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.

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Gastronomically yours,

Getting your pumpkin on this weekend?

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.

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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.

 

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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!

 

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Pumpkins are most commonly consumed in pumpkin pie during the Thanksgiving holidays. For some Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie. So ingrained is this tradition that once during the early colonization of North America, Thanksgiving celebrations were delayed due to a shortage of molasses which at that time was a key ingredient to making pumpkin pie.

Canned pumpkin is available year-round and is typically used for pumpkin desserts and baking. Fresh pumpkins are available in such great quantity right now that one should take full advantage of them. Fresh cooked pumpkins can be puréed and used in any recipe calling for canned pumpkin. This puree can be frozen and stored in your freezer for up to 3 months.  Smaller sized pumpkins are best for cooking, as they are sweeter, more tender and easier to handle. A 5-pound pumpkin will yield about 4 cups of mashed, cooked pumpkin. With fresh pumpkins one also gains the use of pumpkin seeds. Shelled pumpkin seeds known as Pepitas can be toasted and added to salads, breads or casseroles.

 

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Pumpkins alone are quite healthy for us as they are high in Vitamin A, potassium and antioxidants. This member of the gourd family has an exceptionally high water content making it ideal to use in juicers and blenders for making smoothies and cocktails. The creamy texture of cooked pumpkin flesh is enhanced even more when added to soups and stews.  One can bake pumpkins like squash with some butter and spices in the oven to be served as the vegetable component of a meal.

I have purchased a number of pumpkins from different farms in the area since late August, but the best tasting pumpkins in the area were grown in my son’s pumpkin patch which yielded us a two pumpkin harvest The first he carved into a jack o’ lantern and the other we used to make Stewed Pumpkin, a South African recipe that I learned while working at travel trade show in Toronto.  It has become a family favorite and is quite simple to make.

 

African Stewed Pumpkin

 

One medium sized pumpkin

Two tbsp.  Butter

One-quarter cup dark rum or water

One-quarter cup brown sugar

One pinch of nutmeg

One-eighth tsp cinnamon

Cut the pumpkin in half; remove seeds, pulp, and stringy portion. Slice the cleaned pumpkin into wedges. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the skin from the pumpkin.  Melt the butter over medium heat in a fry pan. Add the slices of pumpkin, and pour in the rum. Next sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the pumpkin. Add the remaining spices and cover pan with a lid. Reduce the heat to low and allow pan to gently stew for about 10 minutes.  Remove the lid from the pan and using tongs transfer the pumpkin wedges to a plate. Increase temperature to high and reduce the remaining liquid by half thus creating simple syrup.  Serve the warm pumpkin wedges with your favorite vanilla ice cream and drizzle with the syrup.

 

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