After a long string of unrelated career choices in my early youth, including a detective (ages 8-10), a freelance spy/mercenary who resembled the comic book hero Punisher (ages 10-11), a professional baseball player/owner of baseball card store (age 11), a writer of paranormal fiction (age 12), I finally decided on horticulture (ages 13-18). I was obsessed with plants. I filled my dad’s house with so many potted plants that the windows would fog up. I couldn’t eat a fruit without planting its seeds, or enjoy an avocado without removing the pit and placing it in a glass of water to entice its roots to grow. Our kitchen looked like a mad science laboratory and windowsills became expensive real estate.
Looking back, it was a little eccentric that I spent several minutes each day breathing on each houseplant, to give them more air; or that I flipped yearningly through plant books while my friends were reading Batman comics or Playboys. I knew the Latin name for every potted plant and became irritatingly pedantic when visiting friends, if I came across a neglected or ill specimen. Nitrogen deficiency, I would say; or don’t give this guy a south facing window – shade is preferable; or, your fern needs watering (with a condemning scowl). I didn’t get invited out much.
During my last year of high school I was given a shiitake log by someone who knew of my love of growing things. These logs are pretty remarkable if you’ve never seen one before. It is a small log that has been coated, I’m guessing, by spores from this delicious fungi. After a few weeks sitting in a cool damp place, mushrooms begin to grow on and off for several months. I hadn’t really been a huge lover of fungi until then, but there is something wonderfully meaty and exotic with shiitake. Ranging anywhere from $4 to $8 a pound, I don’t often buy these expensive ingredients; although they are always a welcome treat in my kitchen, especially in this ginger-shiitake glaze paired with salmon which I know you’ll love.
You might think that Biscotti is a bit unconventional for a High Tea (and so did I), but it ended up being the perfect fit. These are crunchy enough that you can savour eating it through an entire cup of tea, but small and light enough that it doesn’t stop you from enjoying all of the other miniature goodies. They are very fast and surprisingly easy to make, and also offer many opportunities for personal variations. Enjoy playing around with the recipe and eating these with a good cup of coffee or tea.
the tea party spread in all its glory
I am not a connoisseur of many things. The nuances and subtleties of wine, beer, fast cars are all lost on me. I am, however, a lover of all teas irregardless of colour or origin. It was finally suggested to me that I host a tea party for friends, and I was very much up to the challenge. In my usual manner, I went to great lengths to create everything from scratch. In the end, I had quite the spread: cupcakes, blueberry scones, chocolate chip scones, sugar cookies, shortbread cookies, chocolate walnut biscotti, chocolate-dipped strawberries, miniature tea sandwiches and, of course, a plethora of tea. My favourite dessert I made was the one I was initially most intimidated by- cream puffs. Surprisingly, these were the most fun and the easiest to make out of all of them. Curiously, they were also the first dessert to be finished by the guests- in a mere 15 minutes!
I will hopefully share a few of the recipes (and photos!) from this great party, and these wonderful cream puffs will start it all off. Enjoyyour friends with this simple delicacy!
If you’ve never been to Nelson, British Columbia then you have been missing some of the most awe-inspiring natural landscapes that the province offers, as well as some of the best restaurants this side of Montreal. In addition to its brush with fame in the 80’s as the filming location for Steve Martin’s Roxanne, the town also has an eclectic music and arts scene, decent skiing and an economy that is apparently fuelled principally by the sale of psychotropics. The highlight of my stay was stumbling upon a couple of hidden gem restaurants that intrigued me with the novelty of their meals. Two side dishes, in particular, sent me reeling at the table: Masala Poutine with fromage frais and flash-fried risotto balls in panko.
