Deep November

November Sunrise - Calgary

NOVEMBER IN CALGARY: it’s the perfect juxtaposition of dwindling daylight hours and increasing social expectations that’s destined to wreak havoc with your serenity.

Still, the silver lining of this time of year is witnessing a stunning prairie sunrise as you grab that first (or second!) morning coffee at work – and a mountain sunset as you make your commute home.

Those rose-hued skies of late have put me in mind of a couple of my favourite things to lighten the holiday season.

November Sky cocktail (Cirque Restaurant, Fernie, BC)
My rendition of the November Sky (Cirque’s is much prettier)

The first is the November Sky – a warming combination of brown spirits and red wine that is one of Aileen Shipley’s gifts to the cocktail-sipping community.  Shipley conjured it up for her apres-ski guests at Cirque Restaurant & Bar in Fernie’s Lizard Creek Lodge (and allowed me to share the recipe in my basil column last winter).  The cocktail’s evocative sweet and sour layers are up to the dual tasks of pleasing your holiday guests or lifting your spirits as you work through your seasonal checklist.

And my second favourite go-to? Broiled Feta Crumbles & Fennel on Mixed Micro-Greens – a quick and delicious topper for crostini or crackers that was taught to me by Chef Crystal McKenzie of Peasant Cheese Shop in Kensington.  The recipe for this appetizer inspiration has recently made its way to the website of Taste & Travel International where you can access it for yourself.

[You’ll notice T&T’s photo presents it plated like a salad – a delicious option – but Crystal likes to spread a thick layer of tiny sprouts (pea shoots are terrific!) across a small platter, then sprinkle the toasted cheese crumbles and roasted fennel bits across the top, for a layered ensemble that guests can simply scoop onto their bread].

Mmmm – warm, salty cheese and greens, together with an elevated whisky sour.  For me there’s no better combination for easy entertaining or a little self-care in the midst of holiday chaos.

Or for simply curling up and looking ahead to powder ski days in the Rockies.

Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot

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A BeakerEats Preview

Toasted Canola Hay Gelato Profiterole

When your thoughts swing to gelato flavours, how often does canola appear on your  radar?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess:  never.

Fortunately, the mind of gelato guru Chef Mario Spina of Burger 320 holds no such limitations.

When the team behind Beakerhead – Calgary’s annual smash up of art, science, and engineering – dropped a load of canola hay, seeds, meal, and oil on his stoop, and asked him to produce an entry to this year’s BeakerEats program, he took up the challenge with gusto.  Notwithstanding a dramatic confrontation between his convection oven and the canola hay, Chef Spina came through with a toasted-canola-hay-infused gelato profiterole, topped with honey-chocolate sauce and a dusting of canola meal; a dessert that – judging by the moans of rapture emanating from my fellow diners – was right on the mark.

Canola sheafIt was the crowning finish to the BeakerEats Chefs’ Collaborative Dinner, a public event that previews some of the delights awaiting diners at participating restaurants throughout Beakerhead.  BeakerEats launches today, while the 2018 festival’s full lineup of activities, installations, talks and workshops – including a handful of culinary chemistry sessions – runs September 19 to 23.

Each year under its BeakerEats banner, the festival team selects a theme ingredient from Canadian farmers and producers, puts together a science kit of local products for Calgary chefs and mixologists, and challenges them to do what they do best:  apply their creativity to the fullest expression of outstanding ingredients.  The theme for 2018 is canola in all its forms – oil, seeds, meal, hay, and sprouts – a true prairie product grown by some 14,000 Alberta farmers.

As Beakerhead’s Paul Gordon noted at the outset of Wednesday’s dinner, canola itself has a long and interesting scientific history.  From its lowly origins as an inedible lubricant for the steam engines that powered Canada’s WWII navy, to its current position as one of the world’s healthiest edible oils (whose spent grain has also become a top-grade feed for dairy cattle), canola is a Canadian success story that speaks to the best of health-friendly science and to research both collaborative and tenacious.

