Because of the diverse nature of the many different restaurants and chefs Brian Henry has worked under he is highly proficient at a wide range of cuisines.

Brian’s cooking is seasonal, inventive and smart, but in no way unapproachable or fussy. When he is coaxed out of the kitchen and starts talking about food, his passion and knowledge are instantly recognizable.

"Chef Brian Henry cooked a series of delicious appetizers for us as we sat around a table in the kitchen". Thanks

Tony Aspler, Wine writer

“Chef Brian Henry puts one hundred percent of his energy into going all the way.”

Birgit Moenke, Editor Stir Media Read More Reviews

Archive for the ‘Private Chef Services’ Category

Gastronomically yours,

October 28th, 2014

Smashing Pumpkins

 

Photo courtesy of http://cbswrch2.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/jack-o-lantern.jpg?w=436

Photo courtesy of http://cbswrch2.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/jack-o-lantern.jpg?w=436

The pumpkin has become synonymous withHalloween. Beyond the pumpkins symbolism most of us know little about this fruit and leaves most of us reaching for this product in its store-bought canned form when it comes to cooking.

Its symbolic presence of the autumn harvest has made this fruit a traditional staple of the North American Thanksgiving and though it has taken some time; like Linus waiting for the great one to arrive, the pumpkin has come of age and has transitioned itself into a staple of our pantries.

Most of us consume pumpkins in sweet dessert like preparations such as pie, cheesecake and muffins. When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, steamed, baked, or roasted. Pumpkins are very versatile in their uses for cooking, from the fleshy shell, to the seeds, to even the flowers.

Pumpkins are the largest berry in the world and are related to other fruits like squash and cucumbers. Pumpkins that are still small and green may be prepared in the same way as squash or zucchini, where a more mature pumpkin might be served mashed like potatoes.

Pumpkin seeds, known as pepitas, are the small, flat, green, edible seeds. Most pumpkin seeds are covered by a white husk, although some pumpkin varieties produce seeds without them. Pepitas are a popular snack that can be found hulled in most grocery stores.

When Pumpkin seeds are roasted one can extract thick oil that is somewhat reddish-green in color and is generally diluted with milder flavored oils because of its vigorous full bodied flavor. It is often drizzled over salad greens, pumpkin soup, potato salad, and even on vanilla ice-cream.

Pumpkin seed oil contains fatty acids which help maintain healthy blood vessels and nerves, and are loaded with essential fatty acids that help to maintain healthy blood vessels, nerves and tissues with its high fiber content helping to aid proper digestion.

Pumpkins are available almost everywhere one would find food for sale right now. It can be fun to go to a pick your own field as well to get your pumpkins. Be sure to save your seeds for this recipe which is a twist on a classic treat of toasted Pumpkin seeds by turning them into a gourmet confection.

 

Pepita Brittle

Ingredients:

One and one half tsp. baking soda

Two Tbsp. butter, melted

One and one half cups sugar

Three quarters cup water

One quarter tsp. fine grained sea salt

Three quarter cups of hulled roasted pumpkin seeds “pepitas”

One quarter tsp. cinnamon

Method:

Stir together baking soda and melted butter; set aside. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside a second sheet the same size. Butter the parchment on one side.

Combine sugar, water and salt in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low; wash down any sugar crystals on sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Simmer syrup 10 to 12 minutes, until it reaches 240°F. Remove from heat; with a wooden spoon gently stir in the pumpkin seeds.

While stirring, return pan to medium-low heat until the mixture turns a deep amber color and reaches 290°F. Remove from heat; stir in butter-baking soda mixture with wooden spoon.

Pour mixture onto prepared cookie sheet; cover with second parchment sheet. Press the mixture with a rolling pin to 1/4-inch thick. Remove top layer of parchment and allow it to completely cool down. Next crack the brittle and serve the tasty morsels.

Store your pepita brittle between layers of parchment in a sealed container for up to two weeks.

Jack o’ Lantern

Numerous religious groups have placed great importance on the last days of October and the first days of November. These include but are not limited to the Gaelic Samhain, Christian All Saint’s Day, All Souls Day, All Hallows Eve, Day of the Dead and All Hallows Mass. For the most part it appears that the general consensus was that most people believed that there was a lot more spirit activity at this time of year as relatives and ancestors who had passed away might drop by for a visit. This was also a time for community festivals celebrating the end of summer, the harvest and the coming dark days awaiting the rebirth of spring.

One of the first plants domesticated by humans was the gourd, not so much as a food source but for its carving potential which led to the creation of the first line of primitive kitchen ware. Jack o’ Lanterns in my opinion was the earliest version of a flashlight after the torch. Walking home from any autumn festival in the dark would be a nerve racking experience with all of the blowing leaves and night time sounds of autumn, add in the fear that the undead might show up would only further your worries.

The tradition of carving Jack o’ Lantern’s was brought to Canada by Irish and Scottish settlers. They often transformed gourds, turnips or squash into easy to carry lanterns. These lanterns were decorated with intensely fierce faces to represent the souls forever lost in purgatory. They were carried and displayed about homes to ward off evil spirits and protect people from the undead, which were believed to be at their peak activity in the autumn months.

Pumpkin carving has evolved greatly in recent years and has gone beyond triangle eyes and smiles. Specialty pumpkin carving kits and power tools are used by some to create works of art and some neighborly competition.

