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A Month of Sundays

It has certainly been an interesting year. This time last year, I had my resignation letter written but not submitted, my stomach full of butterflies, and no certainty what I would be doing in the fall. I would never have ventured to guess that my life would be focused on thinking of how to help our next generation of young chefs attain their goals and learn their craft well without that involving me picking up a frying pan on a daily basis, but am happy to be in a position where that is actually the reality. I have neglected my musings here as I have been absorbed in much technical writing updating our provincial cooking programs and all of the related support materials, travelling around the province and meeting firsthand all of the schools that teach culinary arts and their local industry folks. What a great group of people we have here! It’s no wonder the food is so good in BC.

I have managed to squeeze out a few barbecues in between the raindrops, and have posted the first in a series of summer recipes from those dinners. I was out in Langley last week for a meeting and took the opportunity to swing by JD farms and pick up a free range turkey to celebrate the summer solstice. The first of the local strawberries graced our table as well, so I made my Grandmother’s famous summer fruit pie, a staple of any barbecue at the Green family compound. A few cold beverages on the patio nibbling homemade tortilla chips with tapenade and a scallop salsa was the perfect setting to pass the time catching up with some friends as we were seduced by the gentle smoking of said turkey nearby.

Other dinners have included a couple of “cowboy steaks”, a slow roasted pork shoulder, and the usual suspects of ribs, chicken, potato salad, and biscuits. I’ll get the recipes for those done before we hit the road for 3 weeks of an extended road trip through California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah starting mid July. Until then, happy cooking!

Dennis

Meeting the Kings-from inquisitive cook to “green” chef, part 2

(continued from part 1, September 8, 2007)

It was the spring of 1990, and as we prepared for a move to the country, a new direction in cooking and thinking about food for myself, and having just been married the summer previous had led me to a certain place and time. As I discussed with Herb the need to find farmers to supply me with “regular” produce, he gave me a number and said, “Call Gary King” I immediately picked up the phone, and made an introduction, told Gary of my direction and what I was looking for, and we had a conversation, one that would define how I would conduct business for the remainder of my career, as it would turn out.

Everything I had been taught about designing a menu for a restaurant and finding suppliers relied on a few main principles: Decide what you want to put on your menu, find the ingredients, and get the best price you can on everything. Pick the best products from each of your suppliers, and always shop around for a better deal.

As it would turn out, my conversation with Gary placed the relationship between supplier (farmer) and chef in a whole different context. It went something like this:

DG: I’m looking for a supplier of organic vegetables for my small restaurant and was given your name by Herb Barbolet as someone who might be able to supply me. What do you have?

GK: Let me tell you about our farm. My wife Naty and I have been farming here in the Hazelmere Valley since 1984. We have 10 acres which grow a large variety of crops: root vegetables, potatoes, herbs, shallots, tomatoes, greens, beans, corn, and the best strawberries in the Fraser Valley. We supply a number of restaurants, of which our biggest clients are the William Tell and the Raintree. Being our biggest supporters, they always have first dibs on things we have in limited supply, and when we supply someone new we have two rules: Our relationship and farming philosophy relies on you purchasing a variety of products, not picking and choosing a few select items here and there, and I won’t consider selling to you unless you come and visit the farm. Phone Lars Jorgensen and Rebecca Dawson if you like (chefs at William Tell and Raintree, respectively) and they will be happy to share information with you about us and other organic farms.

DG: I’ll be there this afternoon

Once I finished my brunch service, I hopped in my little Honda and drove the 45 minutes out to the farm to see what it was all about. Gary met me at the barn and for an hour we walked the fields, looking at plants, tasting, talking about farming and organics and companion planting. Seeing the strawberry patch, I expressed interest, and Gary continued on the morning’s train of thought: “If you buy my potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, herbs, beans, corn and squash all year, I’ll consider selling you some of our strawberries. They are unbelievable, and therefore are reserved for those customers who support us fully year round. I’m not interested in dealing with chefs who only buy based on price, and aren’t willing to come to the farm and see what we do here first. Organic farming is about diversity, and in order for the farm to remain healthy, a large variety of crops must be grown and rotated in order to keep the nutrients in the soil in balance naturally.”

