Food Matters – BBQ Gear and Summer Cocktails

Slow Smoked Ribs and Chicken Legs

Slow Smoked Ribs and Chicken Legs

My barbecue and pellet smoker have been working overtime this summer. Why heat up the house when you cook outside? Today on Food Matters, I presented a grab-bag of suggestions for your barbecue as well as a couple of cocktails you can easily make ‘pitcher-sized’ when you have friends coming over.

Regular listeners to my radio column will know that I own more than one barbecue, and they have both been getting a good workout this summer. I have a Traeger pellet smoker that has an electric fire chamber, auger and fan to keep the pellets and smoke moving smoothly, and I use it mostly to do slow barbecue items, like ribs and pork shoulder, it can run for hours on its own, but it also does an awesome beer can chicken when I crank it up to high.

The other main barbecue I use is an Ultra Chef propane barbecue made by Napoleon, but sometimes I steal some of the wood pellets from the Traeger and put them in a foil packet on one of the burners to add some smoky flavour. So actually my first tip today is just that. You can buy little metal chambers to put the wood chips or pellets of your choice onto a propane grill burner to give your food some more flavour, or just make a little packet out of tin foil, poke it a few times with a fork and put it on a burner on low heat to add some smoke.

Grilling onions on Brazilian Ice soapstone grilling stones

Grilling onions on Brazilian Ice soapstone grilling stones

Lots of people are now into grilling pizzas on their barbecues, which could get a little dangerous if they end up sticking to the grill, so that’s where pizza stones and bakers come in. I have a traditional clay stone, but I’ve also been experimenting with something that is a little more portable so you can even take it camping with you. I have two grilling stones from an Edmonton company called the Grilling and Chilling Soapstone Company (formerly known as Brazilian Fire and Ice). They are made completely out of soapstone, heat up very evenly, are beautifully non-stick, and are easy to clean. I discovered them when I was cooking my way through Ted Reader’s Gastro Grilling cookbook, which has just been shortlisted in the Single Subject cookbook category of the Taste Canada awards. Ted likes to use these stones especially for grilling onions…and so do I!

 

Gastro Grilling, by Ted Reader

Gastro Grilling, by Ted Reader

Using Brazilian Fire and Ice grilling stones to bake naan bread

Using Brazilian Fire and Ice grilling stones to bake naan bread

Here’s Ted’s recipe for Whiskey Grilled Onions on top of some grilled chicken thighs, along with some Indian-style naan flatbread which I also baked on the stones. I made the naan dough in my Thermomix.

 

 

Bakerstone Pizza Oven

Bakerstone Pizza Oven

Also for pizzas, a friend of mine has one of these things called the Bakerstone Pizza Oven Box. You put it right on top of your bbq grill. It’s a metal box with baking stones inside, a thermometer on top, and the idea is that you can get the inside of this thing up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit by using both radiant and convective heat. 750 degrees means you can bake a pizza in just a few minutes and get that great crispy crust like they do in commercial pizza ovens. I love the pizzas I tasted from it but please measure your grill before buying one (they’re about 120 bucks) because my grill is just a little too small for this contraption.

The meal, with the three different alcoholic products I featured this week

The meal, with the three different alcoholic products I featured this week

Some drinks to go along with all this food? Three words. Aperol, Campari and Pimm’s. The first two are flavoured alcohols from Italy. Campari is a little more bitter than the Aperol, which has more of an orange flavour to it. Just add some soda to a shot of Campari and a slice of lemon or orange and you have a very refreshing ‘aperitivo’, as it’s called in Italy. Aperol goes well with a little orange juice and soda water for an Aperol Spritz, you could make it with bubbly prosecco if you want more alcohol, but if you want to keep it light and you’re in a rush I just love to add it to an iced glass of blood orange soda.

Finally, a Pimm’s. Pimm’s Number One Cup is a gin-based herbal concoction invented in England back in 1823. The most common way to drink it is to mix it up with lemonade and/or ginger ale and throw in some sliced fruit and cucumbers. All of these liquors are herbal in nature and they make great before dinner cocktails to get your appetites in shape for the barbecue!

