For The Love Of Cooking

I guess I have always been a teacher at heart. Right from my first jobs at radio stations I worked at across Canada, I was always showing people how to do things, be they technical or writing/editing, as I worked my way up from supervisor to associate news director to producer. When I chose food and travel to be my specialty as a freelancer, soon enough came along the opportunity to teach Food and Travel Writing and Blogging courses at UBC, at first in person, but now in a 100% online format.

As I progressed to being a ‘food celebrity’ of sorts, one who enjoyed bringing food I had cooked into radio studios for hosts to taste, there came invitations to do cooking ‘demos’ to showcase a certain product or just to be on stage to add into the merriment of a festival or some sort of special event. I even raced then-CBC Radio host Rick Cluff to see who could whisk up a silky sabayon the fastest at the Pan Pacific Hotel’s Opera Buffet.

Somewhere along the way I was asked to teach cooking classes, and I did so for quite a few years, at Cook Culture in Victoria, Kilrenny Farm in the Cowichan Valley, and various one-offs here and there, especially during promoting my book, Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

But then life changed for a while. My food and travel journalism and cooking classes took back seat to my role as a union organizer and defender of freelancers’ rights at the Canadian Media Guild Freelance Branch.

I’ve really missed the food journalism and food educator part of my life. So…I’m leaping back in, just on a part-time basis at first. I’m very happy to have landed at The London Chef, a catering company and cooking school based in downtown Victoria. Starting this month, I’ll be teaching 1-2 classes a month in my favourite cuisines. Starting with some classic Sicilian dishes, a summery Italian menu, and moving on to teaching people about sustainable seafood. You can find the descriptions of all the menus on The London Chef website. These are really fun classes as they are all hands-on. You get your hands and aprons dirty as you learn how to make pasta from scratch and wrap pork chops in sage and prosciutto before cooking them with a Marsala/butter/sage sauce. I know, right?

So I hope you will join me for one of more of my courses. You will eat very well!

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Food Artisans – Dakini Tidal Wilds

The blog is back! As I prepare the second edition of my book, Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, I’m going to post about some of the new artisans who will be added. First up is Dakini Tidal Wilds.

Amanda Swinimer’s passion is kelp. Yes, that green stuff from the sea. Around 30 different kinds of kelp are found in the waters around Vancouver Island. It’s easy to get caught up in her passion if you listen to her talk about the medicinal and nutritional qualities of this seaweed she’s been harvesting on a commercial basis since the early 2000’s. Her sustainably-harvested products include dried winged kelp and bull kelp, rich in minerals and vitamins. Her dried product is available online and in many of the specialty shops described in this book.



Chefs also order seaweed from her to use on their menus. On an outing with Amanda to learn about seaweed off of Whiffin Spit near Sooke with chef Oliver Kienast of Wild Mountain Food & Drink, I was treated to seaweed tea, bread, spread, and even popcorn sprinkled with Dakini’s Kelp Flakes. Seaweed is loaded with umami, that mysterious fifth basic taste after sweet, salty, sour, and bitter that may be hard to describe other than saying, ‘tastes good’.

Amanda is a marine biologist and also a folk herbalist, which means she also makes medicinal salves out of seaweed. She told me she got turned onto seaweed while learning about wild crafting with herbs. “You should have seen my tiny one-bedroom apartment,” she laughs. “It was always laced wall-to-wall with long strings of seaweed hanging to dry.”

She says Dakini is a goddess found in Indian and Tibetan beliefs, among others. Her favourite definition fits her to a T, “The wild and free-dancing spirit of women.”

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Weekend Chef – The World’s Most Dangerous Flavour

bitterI was very excited to get a copy of Jennifer McLagan’s latest cookbook, Bitter, A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, in the mail this week. I’m a big fan of hers, and love cooking out of her three previous books, Bones, Fat, and The Odd Bits. She’s done a very good job of getting people to try new things with ingredients we just don’t use that much in our every day cooking.

Jennifer is traveling from Toronto to Vancouver and Victoria to promote her new book. On Friday the 23rd of January she’ll be doing a special event at The London Chef in Victoria. On Monday the 26th, her dinner event at Barbara-jo’s Books to Cooks in Vancouver is sold out, but you can still meet her before dinner for an ‘Apero’ at the store. Details are here.