This being the last weekend before Halloween you should get out to one of the regions pick your own pumpkin farms and get your pumpkin carved this weekend for Halloween. Choosing a pumpkin is easy to do knowing that the larger the pumpkin, the easier it is to carve. Avoid bruised or moldy pumpkins as they will spoil much faster. Lighter coloured pumpkins tend to be softer and easier to carve.

The way we carve pumpkins has evolved as well as you don’t have to take off the top of your pumpkin, which is the hardest and possibly the most dangerous thing to do as the top of the pumpkin is woody and tough, try using a key hole or drywall saw for this. You may choose to remove the bottom or the back of your Jack o’ lantern as it is easier to cut through and allows easy access for electrical cords to power up colourful tree lights inside your pumpkin and forgo the candle.

Ice cream paddle-style scoops make quick work of cleaning out the seeds and pulp.  They also allow you to scrape down the inside to about an inch thickness with relative ease. Many people use carving templates available on-line which they print off and use as a transfer to outline their images with.

Once you have your pumpkin carved it will quickly want to rot but this easy to avoid or at least prolong the pumpkins life by soaking your cleaned and carved pumpkin for a couple of hours in a bleach water solution of 1 teaspoon bleach to 1 gallon of water. Remove the pumpkin from the water and dry it thoroughly. This will help keep bugs, mold, and animals away from your pumpkin. Then rub a thin even coating of cooking oil or petroleum jelly all over your pumpkin, inside and out with particular attention to all of the cut edges to prevent shriveling.

If you use a candle to power your pumpkin be sure to place it in a glass or votive holder, and cut a ventilation hole into the pumpkin. Candle powered pumpkins can be used as an aromatic air freshener by sprinkle the inside of the pumpkin with some cinnamon and cloves.

Finally you can extend your jack-o’-lanterns life by storing it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator when not in use. Finally I must add that you do not eat a pumpkin that has been used as a jack-o’-lantern. Happy Halloween!

Sun kissed pumpkins

Sun kissed pumpkins

Gastronomically yours,

September 21st, 2014

Here is a recipe and some lore on cabbage rolls with a conversation from Facebook that has some great ideas and suggestions add to it

Cabbage roll please

Humans the world over have been using food wrappers for centuries to either transport or cook their meals in. Leaves are the most commonly used food wrapper and vary only by geographical regions. Mediterranean people use the fig and grape leaves, the Americas used corn husks; tropical regions used leaves from banana, lotus and bamboo while Asia used seaweed.
As we began to discover flours and their uses we began to wrap our foods in a variety of thin dough’s that were often stuffed and then steamed, boiled or fried. While the dough recipes are often similar, they too are diversified only by their regions with examples including the Filipino lumpia, Japanese gyoza, and Jewish kreplach wrappers.
Although many of these wrapped foods are defined by their regions one wrapped food that has seen no boundaries is the cabbage role. Cabbage roles are cultural mainstays throughout European, Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines and were quickly shared throughout the world as people began to move about the planet. Cabbage rolls are as unique as their creators as it seems that just about everyone has a different way of making them.
With cooler weather on the way we have a tendency to start eating differently, we start to put on our dietary winter coat which is often found in carb and fat heavy meals prepared throughout autumn. Cabbage rolls are a healthy, inexpensive alternative to other heavy casserole and crock pot meals and can be made well in advance or stored in the freezer. The following recipe is easily made using Ontario grown produce. It also requires a number of pots and pans so make sure someone volunteers to help with the dishes.

Cabbage Rolls
Ingredients:
2 large heads savoy cabbage
Sauce:
2 tbsp. butter
2 large white onions, diced
1/4 tsp. caraway seeds, crushed
3 tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 cans (each 28 oz/796 mL) crushed tomatoes
Salt and Pepper

Filling:
2 tbsp. butter
3 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. Dried thyme
1/2 cup long-grain rice
1-1/4 cups chicken stock
1 lb. lean ground pork
½ lb. lean ground beef
1 tbsp. Hungarian paprika
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and Pepper

Method:
Cabbage: Place a large pot of salted water onto boil, as it won’t do so by watching it you can core out the cabbages. Cook the cabbages one at a time in the boiling water for about 5 minutes until the exterior leaves become tender. Remove the cabbages from the boiling water and cool them down under cold water.
Start removing leaves from core end, being careful not to tear them. After you remove about 8-10 leaves or when they become hard to remove you will need to re-boil the remaining cabbage for a few more minutes before continuing. With a paring knife remove any of the thick veins from the cabbage leaves and set leaves aside to dry.
Sauce: In a large sauce pot, melt butter over medium heat. Sauté the onions until they become translucent before stirring in the caraway and brown sugar about 10 minutes or until onions are a deep golden brown colour. Stir in the tomatoes and let the sauce simmer for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Remove sauce from heat and set it aside.

