recipe

Give Peas a Chance

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Chatting with a woman in the grocery store line-up today, and she mentioned that she picked up a ham hock to make split pea soup. Instantly, I was transported back in time, across the country, and to the split pea soup of my childhood. That soup was salty with ham, thick enough to float bricks on, and could line a stomach for days upon days.
This version is a lot lighter, with more flavours than just salt, and not quite the digestive system staying power. And, it’s featured on the menu of the Constellation’s fine dining restaurant, Aquarius.

Curried Split Pea Soup

Serves 4

1 1/ 2 cups of uncooked yellow split peas
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium yellow onions, chopped
8 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
4 cups of vegetable stock

3 tablespoons mild Indian curry paste
1 (14oz) can light coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 /2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 /2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 /2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Fill a large pot with water, add peas and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until peas are very soft, about one hour. Top up the pot with water as required during the cooking process. Drain peas and set aside.

In the pot, heat canola oil. Add onions, garlic and carrots, and cook over medium heat until vegetables are softened but not browned. Return peas to pot, and add stock and curry paste.
Using an immersion blender or food processer, puree the soup until smooth. This one doesn’t have to be super smooth, a little coarseness will add texture.

Bring the pureed soup back to the boil and add coconut milk, salt, pepper, cumin, and turmeric. Let simmer another ten minutes, then stir in cilantro. Let simmer another 10 minutes before serving with papadum or naan bread.

This soup is one of those that lends itself well to experimentation–don’t like curry? Don’t use it! Replace the coconut milk with vegetable stock, and add a teaspoon or two of a good quality pesto, or chopped fresh herbs of your choice.
For a zingy hot version, substitute the mild curry paste for a fiery Thai red or green curry, garnish with a cooling dollop of plain yogurt or kefir.
Turn it into a meal by adding cooked chicken, or pour the hot soup over very thinly sliced salmon pre-placed in the bottom of the bowl. The heat will cook the salmon.

Hamming it up

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Cooler weather has set in, and with it, the desire for more substantial, belly-warming meals. One of our favourite meals for late fall is a comfort food classic, ham with scalloped potatoes. Thing is, that’s a lot of leftovers when there are only two people eating it, so the question is, what to do with all that ham?

This chowder was designed to provide a different answer than the usual answers of sandwiches and split pea soup, and was published in my book Chowders and Soups (Nimbus). Although the recipe calls for mashed potatoes, you can substitute leftover scalloped potatoes in equal measure.

Enjoy!

Potato & Ham Chowder

2 strips bacon
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 cup diced cooked ham
1 cup mashed potatoes
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 /2 cup heavy cream
1 /2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/ 4 teaspoon black pepper

Cook bacon in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. When bacon begins to crisp, drain off the fat, reserving one teaspoon. Return the fat and bacon to the pot and add onions, celery and carrot. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.
Add ham, mashed potatoes and chicken stock and stir until blended. Add cream, cloves and pepper, bring to simmer before serving.

A Char-ming Gift

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Years ago, I cooked at a restaurant that served wild Arctic char from Labrador; although I’ve had char here and there since then, it never seemed to match the taste of that Labrador char. Just recently, I was gifted a few large Arctic char filets, beside myself with excitement, I could hardly wait to see how it tasted.

Arctic char (or charr) is in Salmonidae family; breeding in freshwater, it can live in the sea or be landlocked. The flesh runs from very pale pink to bright red, depending on diet and environment, and generally run 2-10 pounds. Mild tasting, they hover between trout and salmon, leaning more towards the trout side.
IMG_7041My filet was a lovely deep pink, in preparation for cooking, I removed the pin bones and belly fat, but left the skin on as I planned to pan-fry it and I love the crispy skin.

Although a mild fish, it stands up well to strong flavours. In this case, I decided on gnocchi with ratatouille, some asparagus, and my favourite fish accompaniment: lemon caper butter.

For the ratatouille:
Olive oil, splash
Zucchini, 1 each green and yellow, diced
Eggplant, 1 smallish, diced
Tomatoes, 12-14 small variety (cherry, grape), halved
Herbes de Provence*, 1 teaspoon (*a dried herb mix used in French cooking)

In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat the oil. Add the vegetables, season with Herbes de Provence and simmer until tomatoes cook down and the ratatouille looks “saucy”.