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Food Matters – Knifewear

Knifewear Pop-up store at Fernwood Coffee

Knifewear Pop-up store at Fernwood Coffee

The cooking scene in Victoria just got a little bit sharper. Yesterday (July 30th) a pop-up version of a Canadian kitchen knife retailer opened in the Fernwood Coffee roasting room to give knife aficionados here on the Island a chance to look at, feel, try and perhaps buy a new slicer for their kitchens. I told Stephen Smart all about it today on this week’s edition of Food Matters on CBC Radio’s All Points West.

I have around 8 knives in my kitchen that I use on a regular basis. Some are special use, for paring, boning, and bread. Then I rotate around four as my regular chef knives that I use mostly for cutting vegetables. They are a mix of Japanese and European knives and it’s safe to say I am very particular about having good, sharp knives to use in the kitchen, but I’m always looking for something special. 

 

Kevin Kent, Knifewear Owner

Kevin Kent, Knifewear Owner

The pop-up shop I visited yesterday in Fernwood is a travelling road show of handmade Japanese knives put together by Kevin Kent and his team of employees at Knifewear. This is a company that started in Calgary and also has shops in Kelowna, Edmonton, and Ottawa. I first walked into a Knifewear shop in Ottawa earlier this year and was really impressed with the selection and the knowledge of the staff. But when I met Kevin in person yesterday I wanted to know how he came to start the business. It all started when he was working as a chef in London, England: I bought a Japanese knife one day when I was at a chef’s convention and all of a sudden I had one of those ‘light goes off-bing’ in my head that ‘ah, that’s what a knife is supposed to work like’. So then I replaced all my knives with Japanese. When I moved back to Calgary I just couldn’t find anything in all of Canada that was any good, so I thought I would import a few Japanese knives, sell them to chefs, be able to buy more of my own and then open my own restaurant, which is what I always wanted to do. Now here I am years later with five knife shops and I’m not cooking anymore!”

My sharpened Sabatier slicing through newspaper

My sharpened Sabatier slicing through newspaper

Kevin doesn’t dismiss all non-Japanese knives. I brought him an old European knife that was given to me by my brother-in-law who thought it might be special and it is. It’s a Sabatier, one of the finest European knife manufacturers.  it is made entirely of carbon steel, not stainless, so it looks kind of ugly because of the patina it has developed, but Kevin was excited to see it and gave it a good sharpening for me. Still, Japanese are his favourites for a reason: “Japanese knives are made out of harder steel, and harder steel makes a sharper edge and it will stay sharper for longer. Do they cost more? Yes and no. I have knives in the shops that start around $60. Then they go up from there, and yes, some of them can cost a couple of mortgage payments. The cost can vary because certain types of steel cost more, and you also have to think about how the knives are made. Some of the knives start out by having machinery flatten them, and then you also get blacksmiths making knives, so someone like Kato San who is over 70 years old and starts off a knife with a hammer, steel and a fire, well, they cost a bit more.”

 

Decisions, decisions!

Decisions, decisions!

But if you are making a mortgage payment-sized investment, here are some factors to consider: Kevin says always go to a shop where you can test the knife.  Get a feel for it. Check the balance, the weight, how it feels in your hand. What do you want to use it for? While I was there yesterday Rebecca Teskey was there, she’s the co-owner of the Village Butcher in Oak Bay. She already has one knife she got from Knifewear but was there looking for another, and there’s a big difference for her in the kind of knife she might use at home, and the kind of knife she might use while she’s cutting up chickens at the Village Butcher, so the Knifewear employees were helping her make her decisions based on the way the knife is ultimately going to be used.

My new knife at work!

My new knife at work!

I purchased a Takamura chef’s knife, 7-inch blade, made of powder steel. It took Kevin a year to track down Takamura-san after seeing his knives displayed at a train station in Japan, and now he’s a major fan. Nothing really fancy, but glides through food and apparently doesn’t have to be babied as much as some powder steel blades. I did not spend a mortgage payment on this but it did check in at $250. However, as Kevin says, if you properly care for your knife, it should last a lifetime: “Everything here will last, if you take care of it. Don’t put it in the dishwasher. Use it on a cutting board, and by that I mean a wooden cutting board, have it sharpened now and again, and it should last you a lifetime, or lifetimes. My son and daughter are going to inherit some really nice knives. As a chef, I retired one or two knives, because I was sharpening them every week, using them 10 hours a day, but now, they only get sharpened once every eight months or so, they last a lot longer.” 