I’ve tried unsuccessfully to duplicate the masala poutine. Hailing from La Belle Province I have a predisposition for poutine and anything deep fried, just as I have an ingrained dislike, equally strong, for Quebec’s other well known export, Celine Dion. I picked up a mandoline to emulate the style of fries, but to no avail. I’ve also ruined two batches of masala sauce concoctions, none of which are worthy of the original. When I finally do get this close enough to post, remind me to tell you the story about the time we introduced poutine to Laos.
The risotto balls, on the other hand, have agreed with my efforts of experimentation. I’ve strayed from the original ones I sampled, but did still choose to enrobe them in panko, with a quick dip in the deep fryer for crunchiness. I’ve also added a little bit of white wine, for added flavour and acidity, and stuffed the balls with mozza and a fire roasted red pepper fresh from my BBQ. I made each ball a little larger than a golf ball; and although their size is diminutive, they are tremendously filling, beware.
With the hot spell these last few days, lingering on from the sunny weekend, I’ve been staring longingly from my office window with wistful thoughts of approaching summer: a beach towel spread on a grassy field with a Nabokov novel, wine tasting on a wisteria-scented verandah, or evening bonfires with buttery corn on the cob and cold beer. I’m sure the productivity graph for most of my colleagues has shown a similar plunge. The weather in Victoria doesn’t stay agreeable for long this time of year, reassuringly for those with deadlines to meet, so undoubtedly this splendid sun-euphoria will be short-lived.
In the meantime, I’m going to induce an early summer any way that I can. I will play Beach Boys music and hop around the kitchen as I dry the dishes. I will wear my sandals, even when I can’t feel my toes in the cold of early morning. I’ve cleared out the wasp’s nest from inside my barbecue, unused through the wet winter, and have baptized it anew with a salmon fillet and sumptuous steak with melted blue cheese. I’ve knotted up my gums with my first corn on the cob of the season (imported from California, but corn nonetheless). I also picked up a basketful of inexpensive berries at the grocery store on the weekend. My reserves of jam are pretty well stocked, so when I saw pints of strawberries on sale, I knew that strawberry rhubarb pie beckoned instead, the quintessential summer treat. My unruly rhubarb plant has been giving me grief each time that I pass nearby with the mower, jabbing me irritatingly, so making this recipe was a good excuse to trim it a little.
Follow this simple Pie crust recipe for a no-fail two crust pie, or pick up one that is store bought if you want to save 10 minutes. But for the difference in taste and added crumbliness of homemade crust, I make my own from scratch every single time. Tonight, after the grilled steak and corn on the cob, why not turn on some Beach Boys and make room for dessert. Wouldn’t it be nice…
I was flipping through a cooking magazine the other day published by my favourite chef, Ricardo, a French Canadian cook with a penchant for preparing foods high in cholesterol, sugar and fat, or at least that’s the impression a reader would get from this one issue. The magazine features his take on all the (traditional) foods that I grew up with as a boy in Quebec, like hot chicken sandwiches smothered in gravy, poutine, mac and cheese, and chocolate donuts. As if this wasn’t incentive enough to pick up a copy, the remainder of the magazine paid homage to the splendours of chocolate and is replete with new and creative ways to rot teeth and keep dentists employed. One recipe in particular (if a recipe with a single ingredient even qualifies as a recipe) struck me as ingenious and I felt compelled to share it.
Those of you who work with me may already know I’m referring to a bowl made entirely of chocolate, like the one I brought in midweek to keep as far away as possible from my house. It is not as daunting as it appears and the method for creating it is so quick and easy that you’ll almost slap yourself after I reveal it. I feel like I’m giving away something esoteric, like a solution to the magic trick where a women gets sliced in half; but recipes, unlike David Copperfield secrets, are meant to be shared and enjoyed.
There are so many things one could do with the chocolate bowl, the least of which is devour it as is. They are also great to use for serving ice cream, cereal, or chocolate covered strawberries. I made the latter, as I had some melted chocolate leftover that I didn’t want to waste. I haven’t yet served hot soup in it, though I can pretty much guarantee your table cloth will need to be laundered. Enjoy!