Fennel, onion, chile, coriander and beer.

Fennel, onion, chile, coriander and beer.

I’m interviewing Jennifer on Friday for a special podcast I’m planning a little later on, but I couldn’t resist cracking open the book and trying a couple of recipes this weekend. I prepared Mussels in Beer from page 61, while Ramona took on a salad from page 12, Curly Endive with Miso and Chile Dressing. I cleaned the mussels of their beards while sautéing some chopped onion and fresh fennel together along with a hot chile pepper and a tbsp of coriander seeds, and then added a nice glass of Stella Artois beer before adding the mussels.




Curly endive and miso/chile dressing

Curly endive and miso/chile dressing

Ramona’s curly endive recipe looked a little strange at first because you end up cooking the endive, so I guess you could call it more of a side dish than a salad, but it served a great role as our vegetables for the evening, along with some home made frites! Garlic, ginger, a hot chile pepper and the miso were stirred in along with a chopped red bell pepper, which all developed a very tasty flavour profile.


Weekend Chef comes through again!

Weekend Chef comes through again!

So, curly endive, mussels, crusty baguette and frites fresh out of my little deep fryer made quite a great meal, and I’m not bitter about it at all! Watch this space in the days to come for the podcast with Jennifer as she reveals her passion for what she calls ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Flavour’.

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Weekend Chef – David Lebovitz, Chicken with Mustard

Paris KitchenSecond cookbook of this weekend was the one Ramona bought me for Christmas, David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. I like cookbooks for three reasons: The recipes, the photos and the writing. Lebovitz really comes through on the writing, although there are many Parisian recipes to try and lovely photos as well. Lebovitz tells great stories of his life in Paris, including a beautiful essay at the beginning of the book which is framed around his search for the perfect sink for his new kitchen. American by birth, and a professional cook and pastry chef, he’s been living in Paris since 2004.


Chicken simmering in the frypan.

Chicken simmering in the frypan.

Tonight I tackled the cover photo recipe, Chicken with mustard, page 169. It’s a fairly simple procedure, sautéing some diced bacon, onions, coating chicken legs and thighs in a mustard and paprika mix, getting them nice and browned, deglazing the pan with a glass of white wine and then putting the chicken back in and letting it simmer for 15 minutes or so.


Tonight's meal...

Tonight’s meal…

One slight quibble with the recipe. It tells you to stir in some more mustard and some creme fraiche, but it doesn’t tell you to remove the chicken first. Unless you do take the chicken out, it would be very difficult to get some action going on the stirring. That quibble aside, the chicken and its mustardy sauce, along with some blanched green beans and a bit of pasta tossed in butter with some chopped sage made for a great meal on a damp and dreary Sunday evening.




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Weekend Chef – Thai Red Lentil Soup

This is the first in an occasional series based on what my wife Ramona and I get up to in the kitchen on weekends. Hey, no filthy thoughts! Whenever I can adapt a recipe we’re trying for use in my Thermomix, that’s what the recipe format will reflect.

Plenty More

Plenty More

For Christmas I bought Ramona the new Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook, Plenty More. It’s a follow-up to his immensely popular vegetarian cookbook, Plenty. We’re both looking forward to cooking lots of recipes out of it over the coming year, even if I did joke to her we could just ‘add a sausage’ to every recipe.  The first recipe I tried was a steamed eggplant salad that relied on Asian flavours of sesame oil, soya sauce and rice vinegar. Today it was another Asian-influenced delight: Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil. 

We already had some great Macadamia Nut Chile oil we brought back from Hawaii so I didn’t see the necessity of making Ottolenghi’s, especially since we wanted this soup for lunch!