Why are we paying so much more attention to knives now? It’s like so many things in the world of food and wine. Food media, especially good food magazines and some television shows, are getting us back into cooking, and are willing to go into a lot of detail on different ways for us to spend our disposable income. It’s why we bother to learn the difference between local and imported foods, craft beers and industrial beers, for example, and support all those farmers’ markets that have sprung up over the past few years.

Knife Skills Illustrated, by Peter Hertzmann

Knife Skills Illustrated, by Peter Hertzmann

A few more notes: Knifewear is only open at Fernwood Coffee until Sunday, August 3rd, after that you’ll have to do mail order. I came across a great book last week at a used bookstore called Knife Skills Illustrated, by Peter Hertzmann, and shows you in drawings all the different ways to cut various things up when you’re cooking, advice on knives and cutting boards, and all the instructions are doubled up to cover whether you are right-handed or left-handed, which is a great touch. Also came across a great episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show which shares some very common cooking techniques as shown by some of the world’s best chefs. Great way to learn some basic stuff like roasting a chicken, cutting an onion and even frying a hamburger.

Here’s a gallery of some of the knives in the pop-up shop. Click to enlarge. The last photo is of Kevin using a wet and dry sharpening stone system to get my old Sabatier into shape.

Here is the full interview I did with Kevin Kent. I started by asking him about the experience about buying a knife at a specialty shop. To hear the shorter talk I did with Stephen Smart about Knifewear, click here. (the file should be available by later today or Monday)

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Food Matters – Summer Reading 2014

Sous Chef

Sous Chef

It looks like the next week, and hopefully weeks, are going to be hot and sunny across British Columbia. It’s time for the beach, your deck, or maybe just some air conditioned comfort. Because when it gets too hot to move, one of the best things to do is relax with a good book. When I relax with a book, of course it usually has something to do with food, and as I prepare to take a couple of weeks off, I’m willing to share my reading list with you.

Over the summer I like to leave most of the cookbooks on the shelf except when searching for some inspiration after shopping for the produce of the season, but otherwise I want something that will keep my whole attention occupied for chapters at a time. That includes non-fiction and fiction and this week I have curated a short list for foodies, as well as for kids who are interested in food.

The Third Plate, by Dan Barber

The Third Plate, by Dan Barber

A foodie friend of mine highly recommended The Third Plate, Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber. She said this takes the books of food journalist Michael Pollan to another level. Pollan of course, is famous for his books called the Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, in which he urges us to get closer to a simpler food life, but The Third Plate goes to the source of food we get from farms. Dan Barber is an award-winning chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Pocatino Hills just north of New York City. He describes “first plate” as a classic meal centered on meat with few vegetables. But he says many people are now eating from the “second plate,” the new ideal of organic, grass-fed meats and local vegetables. Barber says neither of those plates supports the long-term productivity of the land. His “third plate” is a new pattern of eating rooted in cooking with and celebrating the whole farm—an integrated system of vegetable, grain, and livestock production. So I’m really interested in reading that and seeing how he addresses the question of ‘whole farms’ being able to support our urban populations and whether farmers’ markets are seen as a help or a hindrance to his system.

The Third Plate spends a lot of time on the farm, something that takes us into a kitchen is  Sous Chef, 24 Hours on the Line, by Michael Gibney. This book is not quite Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential in that it’s not an autobiography. But the 24 hours in the kitchen of Gibney unfolds in second person narrative…so it puts YOU in the kitchen, experiencing everything that hardworking chefs go through behind the scenes at a breakneck pace in this fictional day that is based on the years of experience Gibney has had working at every single station in a kitchen from dishwasher up to chef.