Filling: In another large sauce pot, melt butter over medium heat; stir in the onions, garlic, and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the onions begin to soften. Stir in the rice and continue stirring the mixture until the onions begin to brown. Next stir in the stock and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot and let the rice cook until tender and all of the stock has been absorbed
Preheat a skillet or cast iron pan over medium heat. Cook the pork and beef over medium heat, stirring often, until meat is thoroughly cooked. Remove pan from heat and drain off excess fat. Stir the paprika into the cooked meat, and then stir the cooked rice and meat mixture together. Taste this filling and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let it rest long enough that it cools down and can be comfortably handled. Once the meat has cooled, stir in the parsley, dill, and egg.
Lightly coat the bottom of a large roasting pan with some of the tomato sauce. Into the centre of each cabbage leaf spoon about 1/4 cup or a small handful of the rice/meat filling into the centre. Fold the end and sides over the filling and roll it away from you, then repeat until all of the filling is gone. Arrange half of the cabbage rolls seam side down, in the sauce lined pan Top these roles with half of the remaining tomato sauce. Arrange remaining cabbage rolls on top of the first layer also seam side down and finally; pouring the remaining tomato sauce over top the top. If you have any extra cabbage leaves spread them over the top of the cabbage rolls as it will prevent your cabbage rolls from scorching.
Cover and bake in 350°F oven for about 2 hours or until tender. Serve hot or let them cool down before storing them in the fridge or freezer.

Donna Geary
For the first time in my life, I am attempting cabbage rolls. Recipes? Please and thank you.

Stuart Harrison Boil the cabbage in someone else’s house…

Donna Geary I honestly forgot about that, Stu!

Barb O’Brien So many recipes, Joe says, call me when they are ready, I’ll bring the beer!

Greg Grimshaw Just need vodka, spaghetti sauce and rice. Mix sauce and rice. Place large spoon of mix in steam softened leaf cabbage. Roll it like you are tommy chong… Drink vodka.. Straight in shot glasses. mazal tov. Grab another leaf. repeat.

Kerry Jo Rudd there is something out there called cabbage roll soup….sounds easier than rolling those leaves! yikes! get the wine out

Nicole Grady Get the sour cabbage from metro. It makes them so much better!!

Jeannine Taylor I steam ours and use nappa. I have a great vegan recipe but you might miss the meat.

Paula J Wagar-Wilkinson Good luck.

Greg Grimshaw There is no vodka in Brian’s recipe. I have real Ukrainian women make rolls and pierogi. There is always vodka.

And vodka is gluten free

Kim Waudby I like Brian’s version. It’s close to mine but I done pre cook the filling and add the chicken stock to the roaster to help cook the rice. I also line the pan with all the left over bits of cabbage as well as on top for a cover. Then cook for 3 hours. Put the leftovers in individual containers and freeze for lunch. Yum

Penny Hope First…..take apart the cabbage and save the leaves for later use in the recipe.

Donna Geary Thanks Brian Henry and Kim Waudby for the recipes. I’ve been told that I will be eating it alone, so am less motivated.

Gastronomically yours,

September 18th, 2014

The Great Pumpkin 

As the first day of autumn approaches, and the shadows are growing longer it won’t be long until we will start scraping frost off of our windshields. This beautiful and vibrant time of year sees us consuming more food as an ingredient for decorating our homes than what we may actually put in our pantries.

As we decorate our homes with corn stalks, kale and all sizes and varieties of gourds and squash, the pumpkin has become synonymous with Thanksgiving and Halloween. Beyond the pumpkins symbolism most of us know little about this fruit and still has most of us reaching for this product in its store-bought canned form when it comes to cooking. Canning pumpkins are harvested in August and are a smaller early maturing variety.  Pumpkins for Jack-o-lanterns are a late harvest larger variety of pumpkin.

The pumpkin’s symbolic presence of the autumn harvest has made this fruit a traditional staple of the Canadian Thanksgiving and though it has taken a considerably longer amount of time than Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, the pumpkin has come of age and has transitioned itself into a staple of our pantries.

Sun kissed pumpkins

Sun kissed pumpkins

Although many people are quaffing copious amounts of pumpkin spice flavoured coffees most of us devour pumpkins in sweet dessert like preparations such as pie, cheesecake and muffins. When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, steamed, baked, or roasted. Pumpkins are very versatile in their uses for cooking, from the fleshy shell, to the seeds, to even the flowers.

Pumpkins are the largest berry in the world and are related to other fruits like squash and cucumbers. Pumpkins that are still small and green may be prepared in the same way as squash or zucchini, where a more mature pumpkin might be served mashed like potatoes.

Pumpkin seeds, known as pepitas, are the small, flat, green, edible seeds. Most pumpkin seeds are covered by a white husk, although some pumpkin varieties produce seeds without them. Pepitas are a popular snack that can be found hulled in most grocery stores.

The origin of making pumpkin pie came about when after early colonist  were introduced to the pumpkin and chose to slice off the top of the pumpkin,, removed the seeds, and filled the pumpkin with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.

Pumpkins are available almost everywhere one would find food for sale right now. It can be fun to go to a pick your own field as well to get your pumpkins. Try cooking with pumpkin whether it be canned or fresh in the following recipe for pumpkin bread.

 

Pumpkin Bread

 

Ingredients:

¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour

⅔ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. pumpkin spices

¼ tsp. salt

2 eggs

1 cup pumpkin purée, canned or freshly cooked

½ cup packed brown sugar

⅓ cup olive oil

⅓ cup maple syrup

2 Tbs. unsalted pumpkin seeds

 

Method:

In a medium bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients; flours, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, pumpkin spices, and salt. Separately in a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, sugar, oil, and maple syrup until evenly incorporated. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir them together with a large spoon just until smooth.

Spoon the batter into an oiled and floured 9×5-inch loaf pan. Sprinkle the top with the pumpkin seeds and gently tap the pan on the counter a few times to settle the batter.

Bake on the middle rack at 350°F until the top is browned and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the cooked bread from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes before transferring it to a rack to cool completely before slicing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gastronomically yours,

September 17th, 2014

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is most commonly recognized as a bright white bulbous vegetable with purple or green highlights with light green leaves, but it is also available in green or purple varieties similar to its parent plant the cabbage.