Our BeakerEats walk through canola history was fueled by a Bloody Airdrie created by Spirit of the Wench, Wendy Peters.  It was a tasty tipple  that combined summer tomatoes, cucumbers, and red peppers with blended canola seed and Absolut Lemon vodka.

Bison Tataki

Then it was on to the tasting menu – and what a menu it was!

River Cafe‘s Chef Matthias Fong started us off with bison tataki, tucked cozily with Highwood Crossing canola oil sorbet and canola hay infused cream, and laced with Fallen Timbers mead, honey-crystallized canola seed,  and charred kohlrabi.

Brassica Family Salad

 

 

 

It was the perfect prelude to Chef Mitchell Carey’s Instagram-worthy salad of brassica-family vegetables, arranged with a cracker of spent canola & grains and honeycomb sponge toffee among pools of colourful canola infusions created by his Winebar Kensington team.

Spiced Canola Cake

 

Next up were spicy morsels of canola seed cake, created by Chef Liana Robberecht of WinSport, with bitey Highwood Crossing confit tomatoes, ninja radish, tomato skin petals, and canola shoots.

Chef Mike Pigot brought his Home and Away crafting style to popcorn-and-canola-meal tempura shrimp, with drizzles of canola seed caramel and a brilliant canola aioli.

Beef Bavette

 

 

The main course was provided by the dinner’s host venue, Brasserie Kensington, and featured a canola-hay-smoked sous vide beef bavette created by Chef Jorel  Zielke, sided with ABC Farms honey & parsnip saute and cold-pressed canola hollandaise.

And finally, that dessert:  Chef Spina’s toasted-hay gelato, sandwiched between choux pastry layers made from a canola oil/butter blend.

I could wax endlessly about the tastes, textures, and stylings of the night’s creative offerings – but go try them yourself instead.  You’ll find each dish on the menu of its creator’s home restaurant, from now until the end of Beakerhead 2018.

Be sure to ask Chef Spina about his canola hay tribulations.

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Sample more BeakerEats cocktails and food features at these other participating restaurants:  The Coup, Deane House, Oxbow, Yellow Door Bistro, and Shokunin.  Two dollars is donated to Beakerhead for every BeakerEats dish and cocktail sold.

Find the full line-up of Beakerhead events here.

For insight into canola’s fascinating scientific history, check out this overview at wdm.ca or the resources at albertacanola.com

Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot

Delicious Solidarity: Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of Food Day Canada

Berry harvest

In 2003, when international borders were closed to Canadian beef by our largest trading partners, Canadians responded with the World’s Longest Barbecue.  Chefs across the country came on board, sanctions were lifted over time, and that show of solidarity with our beef farmers morphed into Food Day Canada/Journée des terroirs, a nationwide party held every August long weekend in celebration of Canadian food.

Food Day Canada logoFifteen years on, with our blustery neighbour once again preoccupied with building walls, and our food producers under fire (from those, I believe, who would be allies if they better understood the reality), I have to agree with Food Day Canada founder, Anita Stewart, when she says that “Today we face similar, perhaps even graver, challenges”.

And I’m definitely on board with her call to all Canadians to not linger on lament but to throw a party instead, to “honour our own ingredients”.

Perhaps it’s my usual giddiness at the bounty that’s all around us at this time of year, but my personal Food Day Canada will be a celebration of delight as much as solidarity.  I’ll be pulling out some sweet discoveries that I made for my Canada Day barbecue in 2017.

spruce tip and rose hip syrup - webI’ll start things out with my favourite summertime cocktail, the Dominion Dram, created by Calgary mixologist, Myles Petley.  This drink has me gleefully picking new spruce tips in my backyard, and features a gin with botanicals traditionally used by the First Nations of the Arctic tundra.

We’ll nibble crostini baked from Canadian wheat flour, topped with aged Ontario cheddar and a drizzle of birch syrup that I sourced from a producer on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.  We’ll crunch through more than we should of Lobster Roll Bites (riffed from the delectable lobster rolls of Atlantic Canada, via George Brown culinary school alum/instructor, Annabelle Waugh).