I think ever since we started getting chef-centred shows on the Food Network, and then branching out onto other networks, young people have started viewing being a chef as quite a glamorous career, especially when you see how rich and famous chefs like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain have become.  So we’ve seen more chef schools opening, enrolments going up…but I think a book like Sous Chef should be required reading so people know exactly what they are getting into if they decide the kitchen is a place for their career.

Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders by Kevin Sylvester

Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders by Kevin Sylvester

Sous Chef is a dose of reality for young adults, so for a good taste of food in fiction,I’ve just started reading the Neil Flambé series by Kevin Sylvester. People may remember Kevin as a sports host here on CBC Radio and he still turns up from time to time on network radio, but Kevin is also a very good artist and has a flair for a good mystery as well, based on his creation, Neil Flambé, a 14-year old chef who has people lined up to get into this restaurant. Not only is he a good chef, but he also likes to solve mysteries in his spare time. The first book of the series is called ‘Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders’, it opens with Marco Polo on his deathbed in Venice, then swoops ahead to the present to the theft of Marco Polo’s secret notebook, then straight to Neil’s restaurant where he is berating a fish monger on the phone for delivering a stinky salmon to him. And that’s all within the first few pages. I’m certainly not a young adult any more but I think I’m going to be hooked on Neil Flambé.

All Four Stars, by Tara Daiman

All Four Stars, by Tara Daiman

In turn, Kevin Sylvester has recommended another young adult novel that has today (July 10th) as it’s publication date and it sounds like a lot of fun. It’s called ‘All Four Stars’ by Tara Daiman. Here’s the synopsis: All Four Stars chronicles the adventures of 11-year old Gladys Gatsby, who, thanks to an unlikely series of events, suddenly becomes a professional good critic for a major New York City newspaper. Sounds like fun to me!

 

 

 

 

Angelica's Smile, by Andrea Camilleri

Angelica’s Smile, by Andrea Camilleri

Want something a little more racy? Just in time  for the summer comes another Inspector Montalbano mystery from the pen of Italian writer Andrea Camilleri called Angelica’s Smile. This time our inspector gets seduced over dinner by the Angelica in the title. And I have one more book for you that gives you some good reading as well as a bunch of Italian recipes. Donna Leon is the author of the Inspector Brunetti series of mysteries, set in Venice. Food always plays a role in the Brunetti family life and eventually people started demanding that Donna Leon supply the recipes for the meals described in her books.

 

Brunetti's Cookbook,

Brunetti’s Cookbook, by Roberta Pianaro and Donna Leon

So, Brunetti’s Cookbook is a fantastic collection of recipes put together by Roberta Pianaro, interspersed with culinary stories from the chapters of Leon’s books. I love it, and I’ve made several recipes from this book already.

On another note, Vancouver Island’s Andrew Shepherd is in the running for a $100,000 business grant from in  The Globe and Mail’s Small Business Challenge ContestHe can really use this money to grow his Vancouver Island Salt Company and he is one of four semi-finalists from across the country and you can vote for him right here.

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Food Matters – Biscotti di Notte

Most food-based businesses these days start out with a business plan.  Planning for profit is important, of course, but what about a business plan that includes saving those profits for a trip to your homeland of Italy? That’s part of the plan for the island artisan I profiled on CBC Radio’s All Points West this week.

photo 2Traveling to Italy sounds like a very specific part of a business plan, but it was a clear dream for Mirella Trozzo of Qualicum Beach when she started her small baking company ten years ago. A couple of weeks ago I visited Mirella at her home-based business, Biscotti di Notte, where she has built a lovely little commercial kitchen in the garage. The whole business came about by way of a sort-of challenge from her husband: “I always wanted to visit Italy, I have never been since I got here, and my husband, typical Italian, seven years older than me, said, ‘where are you going to get the money?’ and since I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, I guess I needed to start some sort of home-based business, and that’s what I did.”