Cauliflower is a variety of the common cabbage that has begun to flower but stop growing at the bud stage. In the 17th century these budding growths were observed as a freak occurrence in wild cabbage, but through selective breeding these plants evolved by the 18th century into what we know them as today.

Culinary historians are uncertain in knowing the regional origins of the cauliflower. It’s modern day name comes from the Latin “caulis” meaning stalk and “floris” for flower and is believed to have been introduced to Europe by Arabs after the fall of the Roman Empire however it was referred to as Cyprus cabbage in France and opens arguments that support it’s Cypriot origins which predates the Roman Empire.

We do know that cauliflower is a large flower-like growth that is comprised of numerous florets that grow on the ends of a maze of stalks nestled in a base of leaves. We often refer to the floret portion of cauliflower as the head as in a “head of cauliflower” but it is properly referred to as the curd.

North Americans typically discard the stems, core and leaves and eat only the florets in raw, steamed or boiled preparations. Although this may seem like a practical approach in preparing cauliflower it is wasteful as the entire plant other than its roots is edible. The stems and core have a slightly stronger taste compared to the flowers but they contain a significantly higher concentration of nutrients such as vitamin C and iron.

Cauliflower photo credit to http://no-baloney.com/

Cauliflower photo credit to http://no-baloney.com/

When shopping for cauliflowers look for tightly formed curds with small florets that are vibrant in color without spots or discoloration. The leaves should be crisp and green, and are a sure sign to tell how fresh the curd is as the leaves begin to wilt and yellow within a couple of days after they have been harvested. Store your cauliflower in the refrigerator tightly wrapped in plastic or in a sealed container for up to 5 days.

I suggest cooking the white variety with a bit of lemon juice or milk in a non-reactivate metal pot to prevent the cauliflower from discoloration during the cooking process. The green and purple varieties should be cooked without acid but be advised that the purple cauliflower will turn green when cooked. Once cooked store cauliflower in your refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Ontario grown cauliflower is available from June through November and reaches its peak of quality after a week or two of high temperatures and minimal rainfall.

Local farmers markets and grocery stores are over flowing with Ontario grown produce with plenty of cauliflower to be enjoyed by all. I encourage you to try eating the whole curd including the leaves and core in the following recipe which can be prepared on your barbecue.

 

Roasted Cauliflower

Ingredients:

1 whole cauliflower

1/4 cup canola oil

1 tbsp. minced garlic

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

4 tbsp.  Grated Asiago

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped chives, for garnish

 

Method:

Place the cauliflower in roasting pan. Gently rub the canola oil over the surface of the cauliflower, and season it with the garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place the roasting pan in an oven or barbeque preheated to 400°F and roast for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally to ensure even roasting. Once the cauliflower is roasted top it with the Asiago cheese, once the cheese begins to melt sprinkle the chives over the cauliflower which will stick to the melted cheese and serve immediately while still warm. Alternately one may choose to wrap the cauliflower in tin foil to allow you to bake the curd on the barbecue or over a fire.

Gastronomically yours,

September 17th, 2014

Brussel Stalks

Brussel sprouts are ranked as the least liked vegetable the world over. As a kid I remember staring down Brussel sprouts on my dinner plate until past my bedtime in my stubborn refusal to eat these nasty little camouflaged orbs under the ethos of “you can’t leave the table until you cleaned your plate”.

As I grew older I realized that most people did not know how to cook Brussel sprouts and boiling or steaming them into a state of sourly flavoured gobs of mush is not one of them. It wasn’t until I began to understand them that I could appreciate them fully.

Brussel sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable of the cabbage family. They are related to broccoli, kale, kohlrabi and of course cabbage.

Brussel sprouts look like miniature cabbages growing in a spiral around the side of long fibrous stalks. When purchasing sprouts; choose ones that are small, firm and a vivid green colour. Avoid those that are puffy or soft and they should be free of yellowed or wilted leaves. If the leaves have any perforations in them; be wary of pests waiting inside. When buying sprouts individually; be sure to choose ones of equal size to ensure that they will cook evenly. Brussels sprouts are available year round, but their peak harvest season is from autumn until early spring. The smaller sized sprouts taste best and they are sweetest after a good hard frost or two.

Keep Brussels sprouts in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator unwashed and untrimmed. They are best stored in a plastic bag with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture for up to 3 days. If stored longer than 3 days they will begin to develop a strong flavour which undesirable.

Preparing sprouts is done by trimming any excess stem from the sprouts base. Then peel and discard any of the exterior leaves that have been loosened by the first cut. Many people prefer to cut a cross in center of the stem to aid in evenly distributing heat during the cooking process.

The simplest way to work with sprouts is to buy them on the stalk prepare Brussel sprouts for cooking is first to remove the sprout buds from the stalk and

Regardless of your chosen cooking method, great care must be taken not to overcook the sprouts. Overcooking them will result in their sulfur smelling compounds to be released. This is why most people profess to dislike Brussels sprouts; as they have only ever tried them overcooked with a sulfuric taste and smell.