I took a few vegetables, picked fresh from the ground and the next day called the two chefs Gary had suggested and followed up on the conversations we had. Both of them said the same thing and really helped me understand the alternative train of thought. In order for small farmers to survive, chefs had to be open to buying everything they grew, and finding creative ways to incorporate those into the menu allowed both the farmer to maintain diversity and the chef to think about food from an ingredient first point of view. Yes, you could find products cheaper, but the freshness of “picked that morning” produce meant far better flavour, shelf life, and yield, and therefore the cost difference was much less than you would think. Also, the relationship with the farmer on a year round basis meant paying the same price all the time, rather than fluctuating seasonal prices in the market place. Once something was gone for the year, it came off the menu, and you would move to something else, again helping to develop seasonal creativity. They also both stressed the need of more chefs to subscribe to the philosophy and put their money where their mouth was, if we were ever going to have the kind of network of small farmers and regional suppliers that was present in Europe and California.

Having been newly indoctrinated into the organic, seasonal, local food movement, I embraced this new approach with open arms. My drive to work, once we moved to Aldergrove, started to mean regular side trips down country roads looking for farm stands and signs of product for sale. My attendance at the BCARA meetings became a regular monthly occurrence, and every farmer I met led me to meet another. By that summer, I had met a supplier for free range eggs, chicken, naturally raised pork, a custom sausage maker dedicated to old fashioned practices and natural ingredients, other farms which supplied ingredients that the Kings didn’t have, organic beef from the Chilcotin, fruit from the Similkameen, as well as sources for organic staples like grains, flour, and cheese. (at that point there were no locally made small cheese producers), but it was certainly apparent that this local movement would only continue to grow, it was only a matter of time before it went mainstream.

Hand in hand with that came the approach to seafood that I would adopt as the only sensible option: local species, in season, no farmed salmon, and FRESH FRESH FRESH. I was lucky to have a great supplier in Deluxe Seafood who understood the need to go out of their way to supply a small restaurant with certain products, like picking through 100 pounds of fresh sole to find me 10 lb of thick fillets, and it too was the start of a long relationship that would last me 20 years in small restaurants. In those days, openings for things like halibut and fresh spot prawns were sporadic, and knowing that I did the menu twice a week and ran a daily special, the 7 am phone call from Dave became a regular occurrence, saying the halibut boats were coming in or the prawn fisherman was about to land. Again, it became the fisherman who decided the menu, not the chef, and learning to wait and see what you would get to cook became a philosophy as well as develop skills that would serve me well for years to come.

My days became adventure before cooking, an exploration and a farm visit in the country to discover the menu, then off to the restaurant to cook it. Weekly excursions to Edenvale (then the largest organic farm in the valley) Hazelmere, Glorious Garnish, as well as the egg ladies (I had two, and would bring extra in for my Avalon milkman and his customers), P&G sausage, and more provided a year of inspiration and direction. A few praises in the press, as well as a few misses, chalked up to youth and inexperience, and I really thought we were on the verge of a real breakthrough in Vancouver. In those days there were few places to by natural foods and organic ingredients, Capers in West Van, a few co-ops, Kits Natural, and Sweet Cherubim were about it, but you could sense that there was a real market for wholesome ingredients, as the boomers began to turn 40.

Then came recession, and with it change.

We went through an ownership change, and although the status quo was left for a while, it was quite apparent that the vision my previous boss had shared with me was not shared, and by the spring of the following year, It was decided that a different direction would be taken. Since that direction involved getting rid of all of the “expensive” ingredients for a better bottom line, something I was not willing to do, I was sent on my way. Ideals still intact, I retreated home to contemplate.

(end part two. Next, from kings to bishops with a stop in between)

Busy Busy Busy

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been remiss in my postings here, and although the last month and a half has been hectic, there has been some cooking going on in my life. I’ve collected some recipes together from some of the extracurricular activities that have been on my plate and shared them with all of you today.

January marked the start of a busy season, getting ready for upcoming trade shows, conventions, and such, as well as being invited to be one of 6 guest Chefs in the BC Hospitality Foundation fundraising dinner on the 28th. Never being one to decline an honour to cook alongside some friends (old and new) for a cause, I was paired up with Hills Foods to prepare a couple of appetizers and the main course. For starters, a wild boar pate was suggested, so we made a nice recipe that included dried cranberries and boar bacon, topped it with spiced beet relish and served it on pumpernickel toast. There were a variety of vegetables offered as well as some wild huckleberries, so the other hors d’oeuvre was a winter vegetable fritter with huckleberry compote. The main course was to be venison, so a simple, yet elegant preparation including roasted venison loin, caramelized vegetables, and herb gnocchi was decided upon.