 

Mirella's almond biscotti

Mirella’s almond biscotti

The name of her business, Biscotti di Notte, means Biscotti, for the Italian twice-baked cookie commonly dunked into coffee, and Notte, for night. She started making the biscotti late at night, when her two young boys were asleep and she could get some time to herself. Once she had perfected her recipe, things started to take off: “I brought some to my son’s elementary school, and the teachers there went nuts for them and wanted to buy them, then some cafes started buying them from me, and now I’m also in Quality Foods, and they have a number of stores on the island, and I’m actually starting to have a problem keeping up with the demand.”

 

Mirella Trozzo

Mirella Trozzo

The first thing that makes them stand out is that they are actually different from most other store-bought biscotti. Mirella only bakes them once, but she bakes them on special stones in her oven and makes them in rectangular metal moulds she had specially made. It took her a year to perfect the recipe, which was adapted from her family’s original recipe. It’s a very labour intensive process, but Mirella is pleased with what she came up with: “I really love the result, the texture is beautiful and I try to stay true to using the best quality ingredients whenever possible, pure vanilla or vanilla beans, I roast all the nuts myself before putting them in the batter. And then I have come up with different flavours, so for Seedy Saturday I have an all-seed biscotti, and for our community event Fire and Ice I came up with a chocolate, lime and chilli biscotti, where you get the sweet chocolate when you first taste it and then you get the hot chilli.” 

 

Inside Mirella's kitchen

Inside Mirella’s kitchen

Mirella hasn’t restricted her business strictly to the biscotti, I brought in a couple of other treats as well…including an Italian shortbread, which is more ball-shaped than traditional flat shortbreads. It’s stuffed with roasted pecans, and coated with icing sugar. You also have a piece of chocolate cinnamon vanilla pizzelle there. Mirella says the pizzelle is the oldest cookie in the world, tracing roots to the 8th century in her home region of Abruzzo. This is the very flat wafer pressed and baked in a decorative iron press, traditionally made with the licorishy flavour from anise, but Mirella has come up with some more modern flavours.

But you know what? She’s been at this for ten years now and she still hasn’t made that trip to Italy! Life happens, she says. Two young teenage boys, so there are tutors and braces and sports and it just hasn’t happened yet, but she knows that someday soon it will, and she wants to use the trip to learn how to make even better products. 

DSC_3799I really hope she gets there. She came to Canada when she was just a baby, and I just know she will love Italy when she goes for her long-awaited visit. In the meantime, you will find Mirella at the Errington Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. Come back to this page in a little bit, because I’m adding some photos of her wonderfully vintage decorated commercial kitchen which you can visit on certain days.

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Food Matters – Alcohol Sales at Farmers’ Markets

Farmers’ markets are now in full swing across BC, with more and more crops coming into their harvest seasons, nugget potatoes, snap peas, early garlic, and…wine? Yes, very soon you will start seeing local wine, beer, mead and spirit producers with their own booths at BC farmers markets.

Serving SeaCider

Serving SeaCider

In a bid to update many of our archaic liquor laws, the provincial government is now allowing the sale of beer, wine, cider and spirits at farmers’ markets across BC. And because we are talking farmers’ markets, the organizers at many farmers’ markets will apply the same standards as they do to their other vendors, in that they will focus on local producers of these beverages. I’ve seen wines and spirits for sale at farmers’ markets in Oregon and all over Europe. You can get a little taste of what the producers are selling, and it all seems to take place in a quite civilized manner. After all, people are not buying drinks, they are just getting little sips to try.

Of course there are some regulations. I spoke with Elizabeth Quinn, the executive director of the BC Farmers’ Market Association, and she’s just sent the regulations out to her member markets. She says many of the regulations came about with the association’s direct consultation with the provincial government. Any liquor vendor at a market will have to have their ‘Serving It Right’ certificate, and they also must have an existing storefront where people can already buy their products. Some markets have let her know they are not interested in having the beverage producers there, while others are wholeheartedly embracing it. She says how each farmers’ market decides to integrate the producers will be up to the individual market, since they all have their own unique culture, and some municipal bylaws may have to be amended if they don’t already allow liquor sales to take place at public venues like the markets.