Ontario grown Brussel sprouts will be popping up at local farmers markets in the coming weeks. The early harvested ones can be bitter compared to those harvested later in the season as a good frost or two causes the Brussel sprouts to become sweeter. The following recipe uses balsamic vinegar to help balance out the off flavors that are sometimes found in sprouts and maple syrup to make them more naturally sweet. The flavorless boiled version of the veggie you may remember from your childhood is now more likely to be served roasted, fried, or even raw and shaved into salads. I suggest trying them roasted on the stalk in the following recipe.

 

Maple Balsamic Glazed Brussel Sprouts

Ingredients:

1 Brussel Sprout stalk

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup, balsamic vinegar

¼ cup maple syrup or honey

Method:

To make your own glaze, mix together the balsamic vinegar with maple syrup or honey, in a small saucepan. Over low to medium heat simmer the mixture until it thickens up. You may want to open a window or vent the kitchen as boiling vineagar can make breathing a bit of a challenge.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse stalk well in fresh water and trim any unsightly parts.

Brush olive oil over sprouts. Wrap sprouts in parchment paper, and wrap parchment covered sprouts in aluminum foil. Place in oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove parchment and foil; brush on glaze, season with salt and pepper and return to oven.

Tent sprouts with foil to prevent burning.

Roast for about 30 minutes or until sprouts are fork tender. Rotate and brush on more glaze halfway through roasting. Remove foil and glaze once more during the last 15 minutes of roasting. Brush on more of the glaze just before serving.

Brussels Sprouts on the stalk http://www.specialtyproduce.com/

Brussel Sprouts on the stalk http://www.specialtyproduce.com/

Gastronomically yours,

September 16th, 2014

Discovering Capsicum

Christopher Columbus is the Italian explorer who sailed the ocean blue in an effort to discover a westward oceanic passage to India. On four different attempts Chris tried in vain to find a route to India.  Instead the Italian explorer was credited with discovering an already inhabited land; “The New World”. As Orwellian as this may sound and as easy as it may appear to repute his most celebrated discovery I think we can take heart in knowing that Mr. Columbus self-discovered many new foods as anyone who travels far away from their home still does today.

Many of Chris’s early findings left a legacy of inappropriately named articles and terms commonly found in the English language. Included in his list of christenings is his spurious naming of the fruit we commonly refer to as pepper, which ironically during the same time period the peppercorn produced by drying berries of Piper, an unrelated plant, were highly prized as an exotic condiment and traded for high profits.

The proper name for this family of fruits would be capsicum. Members of the capsicum family produce fruits in different colors. Most commonly we see them in hues of red, yellow, orange and green. Hybrids of capsicum will vary in colors, which include white, purple, brown, and almost black.

Green capsicums are the most plentiful of the capsicum fruits. They are also the least expensive as they are harvested before they have ripened. This allows producers to harvest multiple crops throughout the growing season forcing the plant to try and reproduce itself via the flower, fruit and seed life-cycle. Green capsicums are high in folic acid. It should be noted that many people develop indigestion or acid reflux after consuming these green or unripe fruits by comparison to ripened peppers.

Yellow and orange capsicums are at the stage of being semi-ripened.  They are sweeter than green capsicum and yellow fruits are usually juicier than reds.

Red capsicums have reached the final ripening stage. The red and yellow fruits are the most expensive. Their prices drop drastically every fall after harvesting, but the plants produce only one crop throughout each season.

Capsicum is native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America. Capsicum seeds were later carried back to Spain by Mr. Columbus and from there spread just like his contracted syphilis throughout Europe. Today, Mexico remains one of the world’s major capsicum producers.

Locally grown capsicums and Ontario grown capsicums are flooding the market and produce aisles alike and are a great ingredient in the following recipe which exhibits the brilliant colors of autumn.

 

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Ingredients:

 

4 large red bell peppers

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced

1 large russet potato, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart chicken stock or vegetable stock

1/4 cup cream or milk

2 Tbsp. butter

Cayenne, salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Roast the red bell peppers by exposing them to an open flame until they blacken on all sides. Your barbecue, gas fired stove or oven’s broiler will work best for this. Place the blackened peppers in a bag, close the bag and let the peppers steam for about 10 minutes. Remove the peppers from the bag, peel off the blackened skins, and remove all of the seeds. Coarsely chop the peppers into smaller pieces.

Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and potatoes and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic and roasted peppers. Stir well and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the stock, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook over medium heat until the potatoes are soft.

Remove the pot from heat and purée the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. Be cautious not to splash it about as the soup will be hot and could cause burns. Stir in the cream and season with cayenne, salt and pepper to taste.

Gastronomically yours,

April 23rd, 2014

When spring is in the air

I love the aromas produced by foods being prepared in a kitchen. One of these favorite culinary induced aromas I can only smell in the bathroom. It is the smell of metabolized compounds found in asparagus. These sulphur based compounds give our urine a distinct perfume within 20 minutes of ingesting this member of the daffodil family.

gardenofeaden.blogspot.com

gardenofeaden.blogspot.com

The effect of eating asparagus on our urine has been of curiosity and study since the 1700’s. Most recently a study published in 2010 found that while almost everyone who eats asparagus produces the aromatic asparagus-urine only 40% of the population has the autosomal genes required to smell them. This trait is unique to asparagus as these compounds originate in asparagusic. The aromatic producing elements of asparagus are more concentrated in young asparagus are more present in young asparagus, with the observation that the smell is more pronounced after eating young asparagus.

Another food study in the 1700’s saw the cross breeding of Fragaria virginiana and Fragaria chiloensis which lead to the creation of the cultivar more commonly known as the common garden strawberry.