The first order of business was a press dinner the week prior, a chance to meet the others involved and see the menu in its entirety. A resounding success, there was everything from local scallops, wild mushrooms, an exquisite study of local duck, the venison, and a selection of cheeses, followed by an exceptional dessert courtesy of Greg Hook at Chocolate Arts. My colleagues (Lisa Aheir, Ben Genaille, Rob Feenie, Daryle Nagata, Greg Hook, and myself) represented the province in great fashion, co-ordinated masterfully by Daryle Nagata at the Pan Pacific and his exceptional team.

The main event the week later, following on the heels of a busy weekend at the foodservice expo was also without incident, and a successful event for the foundation. February rolled into view and along came several events in close succession, all involving classes. I had been invited out to Wellbrook Winery, a fruit winery close to home to do a class in the evening, and did a nice light late winter menu of a prawn hot pot, goat cheese and beet salad, trout with mussel chowder, and pears poached in one of their wines with hazelnut shortbread. A lot of fun, good food, and a good time was had by all (including the teacher) To finish the week, I had back to back classes, first an all day seminar with 30 high school teachers for a professional day, also a blast. We packed the agenda with deboning chicken and trout, making about 10 recipes all together varying from mushroom risotto to creme brulee. Saturday’s class was a birthday dinner for a group of dedicated foodies, and we had a nice relaxed evening making goat cheese pate, grilled quail with mushrooms, a citrus and avocado salad, the roasted venison dish from the hospitality dinner, and chocolate souffle. All in all a busy week, but a great time and some great food was the theme of the week, and I had a chance to meet some great new people.

My family has not starved throughout this period, I’m glad to report, and I have catalogued a few dinner recipes to share soon, I promise. Until then, there are some new recipes to try, all of which have been a part of the last month’s events, some more than once!

Enjoy,

Dennis

The Last Supper (of 2007 that is)

In the 20 years since I first picked up a saute pan as a way to earn a living, there have been two occasions on which I have not had to work on the night of December 31, the first being 1994 when I was the Pastry Chef at Bishop’s, hence a daytime shift, and the second 1999, as we were closed for the Millennium. And then there was this year, and the first occasion that really felt like a night to enjoy the evening for what it is, an evening marking change, new beginnings, or whatever you want to think of it, but a fine night for a fine meal for certain.

I had the fortunate circumstance of the calendar on my side, having the weekend to decide to cook a nice dinner, and the time to prep, with only a half day to work in the office Monday morning. My wife and I had decided that we should invite some good friends over in an impromptu fashion, and I set about for Sunday to plan the meal. I had just cooked quite a fantastic dinner/class for a birthday dinner for some clients two weeks earlier, and two dishes from that meal stood out as possibilities: a hotpot with seafood, and smoked salmon with potato crepes, both having appeared in various incarnations in my restaurant repertoire, but new versions of which I had been thinking about.

For a main course, I had decided that beef tenderloin with mushroom ragout and potato puree, always a classic for a fine dinner, would be in order, and for dessert, I had some dark chocolate left in the cupboard from Christmas baking, so I figured I’d make a ganache tart of some description. I was sure another course would find me at the market, so set off for the purchase of the fixings.

Front and centre at the produce market were two things extremely complementary, fitting for a fine occasion, and worthy of a course unto their own: white asparagus and Cara Cara oranges. The former has always been a favourite for a celebratory appetizer, served warm with a butter sauce of some description, and the latter a newer variety I had come across, plump, sweet and tart at the same time, and a beautiful rosy pinkish colour not unlike the rio red grapefruit. The season for both is short, so I took it as a sign that that was the missing course. Some nice pears were perched close by, not too ripe, but just right for poaching, and I remembered an open bottle of nondescript white in the fridge at home which may provide a cooking medium and a nice counterpoint to the rich chocolate. I knew I had some blanched almonds in the cupboard, which would prove to accent both the third and final courses, and the menu was pretty well set:

Seared scallop hotpot

Smoked salmon crepes

Steamed white asparagus with Cara Cara oranges

Beef tenderloin with shiitake mushroom ragout

Chocolate ganache tart with poached pears

Once home, I set out my prep list for the next two days: Sunday: Make some demi glace with some beef bones in the freezer, almond pastry crust and ganache tart, poach the pears, hot pot broth, prep the mushrooms, marinate the steaks, and prep the mushrooms, leaving me in good shape for Monday to finish the prep in the afternoon and cook course by course for dinner.

