometimes particular pieces of equipment a food processor might need, like an extra-large mixer, or a bottling or packaging system. Now there is more of a collective idea on the go as opposed to helping people in their own spaces, there is a communal space in mind, the community food hub.

It’s an idea that has been talked about for quite some time, but Jason told me it got kicked into more of a reality in February of this year when a meeting of stakeholders took place and they hammered out an idea of the kind of facility they would like to have. It would feature multiple kitchen spaces, cold storage facilities and specialized equipment not every small scale producer would be able to afford to buy on their own, but they would be able to access it at a reasonable hourly rental rate at the food hub.

If you go back into the history of Vancouver Island when the population was smaller and people produced more of their own food, there were facilities. Warehouses, processing plants, but as the food industry expanded and mechanized and consolidated, a lot of the existing infrastructure disappeared, or was concentrated off-island to the point where if you wanted to take the next step up as a food processor, you had to build your own plant or send it to the Lower Mainland to have your product made. Jason says that doesn’t really help us with our food security here.

Of course this kind of facility doesn’t come cheap, but getting the right combination of mortgages and some capital in place, a building that can be affordably renovated instead of building from scratch, and we may see this food hub come to fruition as early as next spring. But we are talking a multi-million dollar project here, so fundraising is being done on a continual basis, including the Island Chefs Collaborative Christmas Shaker. This exuberant Christmas party will be held in the Historic Car Shop Building at Bayview Place on Sunday, December 8 from 7 to midnight. ICC Chefs serve canapés they’ve created from local foods to pair with Christmas cocktails from some of Victoria’s best Mixologists or bartenders if you prefer.

Tickets are available online for $50.

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Food Matters – Fruitcake: Love it or Hate it?

If you are a lover of fruitcake, and maybe even make your own, you likely have some carefully wrapped and aging in a cool spot, waiting to be sliced when holiday festivities begin in earnest. Or, if you hate fruitcake, you’re thinking about using any gift of cake you receive this year as a doorstop. I presented both sides of the story on this week’s edition of Food Matters with Jo-Ann Roberts on CBC Radio Victoria.

I am firmly on the side of loving a good, dark, nicely aged fruitcake. My aunts made the fruitcakes in our family. I loved the dark ones, but would always pass on the light ones because I thought they were too dry or crumbly. But I’m willing to try any fruit cake at least once. Then there are others who don’t want anything to do with fruit cake…

I put this question of loving or hating fruitcake on my Facebook account, knowing it would stir up some debate, and I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s a sampling of what some of the haters said:

Yuck! I honestly don’t get it. Thick, overly sweet, full of weird fruit, nasty, brutish ugh. Seriously, is it some kind of food joke?

 I can tolerate it, barely, as long as it doesn’t have candied fruit. That stuff makes me hurl.

Hate it. Reminds me too much of Rob Ford.

 I have no idea why people like fruitcake!

 In my early 20′s, I attempted to replicate baking a great cake I had tasted, for a boyfriend. I spent about $80 bucks on very fancy ingredients…and I’m pretty sure he still gave it to his Aunt Bertha, or used it as a door-stop. After that, I divorced fruitcake, along with the boyfriend.

But then I also had some very nice stories and memories, like these:

Love it! My mom would make it in the traditional style – soaking it in rum for a couple months before Christmas. Haters have never had real fruitcake. It should not be made with green and red square bits of fake fruit.

The boozier the better – and it has to have REAL fruit, not the scary neon green stuff.

Love it. But it has to made right – butter, sugar, spices, good quality dried fruit soaked in rum, and not over-baked.

 Love them! Also love brandy soaked Christmas Cake with schillings embedded! Everyone in the family has to take a turn at stirring for good luck!

I heard from a few people who talked about that idea of the shilling being baked into the cake and whoever got that piece when the cake was cut was in for some good luck. And over and over again I heard from people who said, ‘it has to be well-made with quality ingredients and properly baked and aged.’ A lot of that so-called candied fruit and peel is actually made from turnip or rutabaga, and who knows what kind of chemicals they put in some fruits to make them that bright colour many people despise. If you see a cake in a store that is labelled ‘Holiday Cake’, it means it doesn’t actually have fruit in it, but dyed vegetables instead.

I brought in some fruitcakes for Jo-Ann to taste, which all have stories. I think the most amazing story goes with the cake dipped in brandy, wrapped in cheesecloth, then parchment paper, then foil.  This cake was from the Harbourside Rotary Club of Victoria, which bakes over a thousand fruitcakes every year as a fundraiser. Usually they sell out, but as of airtime today they still have about 160 left. Email Ann Moscow at amoskow at shaw dot ca to see if they have any left. They only have the 750-gram dark cakes left at $25 each. They expect to raise about $17 thousand dollars this year which will be used to fund their various charitable projects.

Ramona Froehle-Schact also offered up a sample of her cake. Ramona is the founder of the Out of Hand Craft Fair which takes place next week in Victoria. She never has time before the show to make a fruit cake, but she made one last year following the fair, and unearthed one out of her freezer for me today. I thought it was great.

For people who just cannot get their heads into fruitcake, I brought in some panforte, a dense, chewy, Italian treat from Saison Café and Bakery in North Cowichan. Or you could try some stollen from any number of local European bakeries. Still contains dried fruit and usually a marzipan core, and is more breadlike. And soon the locally-made panettones from bakeries in Victoria will start hitting the shelves.

I’ll post some favourite fruitcake recipes here tomorrow. You know, if you start this weekend you might still get a bit of nice aging for the cake before Christmas.

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