I’ve received a variety of reactions from some of the beverage producers I know on the Island.  Stephen Schacte in Duncan has been planning and building his Ampersand distillery for the past three and a half years and he’s just about ready to start producing gin and some specialty liquors like a tayberry-infused vodka made from berries at Sol Farm, which he and his wife Ramona own. They have already been selling their fruits and vegetables at the market, so now he’s really looking forward to being able to greet their regular customers and new ones at the market with his products. I’m going to go out and visit his distillery for a future column because he tells me the still he’s building is unlike any other.

Peter Kimmerly of Island Spirits Distillery

Peter Kimmerly of Island Spirits Distillery

But up at Hornby Island, Peter Kimmerly from Island Spirits Distillery (the folks that make pHrog gin and vodka) says he’s not interested in doing farmers’ markets, especially off-island, because he has more than enough people coming right to his door these days, and a lot of his profit can be eaten up by just taking the ferry to the mainland.

One of the larger producers near me in Cobble Hill is Merridale Cidery, where co-owner Rick Pipes helped lead the way in getting liquor laws friendlier to the artisan distilling industry. Rick’s wife Janet Docherty says she thinks the idea of being able to promote your craft at local markets is great; she’ll definitely look into it, likely won’t bother sampling their ciders there, but they would like to get people tasting and more familiar with their distilled products such as their apple and pear brandies. And I got the same reaction from Linda Holford at Rocky Creek Winery and Marilyn Schulze at the Venturi-Schulze Vineyards. Linda already has her application in to the Duncan Farmers’ Market so I wouldn’t be surprised if Rocky Creek is one of the first producers will we see at a market here on Vancouver Island.

Spirits from Merridale Estate Cidery

Spirits from Merridale Estate Cidery

Potential downsides to this? As Marilyn Schulze said to me today, the devil is in the details. Anything new to established set-ups or a cultural change may take a little while to settle out. Each market will have to determine how they will deal with the new vendors coming in. Steve Schacte was concerned all the producers may get lumped into one area, where he would rather just add on to his established table for his farm. Elizabeth Quinn told me the Whistler Farmers’ market has already decided to limit their vendors to one craft brewery, one distillery and one winery each week, and they will rotate among the different producers who want to come in so no one gets an exclusive run at the market. So I just hope that the markets themselves don’t add on too many unnecessary or cumbersome regulations that would end up driving the artisans away instead of encouraging them, because I think this has the potential to be a great way to encourage more local spirit production in this province.

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Food Matters – Foodie Film Fest

fffThree words for the weekend. Food, film and fun. The second annual Foodie Film Festival kicks off in Victoria tomorrow and the organizers are sure they have chosen a delicious line-up. I have to admit I totally missed it, somehow it was not on my radar last year but I know all about it this year and people who like film and like food are in for a treat. It’s not a big festival, but does give you a good taste for some of the more entertaining and informative food films that are out there right now. I talked with Kathy Kay from the Victoria Film Festival, who also curates this weekend’s festivities, and she told me that they came up with this idea in the first place as something to fill in the gap between the film festival dates, and thought they might as well do combine things that people like to do in Victoria, like eat, drink and watch films.

This is more than just simple screenings with popcorn and soda. Your ticket price includes snacks themed to match the ethnicity of the films, as well as beverages, including cocktails.  All the films being shown at the David Foster Foundation Theatre at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel have food conceived of by executive chef Iain Rennie, things like samosas and curries for the Indian-based movie, noodle box for the Japanese film, and so on. One of the screenings even takes place at the de Vine winery in Saanichton, with snacks from Chiarellis. The Food and Beverage team at the hotel has also been busy coming up with beer and cocktail pairings for the showings there. 

I have to confess that I have watched an advance copy of Jadoo: Kings of Curry, about the feuding restaurateur brothers and it really is charming and funny and you will definitely be hungry if you don’t have something to eat before you see the film.

People are cocktail crazy in Victoria with all the different bars and lounges and even the Art of the Cocktail festival. In the Hey Bartender documentary viewers will see an almost fanatical dedication to the craft of making a cocktail in that film, and a real variety of characters who work and tend bar at the various venues featured in the movie.  A reminder that tickets are sold only in advance to the festival, use the link above to get to the box office.

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