I made the pears and the almond sweet dough, and started thinking about how the pears might be fanned out on top, and got them poaching so they could cool. I roasted the bones and set the pot on the back of the stove to simmer for the afternoon, deciding that since I was making demi, I should at least make a few litres so there would be some in the freezer, always handy for a class or a dinner. The hotpot broth was simmering simultaneously and the kitchen permeated by the flavours in three simmering pots of liquid, each with their own noble purpose: Brown stock, intended for demi glace, rich with roasted bones, herbs, and vegetables; Hotpot broth perfumed with ginger, peppercorn, soy, and chinese spices; and white wine poaching syrup with cinnamon, star anise, ginger, and lemon. What a feast for the nose!

Stage one well underway, I baked off the tart shell fully, lined with parchment and rice for the first 30 minutes, and then the final 5 uncovered to allow the bottom to brown (quite important for a dessert like this, where you want the crust to be quite crispy considering it’s not getting baked any further and there is a moist filling going inside) Whilst in the oven , I pulled put the chocolate and cream for the ganache and began to ponder what the addition of a heavily reduced shot of the poaching liquid would contribute to the filling, as it surrounded the senses. I considered it for a moment and made the decision that as long as it was reduced to the consistency of honey, it would soften the ganache enough without diluting it too much and making it watery. I ladled of a couple of cups from the then cooling pears and boiled it rapidly down, and once it had arrived at a glorious state of golden splendour, set is aside while I scalded the cream for the ganache. Cream into chocolate, a light whisk to melt and emulsify, and then I added the reduced syrup and gave it a taste. “Fantastic!, let’s just hope it sets now”, I thought. Into the tart shell and then the fridge, I set the now cooled to room temperature pears to chill as well, to make the task of slicing them a bit more manageable.

All liquids aside, strained, demi reducing, I took a break for the afternoon, and replenished myself with a liquid of my own.

Later that evening, the ganache had set nicely and I sliced the pears an arranged them on top, pressing them ever so gently down in the process. Covered and wrapped, Sunday’s prep was complete.

I returned from the office at about 1 the next afternoon, and after lunch spent a bit of time getting the prep “restaurant ready” so I could quickly assemble each course while having enough time to sit and eat as well. Scallops were cleaned (the little muscle on the side removed, which has the lovely texture of an eraser), Potatoes cooked, some for the crepe batter, some for the puree, batter made, puree as well, transferred to an ovenproof pot with a lid for a rechaud later on, 2 cups of demi measured out, the rest in the freezer, fennel shaved on the mandoline, scallions sliced, asparagus peeled and trimmed, oranges segmented and the juice squeezed out of the remaining flesh for the sabayon, a few baby carrots sliced on a bias to go with the beef, hot pot broth transfered to a pot for reheating, A nice bottle of red from the cellar (a 2001 Pichon Lalande, a gift from a wine dinner a few years earlier), almonds roasted and chopped, crepes cooked and stacked, and the remaining wine syrup reduced for use as a sauce. All was well.

About 7, our guests arrived, and after a preliminary refreshment, we began to eat.

First course:

Hotpot broth at a simmer, I seared the scallops in a small amount of vegetable oil and a very hot pan, and gave them just a kiss of sea salt once flipped. A nest of fennel and scallions in the bottom of the bowl, surrounded by the scallops and the aromatic broth was a great way to start, with a crisp unoaked chardonnay.

Second:

Crepes brushed with creme fraiche and smoked salmon, then cut and rolled into little cones, a few each

Third:

Orange juice and egg yolks whipped into a sabayon, with a bit of butter added to finish, then asparagus dropped into salted water for a quick cook. The combination of hot asparagus and rich but light sauce with fresh oranges and almonds was delicious!

Fourth:

A cast iron pan heated to very hot, and a sear of the tenderloin before a spell in the oven to finish. while the beef cooked and rested, I had 10 minutes to saute the mushrooms, deglaze with sherry and demi, and adjust the seasoning, drop the carrots into the hot water I had used for the asparagus for a quick blanch. Delicious again, by which time we were getting quite full, so decided to take a break before dessert.