Ratatouille with gnocchi added

Ratatouille with gnocchi added

For the gnocchi:
Prepared gnocchi is easy to find in most supermarkets. Cook as per package instructions, and stir into the cooked ratatouille.

For the lemon-caper butter:
1-2 tbsp butter
1-2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp capers

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Once it starts to sizzle, add lemon juice and capers. Cook until butter is lightly browned. Spoon over cooked fish.

For the fish:
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
2 x 4-6 oz filets

Melt butter in skillet. Season both sides of filets generously with salt and pepper. Please flesh side down in hot pan, turning once when browned.
Asparagus:
Drop in pot of boiling water, remove when cooked but still a little crisp, and toss with salt, pepper and a shot of lemon juice.

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The final verdict? This is the char of my early cooking career, the clean fresh flavour I’d been missing. Absolutely fabulous!

Falling into comfort food

The leaves are changing colour and a chill is creeping into the ever-lengthing evening shadows, and memories of autumns past come rushing to the fore.
The fall was when my mother- and father-in-law made their pilgrimage from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia to visit us; after his passing, my mother-in-law continued to make the trip and we forged gold and red burnished memories as she took comfort in familiar rituals. Trips to Mahone Bay for the Pirate Festival, down to the Annapolis Valley for the Pumpkin People, and countless drives to take in the brilliant colours of a Nova Scotia autumn.
She’s gone now too, and I miss her terribly, and never more so than in the fall. This year, being out West for our first fall, I not only miss her but to a lesser extent, those traditional things that we continued on with.
One of our favourite things was a stop at Hennigar’s.
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There are many farm markets but there’s something about Hennigar’s–the goats, the birds, the seasonal decorations, the gift shop area, the ice cream, the bakeshop, the hot dog stand, and oh, yeah, the vegetables too–I never get tired of visiting. (If you’re not familiar, check out Hennigar’s here).
Of course, fall is harvest time, and market bins are overflowing with carrots, parsnips, corn and winter squash. One of my favourite ways of enjoying these harvest vegetables is with a root vegetable chowder. Soup is, after all, the ultimate comfort food. When I did the book launch in 2012 for my Chowders and Soups book, this is the soup I gave out as samples and it was wildly popular, drawing raves everywhere the soup pot went, and much to my delight.
Cover Draft 5
I’ve shared the recipe before, but in case you missed it, here it is again. The cream can be replaced with lactose free blend, or eliminate the dairy altogether for a lighter soup.

Root Vegetable Chowder

Roasting the vegetables extracts their natural sugars, which is what causes the browning (called caramelization). This in turn intensifies the flavours, erases bitterness and creating a more complex tasting soup.

4 x 8 oz servings
Ingredients

For roasting:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 /2 cup parsnip, cubed*
1 /2 cup carrots, cubed
1 /2 cup turnips, cubed
1 /2 cup red potatoes, cubed
1 /2 cup butternut squash, cubed
(* It doesn’t matter what size you cut these vegetables into, as long as they are cut uniformly so that they cook evenly.)
For the base:
1 tablespoon butter
1 /4 cup diced yellow onions (about 1 /2 small medium onion)
1 /4 cup diced celery
1 1 /2 cup vegetable stock
3 /4 cup coffee (18%) cream
1 /4 cup heavy (35%) cream
3 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 /2 teaspoon herbes de provence
1 /2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Roasting the vegetables: Preheat oven to 400F. Spread vegetables in a single layer on sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil. Roast until vegetables begin to brown and are soft (about 45 minutes).
Preparing the base: Melt butter in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and celery, cooking until soft. Add stock has been added, bring to a simmer. Add the roasted vegetables to the broth, and stir in cream, herbs, salt and pepper. Bring back to simmer and heat through for 5-6 minutes, allowing the flavours to blend before serving.

Testing, testing, one-two-three.

recipetestingland

You know when you pick up a cookbook, and choose a recipe, and then make it, and it turns out? That’s a result of a well-written recipe that had a lot of work in the background before it got to you.
And to make them that way, a lot of kitchen testing was involved. These pics are all kitchen testing shots from my latest cookbook, which just went off to the publisher.

Something Fishy

Now, some of these things I’ve been making for years, and some were developed just for the book. Some were inspired by recipes of others, and some are classic recipes that don’t need rewriting, but do need the methods rewritten to suit the tone and skill level of the book’s readership.