Birch syrupMy husband will rule the grill with his famous West Coast Salmon (from a recipe shared by an old friend in Nanaimo) and *Nish Kabobs created by Aboriginal Television’s Chef David Wolfman (another George Brown notable. *Note:  “Nish” is slang for Anishinaabe First Nations).  With a few more mouths at the table, we might add Quebec Maple Pork Skewers to the platter, or some Bison Cherry Burgers (always a family favourite).

I’ll turn to Chef Wolfman again for Three Sisters Corn Relish salad, loaded with zucchini, onions, and peppers from my favourite Calgary Farmers’ Market producers.  And there will be heaps of Alberta-grown greens, carrots, and cucumbers, and sweet tiny tomatoes picked fresh from my garden pots.

Still to be determined are which Okanagan wines to drink.  So, too, is dessert – although it’s likely to feature the just-ripened fruit from my Juliet sour cherry tree (bred for Canadian prairie hardiness by the diligent researchers at the University of Saskatchewan).

Before the Plate film
“Before the Plate” directed by Sagi Kahane-Rapport; produced by Dylan Sher (Photo credit: Before the Plate)

To mark this 15th anniversary of Food Day Canada, Toronto’s CN Tower will light up the sky, and the film Before the Plate will make its sold-out premiere at that city’s Isabel Bader Theatre.  (This documentary, which takes one plate created by Chef John Horne at Canoe restaurant and traces each ingredient back to its Canadian source,  includes revelations about modern farming and distribution that are sure to surprise.  Watch for it – this doc is destined to appear at film festivals and indie cinemas everywhere).

Chefs will be hosting Food Day Canada events across the country; look for one near you from the list of restaurant partners at fooddaycanada.ca.

SO REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU’RE INCLINED TO CELEBRATE – be it solidarity with our country’s farmers, delight for Canadian-grown/raised/fished/foraged/brewed/distilled/aged or otherwise-crafted ingredients, or simply a glorious long weekend in our oh-so-short summer – be sure to rustle up some culinary treasures from your local farmers and food artisans this weekend or hustle down to the digs of your favourite chef-creator of Canadian cuisine.  There’s a patio or deck with your name on it somewhere and a cornucopia of Great White North flavours close at hand.

Wherever you are, be sure to share your discoveries on your favourite social media platforms using the hashtags #FoodDayCanada and #CanadaIsFood.

Food Artisans of Alberta

 (And for my Alberta homies, there’s a brand new resource out there to help you find all that delicious local goodness.  Food Artisans of Alberta by Karen Anderson and Matilde Sanchez-Turri combs every corner of the province to highlight the best growers and producers harnessing and nurturing our unique terroir from land and water to plate, jar, and bottle.  Once you read their stories, you’ll want to track them down – and much of their fare is closer than you think!  Find this guide at bookstores, cafes, cooking schools, food artisans – even the odd gas station around the province – or online at Chapters/Indigo.)

 

 

Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot (except where noted)

 

Leftovers Black Box Challenge – Week 3: Burdensome Basil

Handful of basil

I have a LOVE-HATE relationship with basil.

LOVE – because it’s my all-time favourite herb, whose sweet scent and peppery taste I can never grow tired of.

And LOVE – because whether its Genovese basil or Thai, lemon basil or purple,  it thrives in my patio pots all through the Calgary summer.

But HATE – because no matter what I do – water more, water less, choose a sunny spot, or not  – I cannot keep its glossy leaves alive through the winter.

And HATE – because when I  buy it in those plastic packets from the store, I use a little for a single meal and the remainder plummets toward an all-too-rapid demise in my fridge.

There’s some lurking in there now.

It arrived at my house a few days ago.  Served its duty in a lively Thai chicken stirfry.  And now sits there, taunting me.

Basil bouquetStorage is key, I know, for all herbs – but particularly for oh-so-tender basil.  When I spot it in the grocery store with roots intact, it always follows me home – where it stays happy in a tiny juice glass of oft-replenished water, a green bouquet on my kitchen counter, for more than a week.  (Or so I surmise – the irony of its constant visual presence means it disappears at a meteoric rate).

Not so much in a plastic coffer.