These naturally sweet aromatic orbs are related to the rose family and have been used for centuries in the kitchen but also in cosmetic applications and of course the perfume industry. The strawberry is the first fruit to ripen and be harvested in the Kawartha’s. Their flavor can be influenced by weather and this year’s hot dry spring should produce exceptionally sweeter fruits than usual.

Asparagus and strawberries have a number of similar traits. They are both related to flowers; make great companion plants, they require human hands to harvest them, and are only available locally in season for a short period of time. Pick up both of these ingredients at farmers markets and grocery stores throughout our region while still in season and try them together in this week’s recipe that will welcome the delicious aromas of summer into our homes. The many textures and flavors of this salad are best served with barbecued chicken to making it a satisfying meal.

Asparagus and Strawberry Salad

Ingredients:

2 cups asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

2 tbsp. lemon juice

4 cups arugula

1 tbsp.  Honey

3 tbsp.  Balsamic vinegar

 

Method:

In a medium sized bowl combine the asparagus and half of the olive oil together and toss it until the asparagus is evenly coated with the oil. Cook the asparagus for 2-3 minutes in either a preheated oven or barbeque at around 400 °f. Once cooked remove asparagus from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, honey, and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl.

Place about a cup of arugula onto four dinner plates. Top the arugula with the strawberries and asparagus.  Lightly drizzle each salad with the vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

 

andreaskeller.squarespace.com

andreaskeller.squarespace.com

April showers bring May flowers including tasty edible ones; my favourite being Asparagus. The Ontario asparagus harvest has begun, with the first crops appearing in Niagara and Prince Edward Counties.

This member of the lily family is a perennial that grows from its rhizomes hidden within the soil.  When Ontario asparagus arrives in the marketplace one can see it as the materialization of spring and that our local fields are warming up.

The natural artistic beauty of freshly harvested asparagus with its purplish blue tips contrasted by the rich green stems is a portrait of still life in itself and in need of a suitable canvas of fine bone china. You may sense some rapture and delight in these words but nothing compares to fresh asparagus which has an ephemeral existence with a shortened growing season here.

asp tip

First it must be harvested by hand, travel to market and be consumed within 24 hours. After that asparagus with up to 4% sugar content like other vegetables will begin to consume this sugar for its continued growth and survival. If stored for too long or exposed to light and warm temperatures the asparagus will start to loose its moisture and sweetness. Prolonged storage will see the entire stem grow more fibrous as the plant consume more of it’s self for survival. Some of the effects of storing asparagus can be minimized by simply treating the asparagus like fresh cut flowers. By simply cutting an inch off of  the bottom of  your asparagus and standing them in sugar water your asparagus will hold well in the refrigerator for a few days if need be.

The formation of lignin or the woody fibrous texture found in the lower portion of the stalk asparagus has been dealt with in the same manner for centuries by cooks who simply bend the asparagus stalk end to end. This stress causes the asparagus to snap on the border between the tough and tender parts of the stalk.

Asparagus contains asparagusic acid which is a substance high in sulphur and is classified as a relative of methanethiol; an active ingredient in skunk spray. Within half an hour of eating asparagus our digestive system turns the sulphur into methanethiol. This derivative of asparagusic acid ends up in our urine releasing an aromatic odor. Almost all individuals produce this odorous compound after eating asparagus, but oddly enough only about 40% of us have the autosomal genes required to smell it.

Asparagus is delicious eaten raw but its flavours can be accented by preparing it in a number of ways. A personal favourite is to wrap small bundles of asparagus with bacon and bake it in the oven. Other alternatives include pickling asparagus, brushed with olive oil and cooked on the bbq or blanching them and quickly cooling them under running water for a salad served with toasted almonds.

www.chow.com

www.chow.com

 

Sautéed Asparagus 

1 pound of asparagus cleaned

One quarter pound shiitake mushrooms (optional)

2-3 tbsp. butter at room temperature

Juice of one lemon or one-eighth cup white wine

Salt and pepper

Over medium-high heat, pre-heat a sauté pan. Add the butter and swirl it around the pan. Add the asparagus and shiitakes. Please keep your sauté pans moving constantly as sauté means to jump. After two to three minutes has passed remove the pan from the heat. Add the lemon juice and let it simmer for about a minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Serves 2-4 people.

Personally I prefer to serve my asparagus raw or chilled as this helps to avoid cooking it into a soggy camouflage coloured mass.

To serve asparagus as a hearty yet refreshing salad I like to use the following recipe.

]The combination of astringent and sour flavours of the asparagus and Goats cheese is balanced out by the natural sweetness of berries.

Raspberries or strawberries work best.

 

Chilled Asparagus Salad

Ingredients:

1 bunch of asparagus cleaned

3 strawberries

½ cup Goats cheese

¼ cup toasted Pine Nuts

1 tbsp. lemon or orange zest

Kosher salt and cracked pepper

Method:

Blanch the asparagus in salted boiling water. Quickly cool it under cold water or in an ice bath. On salad plates arrange asparagus into equal sized log piles. Place sliced strawberries on the asparagus, top this with crumbled goats cheese, pine nuts and lemon zest. Sprinkle salad with Kosher salt and pepper. Serves 4

Gastronomically yours,

April 11th, 2014

A drop in the bucket

The maple sugaring season starts by breaking trails through a winters worth of snow. You haul buckets, tubing and the tools needed to mount them to maple trees. Once installed you listen for the sound of the maple sap harvest to begin as it unfolds one drop at a time, and you busy yourself with cutting wood and early forest management practices.

sugarmaple

As the day’s progress and the weather warms, the sap’s dripping becomes almost a trickle and you begin to focus your attention on the collecting and the rendering stage of maple syrup production.