Ingredients of note: Coconut milk, Red Curry Paste, Chile Oil, and Fish Sauce

Ingredients of note: Coconut milk, Red Curry Paste, Chile Oil, and Fish Sauce

Substitutions: The original recipe calls for sugar snap peas. I used fresh green beans grown in Mexico, declining to purchase snap peas grown in China. I didn’t have lemon grass, so did without, with no ill effects, I think. And because I had turkey stock in the fridge, I used that to cook the red lentils instead of water. And I used Thai fish sauce instead of salt. So this recipe is not strictly vegetarian. So sue me 😉


Frozen 'fresh' Kaffir lime leaves

Frozen ‘fresh’ Kaffir lime leaves

*Plenty More ingredient listings use a mix of metric weights and Imperial volumes. I’m going to try to put everything in metric as I go along. The Thermomix has a built in scale, so I use that in conjunction with a small digital standalone scale. Standard Thermomix instructions are in this format: time/temperature/speed, just like the order you enter them on the machine. Remember, these are not always the original ingredients or methods used in the recipe, but my adaptation.

Serves Four


120 g fresh green beans, topped and tailed

3 tbsp (45 mL) vegetable oil (I used avocado)

160 g onions

1 1/2 tbsp (23 mL) Thai red curry paste

4 fresh Kaffir lime leaves, or 12 dried (I keep my fresh leaves in the freezer, so I used 12 of them)

250 g red lentils

1 400-ml can of coconut milk (recipe calls for 1 cup, or 250 mLs. Rather than have a bit of a can left, I used it all)

2 tbsp (30 mL) lime juice

2 tbsp (30 mL) soya sauce

1 tbsp (15 mL) fish sauce

1 cup/15 g cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Bring a small pan of water to a boil, throw in a large pinch of salt and then the green beans. Blanch for 90 seconds, drain and rinse with cold water. Set them aside to dry, then cut them on the diagonal about a third of the length of your forefinger. (don’t cut your finger!) Set aside.

Chop the onions in the Thermie. 3 secs/speed 7. Scrape down the bowl. Add the oil. Cook 5 mins/Temp 100/speed 1. Add the curry paste. Cooks 1 min/Temp 100/speed 1.

[Or, saute the onions in the oil until soft, stir in the curry paste, cook some more. Add the lime leaves, lentils and stock/water, bring to boil and simmer until lentils are completely tender.]

Scrape down the bowl. Add the lentils, lime leaves, and stock or water. Cook 15 mins/Temp 100/speed 1, reverse. (Reversing the blades means the lime leaves won’t get cut up. They’re rather tough and fibrous, so you want to be able to take them out easily when the lentils are cooked. I counted them going in and coming out.)

Take the lime leaves out of the soup and puree until completely smooth. 45 secs/speed 9. Add the lime juice, soya sauce, fish sauce, and coconut milk. Mix together 5 secs/speed 4. Reheat 3 mins/Temp 100/speed 3. (the soup will be quite thick by this time)

[Or transfer from pot to blender and puree. Stir in lime juice, soya sauce, fish sauce and coconut milk. Return to pot and reheat to almost boiling.]

Ladle the soup into bowls. Mound some of the beans into the middle of each bowl, sprinkle with cilantro, and drizzle with chile oil to taste.

The finished product

The finished product

While my soup didn’t have the darker reddish tone of the photo in the book (It was lighter in colour even before I added the coconut milk) it was very rich, silky smooth and nicely spiced. Add more or less fish sauce or chile oil to taste. Would I make it again? YES!

Tomorrow: Chicken with Mustard, from David Lebovitz’s ‘My Paris Kitchen‘.

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Step Into A New Career: Blogging, and Food and Travel Writing

Porto Empedocle, Sicily

Porto Empedocle, Sicily

It’s that time of year. Step up. Self-improvement? New hobby? New Career? New words on the page, that’s it! My UBC Continuing Studies Courses aimed at helping you be a better blogger, or getting you into the exciting field of food and travel writing, are set to start at the end of this month.

You have three choices: Food and Travel Writing In-Person. Eight Monday nights starting January 26th. Or you can take this course online over the same time period. Each week you open up a module of new readings and assignments, with much personal interaction with me and your classmates through online forums. The third course is Creating and Sustaining Your Blog, also offered 100% online beginning the end of January.

The advantage of the online courses is that you don’t have to be in the same place at the same time for eight weeks in a row, which works better for some students. Others prefer the ‘face to face’ aspect of the in-person class. Either way, I am ‘yours’ for two months so you can use my knowledge in these fields to get you going or improve what you’re already doing. For more information or to register, you can find all the courses on my page at the Continuing Studies website. And you can always contact me at don at don genova dot com. Hope to see you online or in-person very soon!

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