Other herbs, like mint, thyme and rosemary, lend themselves to simple drying.  Basil tends to go black unless it’s dried in the oven – and the resulting product loses everything I like about basil’s incomparable flavour.

I can’t pop it in the freezer (like I do with so many of my leftovers quandaries) unless it’s pureed with a bit of oil.  But then I’m likely to mix it up with the cubes of green adobo sauce that I keep there – and THAT can lead to some unpleasant surprises.  (I’m not a great labeller of freezer items).

A few years ago, Chef Patrick Dunn of InterCourse Chef Services introduced me to a slick trick.  He’d had great success storing his basil and other herbs in a sealed container with a whole raw egg.  The semi-permeable shell apparently allows excess moisture to be absorbed into the egg, and herbs stay crisp and fresh for two weeks.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr SeussIncidentally,  the egg absorbs some of the herb colour and fragrance, as well – but this offers possibilities for delighting the Dr. Seuss fans in your house (and aren’t we all Dr. Seuss fans at heart?).

I’ve never tried Dunn’s technique.

I could whip up a little pesto in the blender – but my fridge already harbours half a jar of commercial pesto that was bought in a time crisis.

I could toss the basil into salads, tuck it into sandwiches – always a bitey enhancement – but its leaves are already drooping in a texturally-unpleasant way.

Friends tell me to stir it into whatever pasta dish I’m preparing.  I cook pasta maybe four times a year.

Meanwhile, the basil quick-marches toward imminent death, a prospect that just might drive me to drink.

But perhaps therein lies the answer.   My current favourite cocktail features a basil simple syrup.   Shaken with Canadian whisky, lemon juice, and egg white, and topped with a splash of red wine, it becomes a mouth-puckering and eye-pleasing November Sky.  It’s essentially an amped-up whisky sour created by Aileen Shipley at Cirque Restaurant in Fernie’s Lizard Creek Lodge – and I’m forever grateful for her ingenuity.

The simple syrup is probably its most luscious when the basil is fresher – but when everything’s all in, I doubt my tongue will be able to tell.

Think I’ll go conjure up some now.

 

NOVEMBER SKY

Serves 1

November Sky cocktail (Cirque Restaurant, Fernie, BC)

2 oz Crown Royal

1 oz lemon juice

1/2 oz basil simple syrup (recipe below)

1 egg white

1/2 oz dry red wine

Garnish: 2 skewered brandied cherries (or red grapes)

 

In a cocktail shaker combine Crown Royal, lemon juice, basil syrup and egg white.

Dry shake.  Add ice and shake again.

Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.

Float red wine on top, and garnish with brandied cherries.

 

Basil Syrup

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

Generous handful of basil, rinsed

 

Combine water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved.

Add basil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and let steep until desired basil flavour is reached.

Strain out basil and store syrup in the fridge for up to a month.

Shared with permission from Cirque Restaurant at Lizard Creek Lodge (slopeside at Fernie Alpine Resort).

 

Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot

Black box

 

Following Vernon’s Culinary Trail

Paddling with ELEMENTS Adventure Company
Photo credit: ELEMENTS Adventure Company

When I came in search of food experiences in British Columbia’s North Okanagan Valley, I didn’t expect to find myself HERE.

Pine forests tumble down the Monashee mountains and cottonwoods throw shadows over the canoe, as I float with seven other paddlers down the Shuswap River.  Other shadows flit below the water:  Chinook and Sockeye salmon returning to their birthplace to spawn.  A Bald eagle whistles from a tall snag, but before I can locate his partner, my guide, Charles Ruechel, sounds his call to stroke hard on my side of the canoe.  By the time we clear the “sweeper” – a tree laid low over the water – we’ve left the eagle behind.  No matter.  Minutes later, another eagle splits the October sky.

Read the full story in the Summer Issue of Taste & Travel International magazine.

Big Tastes of Spring

(NOTE:  WINTER IS COMING GOING) 

Tulips

 

Know what always tells me that spring is actually on its way?

It’s not the tulips that appear at the checkout, whispering tight-lipped promises that they’ll open their hearts, if only I’ll take them home.  (I do, and they prove true to their word).