The boiling stage of making syrup requires a watchful eye. You need to keep your fires burning and take the temperature frequently in the final moments to make sure you syrup finishes at the correct temperature. I have lost a few good pans and gallons of syrup to neglect in the past.

 

As the maple sugaring season draws to a close you can find yourself in a tsunami of sap and it can be a challenge keeping up to with all those drops in the bucket. Sometimes you go without sleep in these last days of syrup making which can influence your thoughts at times.

It’s in these moments that I find myself surrounded with so much sap, partially boiled syrup and finished syrup that I begin experimenting with different recipes. Using the syrup when it’s about half way to being syrup I like to use it for making sorbet, poaching eggs or salmon and running through the coffee maker instead of water.

mapleleibowski

This year I’ve taken to drinking my sap and syrup more so than cooking with it. As a result I’ve been able to create some of my own original cocktail recipes which I’m going to share here with you first.

The recipes are easy to prepare and can be enjoyed either with or without the alcohol listed in the recipes. If you do not have access to partially boiled sap you can substitute water downed maple syrup just make sure you are using Pure Maple Syrup and not table syrup.

 

Kawartha Steamer

Ingredients:

3oz half boiled syrup

4oz whole fat milk

1½ oz. Canadian Vodka

 

Method:

Heat the syrup and the milk up to 90 °c and pour them into a coffee mug. Pour in the vodka and sip away. If you have a method for steaming and frothing your milk combine the ingredients and froth it up.

steamer

North Kawarthan

This is the same as the Kawartha Steamer with the variation being that it is served chilled over ice in a rocks glass.

mapleice

Kawartha Kicker

This is the same as the Kawartha Steamer with the variation of using Canadian Whiskey in place of vodka.

maple cap

Kawartha Colada

Ingredients:

3oz half boiled syrup

1½ oz. spiced rum

4oz whole fat milk

3 oz. pineapple juice

1 cup crushed ice

 

Method:

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend the ingredients together on medium speed until all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated. A Kawartha Colada should be smooth, sweet, and creamy. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail glass and enjoy.

 

Kawartha Coffee

Ingredients:

3oz half boiled syrup

1oz whole fat milk

1 ½ oz Canadian Whiskey

4oz fresh brewed coffee

 

Method:

Heat the syrup and the milk up to 90 °c and pour them into a coffee mug. Pour in the whiskey and top it up with coffee.

maplecap

Kawartha Cappuccino

Ingredients:

2oz half boiled syrup

2oz whole fat milk

1½ oz. spiced rum

3 oz. fresh brewed coffee

Ground cinnamon

Whipped cream (optional)

Method:

Heat the syrup and the milk up to 90 °c and pour them into a coffee mug. Pour in the spiced rum and top up with coffee. If you have a method for steaming and frothing your milk combine the ingredients and froth it up. Top with ground cinnamon and or whipped cream.
syrupspoon

 

 

 

 

Gastronomically yours,

February 8th, 2014

My Bloody Valentine

February has long been celebrated as the month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, or  Feast of Saint Valentine as we know it today, contains leftovers of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition infused with modern day spending habits.

The history of St. Valentine’s Day and its patron saint are shrouded in mystery. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different patron saints named Valentine or Valentinus. From these three we have adopted the story of Father Valentine who was martyred on February 14, 269 who in his final hours started the tradition of exchanging Valentine messages with our loved ones.

For a few years before St. Valentines death the Roman Emperor Claudius was recruiting soldiers for his armies. Enlistment was down, and Claudius; a warring ruler blamed the declining recruitment on the men wanting to stay at home with their wives and families instead of going to war. Claudius’s solution to his dilemma was to ban weddings, hoping that this would cause boredom within in the male population and inspire men to want to go to war thus causing enlistment to go up.fruit rose

Father Valentine may have almost neurotically enjoyed performing marriage ceremonies. When Claudius banned marriages Father Valentine continued to conduct them in secrecy, which instigated Claudius to classify weddings as “pagan rituals” and when he heard that Father Valentine was illegally performing wedding ceremonies Claudius imprisoned Father Valentine until he denounce his Catholic faith, which would leave him defrocked and without his churchly powers.

While imprisoned Father Valentine befriended Claudius’s daughter and would spend long hours talking to her from his cell. Roman Emperor Claudius also known as Claudius the Cruel had had enough and ordered Father Valentine to be beaten and beheaded. One of Valentine’s final actions was to write a note to his jailer’s daughter. The note was signed “from your Valentine”. Shortly thereafter on February 14, 269 AD Father Valentine was executed. It wasn’t until 496 AD that Pope Gelasius marked February 14 the day to remember St. Valentine the patron saint of lovers and over time the day was marked with sending simple gifts, poems or messages.

During the height of prohibition, it is believed that on February 14, 1929 Chicago gangster Al Capone chose to send a Valentine’s message to George “Bugs” Moran. Capone had given orders for his men to take down the rival gangster by starting at the bottom and working their way up through the ranks until they got to Bugs himself. It is believed that these orders from Capone led to the “Valentine’s Day Massacre”.