Bubble bubble

Whatever the origin, I start out with a rough recipe draft, paper version (I don’t like to use electronics around the cooking area–that’s got disaster written all over it.)

As I prepare the recipe, I follow this task list:

1. record ingredients
2. measure quantities used
3. record preparation steps
4. record timings
5. make notes
6. taste
7. record the final yield

bits and pieces

Once I’ve had a successful outcome, then I sit to write the recipe. There’s a particular style and order of things that I adhere to, as per my guidelines for writing the technical part.
And after that, much later, I write the intros that will be in the book, trying for some tidbit or fact that will grab your interest, and make you want to try it out.

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Because, while I may do all the testing, it’s you who will be doing the grading, and I won’t know if I passed until the book is out there, from my kitchen to yours.

Limoncello Tiramisu

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Tirami su (Italian “pick me up”)

One of my favourite desserts to trot out for company is tiramisu; most people love it, it’s make ahead easy, and there’s usually enough left in the bowl to lick clean so I don’t have to wait for dinner for a taste.
A twist on the typical espresso-soaked ladyfingers is to use the lemony Italian liqueur Limoncello, with grated lemon rind on top. For individual presentation, I spoon the mascarpone cream into glasses, and stick a couple of the ladyfingers upright in the glass. An added benefit of this presentation is less cake, more cream.
Here’s how I make it:

For 6 portions:

6 eggs
500 g mascarpone cheese (most mascarpone is sold in 500g containers, easy!)
4 tablespoons sugar
1 cup Limoncello
12 ladyfingers
2 lemons, zested

Directions
Drag out your stand mixer. Separate eggs, and place the whites in the bowl of the mixer. I like to beat the whites first, because any trace of fat can prevent them from whipping nicely. Whip them into fluffy peaky firmness, then scrape them into a large bowl.
In the mixer bowl go your egg yolks, with 3 tbsp sugar. Beat this until pale yellow, then add the mascarpone cheese until smooth. Now’s the only tricky part of the whole business–incorporating the mascarpone mix into the whites, keeping it fluffy and not letting the whites break down. Do it with a large rubber spatula, carefully, CAREFULLY folding it all together. Once it’s folded successfully, you can relax and reward yourself for a job well done by eating a couple of spoonfuls. Yummy, right?
Now, pour out the Limoncello into a shallow container and carefully dip your ladyfingers in it, one at a time. You want them to absorb a little but not get soggy. Soggy fingers are not good.
Line up your glasses (I use cocktail glasses. It’s amazing how haute cuisine you can appear by using different dishes and glasses. It’s been fooling guests for years.)
Divide the cream evenly among the glasses, then stick the ladyfingers in the mix. Sprinkle the lemon zest over the top and poof! You’re set!
Let stand a couple of hours for best flavours.

I know, I know, the picture is of regular, big bowl tiramisu with chocolate shavings. We ate the lemon ones too quick to get a pic.

ACT-7: Liechtenstein

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Destination: Principality of Liechtenstein

Where: Central Europe, landlocked by Austria and Switzerland

Snapshot: This tiny (160 sq kilometres) country is situated entirely in the Alps. Skiing and snowboarding prevail in winter; cycling, hiking, mountain biking in summer. Liechtenstein is the supermodel of Europe–rich and beautiful! And, the lowest crime rate. With no active military, the whole country’s police force has less than 100 officers.

Time for dinner!
Liechtenstein cuisine is similar to that of neighbouring countries, with Swiss, Austrian and German influences. Cheeses and other dairy, pork and beef, pastries, grains and vegetables. Large dairy industry (moo!), agricultural resources.

Specialties: Hafalaab (soup w/bacon), Kasknopful (little dumplings), muesli, roesti, schnitzel

Drink up! Winemakers since pre-Christian days, Liechtenstein has over 100 winemakers (that’s a lot, isn’t it?) Beer and milk also widely consumed.

Recipe:
Ribei (Semolina dessert)

1 1/2 cup milk
1 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
3 cup semolina
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons butter
sugar, to garnish

In a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat, add milk, water, and salt and bring to a boil. Add semolina. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to stand for 3 hours.
Heat oil in a frying pan, add semolina and heat. Once semolina is heated, being adding butter gradually and continue cooking over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Golden brown crumbs will form, at this point, you’re done!
Garnish with sugar, serve with fruit.

For a tiny country, Liechtenstein has tons to see and do. Read more here.