Nor is it the bare patch that emerges in my garden after a long Chinook, reminding me of where my rhubarb lays sleeping.  (That just makes me sad.  BUT I’ve found an antidote for that, which I’ll share later on).

It’s the moment when I take my last luscious YYC Hot Chocolate Fest sip (thank you, February!) and open my browser to the listings for The Big Taste – Calgary’s annual festival for food lovers.  Those ten days in March when hundreds of city-centre chefs put on their best show, with multicourse meals that remind us what a terrific food town we live in.  This year, more than 90 restaurants make their pitch for your heart and mine.

Big Taste 2017But the festival’s not all signature events and gourmet dinners (though there’s plenty of those, with menus whose read is its own delicious indulgence).  Our chefs and restaurateurs know – perhaps better than most – that we’ve been hurting here in Calgary during this economic downturn.  So they’ve also included 3-course lunches for only $15 and $25 dollars, and Happy Hour specials featuring all your favourite and soon-to-be-favourite drinks and snacks.

So even if the belt is tight at the moment, there’s good excuse to loosen it up just a notch and treat yourself to a little morale boost.  To celebrate the news that we’ve turned the corner and – though the climb is still long and slow – better times lay ahead.

To venture down to the new-kids-on-the-block like Royale Brasserie and Mill Street Brewpub on 17th;  Klein/Harris on Stephen Avenue;  or Provision in Memorial Park.  Stave off the winter blues with a new-to-you cuisine at Hapa Izakaya (serving Japanese),  Paper St. Food + Drink (featuring international street food),  or Foreign Concept (helmed by Gold Medal Plates winner, Chef Jinhee Lee, and her mentor, Duncan Ly).

King salmon - The GuildMaybe it’s time to check out the food scene stars that you’ve just never made it to, like Pigeonhole  or  Whitehall.  Or to splash all-out: at SAIT’s Centennial Celebration in their spiffy downtown culinary campus – or at The Guild toasting Canada’s 150th birthday in the iconic Hudson’s Bay building .

Whether your inclination is to explore new food frontiers or rediscover old favourites, know that scores of our culinary best are working hard behind the scenes to coax fabulous flavours and colours from our province’s larders and root cellars.  They’re tapping local greenhouses – and sourcing fresh crops from our neighbours in gentler climes – to remind us of what we can look forward to as the days grow longer.

They’re bringing spring back to Calgary. Time to show them a little love.  It’s been a long cold winter for them, too.

The 2017 Big Taste Foodie Festival (#BIGTASTEYYC) launches this Friday, March 3 and runs through Sunday, March 12.  Find restaurant listings, menus, and reservations links at http://www.calgarydowntown.com/the-big-taste.

Okanagan Spirits Rhubarb Liqueur

AND FOR THOSE LIKE ME WHO CAN’T WAIT FOR THAT FIRST TASTE OF RHUBARB:  Track down a bottle of Okanagan Spirits’ Rhubarb Liqueur – my favourite springtime discovery. In an inspired turn of crowdsourcing in 2016, Vernon’s craft distillery asked Okanagan residents if they’d like to share their spare rhubarb for a little experiment.   Okanaganites responded in droves – with everything from truckbeds of rhubarb stalks in dirt, to sealed baggies of carefully-chopped fruit.  Distillery staff painstakingly washed and hand-chopped all 650 pounds – to produce a spirit that’s so tart and fresh, you can almost hear the crunch.  Look for it at fine liquor stores in Calgary or order it online while supplies last.

Text and photos © 2017 Catherine Van Brunschot

Hot Eats in San Diego

Blueberry-basil shrub with lemonade - Zymology 21
Photo credit: C. Van Brunschot

Some food tours are all about discovering a regional cuisine.  Others provide a gateway to understanding local culture.

And some are just about who’s the brightest kid on the block doing great things with food.

Bite San Diego’s Downtown/Little Italy tour is all about the latter -which could explain why the majority of the fifteen folks who’ve turned up for today’s tour actually live within an hour’s drive…

(Taste & Travel International, Winter 2017) READ MORE