After the Valentine’s Day Massacre, Capone went into hiding for a while but when he returned home to Chicago; Capone was welcomed by his family and friends with a celebratory feast. One of the dishes served at this feast was Chilled Pasta in Walnut Sauce, Capone’s favorite dish, as revenge is a dish best served cold.

The following Scarface Capone Pasta recipe is easy to make and can be enjoyed any day of the year, served hot or cold and made with locally sourced ingredients.

 

Scarface Capone Pasta

Ingredients:

½ lb. walnut pieces, toasted

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp. butter, softened

¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese

2/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

2/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 lb. pappardelle or fettuccini pasta

 

Method:

In a food processor place the walnuts garlic, butter, parmesan and 1/3 cup of the parsley. Process the ingredients until they form a coarse paste. With the motor running, slowly pour the oil into the paste and continue to process until relatively smooth. Transfer the paste into a bowl and stir in the cream, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let the sauce rest for a couple of hours in the refrigerator.

Cook your pasta in a large saucepan of boiling salted water. Drain the noodles and decide whether you want to serve your Scarface Capone Pasta served cold or hot. If cold simply toss the noodles in the sauce, let it stand for 30-45 minutes tossing it regularly and then refrigerate covered for 2 hours. To enjoy it hot simply return the drained pasta to the pot which it was cooked in and add the walnut sauce. Toss noodles over low heat until well combined. Top with remaining parsley and serve with extra grated parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6 depending on sides served with.Zombie-Donuts

Gastronomically yours,

February 1st, 2014

Coming in from the coldIce Sculpture Carving

If you have had to spent extended periods of time out of doors the past few days chances are that your face and any other exposed areas of skin is probably feeling a bit sore and tender. This is because the extreme cold has damaged your skin by dehydrating it and causing it to oxidize. More specifically your exposed skin is being subjected to the sublimation process which is when we see the outer surface of our skin begin to freeze ever so slightly and the water molecules go directly from their solid state or ice to their gaseous state as a vapour without ever being in its liquid state. Simply put we are all feeling a little freezer burnt!

If you have ever found a forgotten tidbit of food in the freezer which was wrapped in haste and repeatedly tossed out of the way every time you went rooting through your freezer you may discover when you finally un-wrapped it that a portion of its surface may have been covered in ice crystals.  This is the extreme effects of sublimation on foods that have been improperly frozen which when thawed leaves our food looking dry and shrivelled or somewhat burnt.

Food affected by freezer burn does not pose a threat to food safety or our health, it is will simply have some dry patches or have changed colour as the lack of moisture can cause reactions in pigmentation. By keeping the temperature of your freezer at a constant temperature of -18 °c or colder it will not only keep your frozen food safe it will lessen the effects of freezer burn. Foods located in an area of your freezer that are frequently exposed to temperature fluctuations like those near the door are at a greater risk of experiencing sublimation as well manual defrost freezers are better at preventing freezer burn than the self-defrosting freezers for the same reason..

When we venture outside in cold weather we tend to wrap ourselves up thoroughly and apply a protective layer of lotion on our skin to protect it which we can also do with our food. Properly wrapping our food is the first step in protecting it in the freezer. Vacuum packing your food with sealant machines are a popular method to use, while some choose to use self-sealing plastic bags which allow you to hug and squeeze the excess air out of the bag. Although plastic barriers are extremely effective at protecting food when they fail they fail miserably as the slightest puncture in the protective plastic allows the entire piece of food to be exposed to the effects of cold air. Traditional butcher paper is better for wrapping medium to larger pieces of food because it can effectively create a barrier between foods and the air, when they become punctured only the food at the puncture site will be at risk of developing freezer burn and can easily be trimmed off.

You can also slow the effects of freezer burn on your food by simply placing open, plastic containers partially filled with water in your freezer in addition to those used to make ice cubes to help maintain humidity.

Humans have been freezing food for its preservation for centuries as it slows decomposition of foods while protecting them from bacteria and pathogens. Clarence Birdseye II made numerous fur trapping expeditions into Labrador where he learned about ice fishing and witnessed the effects of flash freezing food in the sub-zero climate of the region. Birdseye watched how observed people purposely freezing their food for long term storage which inspired him to invent the necessary equipment required to create an endless line of frozen foods and prepared meals.

It has been proven that freezing foods does not impair their nutritional values; these values are lowered by the cooking methods and cooling processes that foods endure prior to and after being frozen similar to fresh foods. It has also been proven that foods frozen for 3, 6 and 12 month intervals also showed that the duration of time food spent in the freezer did not change their nutritional content.

As the extreme cold weather is now behinds us, and temperatures set to soar above the freezing mark I plan to be out on the deck firing up my barbeque and grilling locally raised meats, baking some locally grown potatoes, and possibly enjoying local corn from the freezer section in the following recipe.

 

Roasted Corn Chowder

3 cups frozen corn

1 tbsp. cooking oil

3 tbsp. Butter

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 cups of Yukon Gold Potatoes cut into ½-inch cubes

5 cups of water or chicken stock

1 tbsp. fresh chopped thyme

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Pinch of cayenne

Grill the corn in a cast iron skillet with the oil over a medium flame on the barbie until slightly charred and golden in color. Remove the pan from the barbeque and let it cool.

In a large soup pot over medium heat melt the butter then add the onions and garlic and allow them to cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Next add the potatoes and then the water or stock. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. Add the corn to the soup pot and allow it to simmer another 15 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

 

 

reservation
Chef Brian for Hire
The Spice Co.