The kids had all made plans to go out, and by this time it was 10 or so, so off they went, leaving us to enjoy our dessert afterwards. The tart had set nicely, and proved to be a very nice combination indeed, and a great way to finish the meal.

A bottle of bubbly was popped at midnight, as per tradition, and the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 given a rightful toast. A very interesting year to say the least, but all’s well that ends well, and end well it did indeed!

Snow day, Martha, and more

The weekend started out normal enough for this time of year. Being the first of December it was decided that it was the weekend to venture into the realm of “Holiday Baking” We quite often are entertaining a few times over the next few weeks, so it is always easiest to dedicate a day to the production of several sweets and assorted other “building blocks” for future soirĂ©es.

A thorough inspection of the cupboard revealed a need for a full complement of supplies so off we toddled early Saturday to pick up the assortment of various sugars, fats, nuts and candies that would be making their way into the oven. As the month had greeted us with the first snap of winter, the air was crisp and cold, with the threat of snowfall hovering in the west. A good day to bake by any account, and with a little luck the snow would hold off until we could get the tree later in the afternoon. Armed with the usual suspects: molasses, brown, icing, and superfine sugars, butter, cashews, walnuts, baking soda, a fresh bottle of vanilla, I headed to the till. Normally the magazine rack at the Supermarket counter, (as enthralling as it can be to most) doesn’t bear much of a second glance from me, but as it’s December, the latest Martha mag sat perched front and centre, complete with a cute little gingerbread village on the cover. Nice idea, I thought, and since I had already planned to commit to a large batch, figured I’d pilfer the idea if time allowed.

By the time we had made our way home and started thinking about the baking projects, the snow had started to fall, making the decision for us that the tree would have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest. I settled into my planned activities for the day: Biscotti, Shortbread, Gingerbread, Oatmeal Coconut cookies, Cashew caramels, and a batch of Danish pastry for the freezer. One by one I made the doughs in order of priority: first the gingerbread as it had to rest overnight, Scottish shortbread (my friend Harry Greenwood’s recipe, of course) was next, as it needed at least a half day of a chill before baking, followed by the danish pastry process (about a 2 hour investment, off and on with all the turns) Squeezed out the biscotti dough in between folds of danish and set the dough to chill on the porch, put the caramels on between the next fold, third fold made the oatmeal cookie dough, then baked the biscotti, removed them to cool for slicing and the second bake, and finally got the oatmeal cookies in the oven by about 3. Around 4 I had 80 oatmeal cookies and 80 biscotti out of the oven and cooling, managed to poke a pork roast in for dinner and at long last had a chance to have a biscotti and a cup of coffee.

The snow had abated for the day, and although there was more scheduled to fall overnight, we figure to let Sunday’s schedule determine itself. After dinner I baked the shortbread, and inspected the caramels, which were delicious but a tad too soft, so were wrapped and put in the fridge destined to be dipped in chocolate at a later date. With the bulk of the baking done, I figured that a good night’s rest was in order, and should have time to tinker with the gingerbread the next day.

Overnight, a few more inches fell, not a great deal, but enough that the neighbourhood was covered with a thorough blanket. We went out for a morning walk, up the hill by the elementary school, and as we approached could hear an eerily interesting mix of sounds. The giggle of a dozen kids on sleds could be heard over the sonic backdrop of a piper, the bagpipes cutting though the morning air. With the snow and the big trees it was easy to imagine being a world away from Suburbia.

Once home and warmed up, I grabbed my graph paper and began calculating the size of the gingerbread cookies to make a decent sized circle, and made a few quick templates. I had decided that I would make the cookies and then ice them onto a platter to use as a serving dish over the holidays. The dough was perfect for rolling after its overnight rest, and I used the first pressing to make the people and trees for consumption. I figured the re-rolled dough, which is usually a bit tough, would be preferable for making the town, anyway. Once I had two trays each of people and trees, it was apparent that there would be enough left over for a couple of dozen buildings, so I decided I would make enough that I could take one to work to decorate the office.

I decorated the houses once cool, and set them aside for the icing to harden. The assembly was actually quite painless once I cut out a cardboard template with the correct angles on it, and the results I’m glad to report are really lovely. If anyone’s feeling industrious or snowed in this weekend, 12 cookies measuring 2 1/2 by 4 inches make a 10 inch circle (it’s actually a 12 sided polygon if you want to get picky, but you get the drift) Happy Baking!