Photo by Ric Ernst

I’ve been growing garlic for nearly 20 years, and for a number of those years, I had no idea the scapes – or “flower” heads – were good for anything but compost. In fact, at first I left them on and wondered how you could possibly peel and slice the tiny cloves each flowering scape had yielded.
It turns out, those tiny cloves were seed garlic – also known as bulbils — which apparently is one way to “purify” the strain you’re growing. Garlic doesn’t actually reproduce by seed, so there’s no cross pollination but over time, you might grow from bulbs that have certain characteristics – for example, large but fewer cloves, or multiple cloves within single skins – and you want to get back to the original. Apparently you can do that with the seed garlic, though it will take several years before you have a full-sized crop to harvest. (more…)

Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks and Recipes for More Than 40 Irresistible Mini
Treats
By Bakerella
Raincoast/Chronicle 2010, hard cover, 160 pages; $22.95

The book offers instructions on how to make these cute snowmen.

The cupcake craze has pretty much passed me by, perhaps because I no longer have kids at home and the bake sales, birthday parties and other sundry cupcake friendly events have long ceased to involve me. And most cupcakes I’ve eaten haven’t really inspired me to love them enough to keep baking them.  In fact, there’s been only one one cupcake in memory that left me lusting for more, and that was one made about a year ago by Terra Breads baker Mary McKay, a Vancouver legend who could make cardboard taste good. I don’t know what she did, but those cupcakes were rich and tender, yet light enough to make me swoon, with frosting as ethereal as an angel’s wing.

I’ve now had to rethink my cupcake aversion, only because I adore Cake Pops, a new book by Bakerella, aka Angie Dudley. Dudley is not a professional baker — in fact she has no compunction whatsoever about telling the world that she’s still fond of yellow and chocolate cake-mix cakes and actually suggests you use boxed mixes for best results. She does provide several from-scratch recipes, but on the whole, this is a decorating book, not a cookbook. Bakerella doesn’t even really make cupcakes. These are whole cakes she bakes, then turns them into crumbs, mixes them with frosting and uses that to mold cake balls around lollilop sticks

It all started as a lark, Dudley says. She’s never been interested in baking, but she took a cake decorating class and was immediately hooked. She started a blog to keep track of her baking and decorating attempts, and as a result of her finesse with frosting, she’s now a cupcake star with a new cookbook and cake pops orders from Disney.

She calls them “fascinating tiny treats”, and even I could be convinced to try one despite knowing her penchant for boxed cake mixes. That’s because they look like so much fun, like toys you can eat.

I don’t know if I’d have the patience to attempt the ladybugs and pirates, the puppies, pumpkins, pandas and pussycats Dudley painstakingly shows you how to make with everything from edible ink to cookies and candy sprinkles. There are lots of photos showing her technique and there’s even a video at marthastewart.com where she demonstrates her sweet specialty. It’s actually quite fun to watch Martha fumble her way through making one of the simpler pops, but her clumsiness also serves as a reminder that even the queen of “I do it all myself and so should you” isn’t an immediate pro when it comes some things. If, however, you’re at all crafty and enjoy baking, you’ll have hours of fun with this one. And the nice thing is, you can always eat the mistakes.

Fabulous boletes, aka porcini, have sprouted on Vancouver Island and feature prominently in an upcoming dinner at Deerholme Farm.

Feeling peckish? Let me whet your appetite even more with the following.

Duck-liver and pine-mushroom pate with cloud berry jelly on raisin bread croutons followed by a salad of pan-seared duck breast, frisée, bacon, candied pine mushrooms and a blue cheese and citrus vinaigrette. Still hungry? Consider the ultimate lasagna: porcini bechamel, shredded duck and buffalo mozzarella (from nearby Fairburn Farm), all of it laced with sage and roasted garlic.

Oh my, I’m almost drooling as I read the mouthwatering menu featured at Deerholme Farm’s teaching kitchen in Cowichan on Vancouver Island Saturday, Nov. 20, the final wild mushroom dinner of the season. There’s duck in every course, including a dessert of duck-egg crème caramel with port-poached pear and dried pear crisps. The man behind the menu is our favourite Island foodie, chef Bill Jones, who also happens to be a master wild-mushroom forager (he taught me much about finding them in the Lower Mainland when he still lived here).

Jones seems to have a built-in radar for finding boletes (porcini), chanterelles and pine mushrooms, not to mention lobster, cauliflower and other fab fungi. Jones dries, pickles and freezes the mushroom bounty, much of it practically outside the front door of his farm, where he also grows veggies year-round. Jones is part of a network of great food and wine producers and promoters that have made the Cowichan Valley a foodie’s dream destination.

If you’re on the Island in late November, sign up now for this dinner, which you’ll watch being prepared and eat in the cozy kitchen/dining area of Deerholme. Cost is $90. You will not go away hungry! More info at deerholme.com.

From left, collards, kale, Swiss chard and Japanese mustard greens. Photo by Ric Ernst

Although some things did not do well in the garden this year, our patch of greens, which included Tuscan black kale (sometimes called dinosaur kale), rainbow chard and collards, did flourish. I’m particularly fond of the kale, as were the many bugs that invaded our garden this damp and cool growing season. Yes, eating insects is trendy in some places, but not on our farm. And the dimpled, curled leaves of  Tuscan kale are perfect places for them to hide, so my habit of blanching the leaves for 30 seconds or so before rinsing in cold water, squeezing dry and chopping helped flush these little critters out very nicely.

I’ve found that blanching kale and collards before cooking them up in other dishes also helps remove the cabbagey smell and bitter flavour that the longer cooking they require brings out. My favourite way to serve these super-healthy greens is by simply sautéeing the chopped, blanched kale (remove the stems after blanching) for about five minutes  in a little olive oil and bacon fat (this adds a wonderful rich and smoky flavour, but if you’re not into bacon, use a drop or two of liquid smoke for similar affect or skip this altogether; it’ll be just as good) with minced garlic and a splash of broth. Salt and pepper to taste plus (more…)

Though I no longer work at a major daily and this blog is my sole outlet for the need to talk about food, Rob Feenie returns my request for a quick interview almost as soon as I put it in. He sounds both relaxed and excited as he explains his reasons for coming out to cook on the celebrity stage at the Eat! Fraser Valley show in Abbotsford this weekend.

He is there, he says, to promote the fact his employers, the Cactus Club Restaurants, are planning to open a restaurant in Abbotsford later this year. Although Feenie is described rather grandly as “Food Concept Architect” for the Cactus Club chain (don’t know if I would find a food concept all that appetizing, but never mind!), I have to admit, the food at CC has improved considerably since he’s taken over the menu and recipe development duties.

Rob Feenie

For those of you who may not know, Feenie was for many years the Golden Boy of Vancouver’s restaurant scene with his Lumiere Restaurant, which garnered too many awards to mention. He also won the Iron Chef title on the Food Network’s Iron Chef competition a few years ago. And he says he wouldn’t mind going back to the bright lights and pressures of that fierce competition.

But for now, Feenie seems content with his role at the CC chain, which gives him time to enjoy being Dad to three kids aged two, four and six. “My wife and my kids are now the most important things in my life,” says Feenie, who will cook some of his trademark dishes this weekend, including squash soup,  mini pulled-pork and grilled cheese buns and raw-milk ricotta and fresh herb ravioli. (more…)

  • Make good use of the barbecue this season. NYT’s minimalist Mark Bittman offers 101 quick hits on the grill, from grilled lime to squeeze over grilled buttered corn to slowly grilled fresh figs stuffed with cheese. Some of it seems a bit overdone, such as grilling avocadoes for guacamole, but there are so many other good ideas here, it’s easy to dismiss the few questionable ones.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/dining/30mini.html?ref=dining

  • An unusual way to highlight the tempting  bounty of fresh strawberries is in a cheesecake that uses soft goat cheese instead of cream cheese and tops it with a balsamic-berry sauce.

http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-summerpierec2-3jul02,0,4017525.story

  • Gourmet Magazine is being revived as an online entity this fall, apparently with an app for the I-Pad. But what about the rest of  us who haven’t bought into the latest Apple gotta-have? I was a long-time subscriber and loved what Ruth Reichl had done with the magazine. No word yet on whether she’ll be involved with the new online entity. “It will be free to download, with registration required, followed by paid content options,” says an announcement on the website. Mmmm, paid content options: is the “everything’s free online” ride finally ending?

http://live.gourmet.com/

The Best of Chef at Home: Essential Recipes for Today’s Kitchen

By Chef Michael Smith

Published by Whitecap, 2009; softcover, $29.95; 258 pages.

Michael Smith is one of those people you wish was  your friend, or at least your neighbour. The mild-mannered Food Network star has no need to shout, eat questionable things or set fire to whatever he’s cooking. He’s like the Mr. Rogers of the kitchen, and that’s a good thing.

When Mr. Rogers, er, Mr. Smith wanders on set in his popular Food Network Show, Chef at Home, he brings with him an air of friendly excitement and discovery about what he’s doing (“Oh good, there’s some fresh rosemary in the fridge. I can use that!”), but it’s never in your face or scary, just comfy enough that you want to stand next to him and watch what he’s doing and hear what he has to say about it.

This same jolly ease comes through in his latest book, which has been on the B.C. best-seller list for a number of months now. (more…)

Stacy gets ready to dig into fresh apple fritters.

Oh, to be in Toronto right now, where the temperatures are in the 80s (okay, the 30s, if you’re a stickler for Celsius and clueless about Fahrenheit). Here, we’ve been caught in the grip of devil rain for a week, with no end in sight. It’s downright depressing and I worry about all the veggie seedlings – rainbow chard, sugar snap peas, bush beans, beets, carrots, squashes, mizuna and other greens – that may drown if this doesn’t stop. And the heritage tomato plants are still in their cold frame, looking healthy and sturdy but quickly outgrowing their pots and sure to turn blue if taken out of their comfy little shelter in this weather.

I’m ready for happier thoughts though, which is why when I heard about Toronto’s current heat wave, I was reminded of our visit there in late April (no heat waves then, but nice weather nonetheless). Our favourite eastern rellies, Stacy and Dean, took me on a road trip to St. Jacob’s Farmers Market in the heart of Mennonite country. It’s in the Waterloo-Kitchener area about an hour’s drive from the big city.

Outside the main market buildings, numerous vendors were selling fresh fruits and vegetables, most of them imports as the growing season was just starting. I did see fresh wild garlic – or ramps, as they are called locally – and lots of  local maple syrup. In summer, I’m told, there’s a huge selection of local fruits and vegetables available there, but truth be told, we had come for a more wicked treat: the market’s famous fresh apple fritters. (more…)

Just a quick note for all  you fine-wine and spirits lovers about two great upcoming events next Wednesday, May 26,  the first a spirits tasting from 2:15 – 4:15 p.m.at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, 1505 West 2nd Ave., Vancouver; the second a wine tasting at 7 p.m. at The Sutton Place Hotel, 845 Burrard St., Vancouver.

Both tastings are being hosted by Georg Riedel of the famed wine-glass family. The spirits tasted include Herradura Repasado Tequila, Hennessy V.S.O.P Cognac, and Ben Riach Curiositas 10 Year Old Peated Single Malt while the wines are from
the fabulous Mission Hill Family Estate, including their 2007 Reserve Riesling, 2007 SLC Chardonnay, 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir, and 2006 Oculus.

Tickets for the spirits tasting are $50 and include three Riedel spirits glasses valued at $80. Tickets for the wine tasting are $99 and include a four-piece stemware set of Vinum XL Riedel glasses — one each of the Vinum Bordeaux, Montrachet, Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc glasses — valued at $148.50. These are all beautiful machine-blown lead crystal glasses that are dishwasher-safe.

­The event is meant to introduce what a press release calls “a new generation of Riedel glasses”. Although I have been a bit skeptical of the theory that a wine’s best flavour is enhanced by the shape of the wine glass (Riedel has a glass for just about every wine varietal), I do own a number of Riedel glasses and can vouch that their elegance certainly adds cachet to any occasion. And, let’s face it, when you feel elegant, things do have a way of tasting better.

In any case, fine wine or fine spirits and beautiful glasses. You can’t go wrong!

For spirits-tasting ticket info, go towww.bchospitalityfoundation.com/events (full disclosure: I do volunteer work for the BCHF, which receives $45 for every ticket sold). For wine-tasting tickets, call 604-264-4069 or email riedelglasstasting@markanthony.com.

“The goals of the spot prawn festivals are to highlight an environmentally sound and locally sourced product and to remind us that farmers markets don’t stop at the waters edge.” The Chefs’ Table Society of B.C.

Behind this declaration lies a stark market truth. Spot prawns are a seasonal delicacy in B.C. and the influx of farm-raised Asian prawns into our grocery stores over the past decade or so have posed a threat to the local fishery. The Asian variety are available year round and they are generally cheaper. But even 10 years ago, the intensive farming being done on the shorelines of Asian countries to meet world demand were killing whole swaths of seabed. The dead areas were becoming so large that they could be seen by satellites high above the earth. Those who actually went out to see such farms in operation were appalled at the filth and destruction left behind when farms could no longer be productive and had to move on to cleaner waters. In short, such production just isn’t sustainable. (And, by the way, if you’ve ever tasted a local prawn next to an imported, farmed specimen, you’ll never go back to the import.) (more…)