Newsy things

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.

  • 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.,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?

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 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 (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

That extra-virgin olive oil you drizzle over your salad may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

In a recent Montreal Gazette story, reporter Susan Semenak says olive oil fraud is rampant throughout the world, as some importers and distributors cut the expensive queen of oils with much cheaper sunflower or other vegetable oils.

Last year, three Canadian importers and distributors of olive oil were convicted under the Canada Food and Drug Act. Among them was Toronto-based importer and distributor of Emma, Casa Italia and Cortina Foods brands which was selling olive oil labeled extra-virgin but found to be 50 per cent sunflower oil. Santa Maria Foods, also of Toronto,markets Mastro olive oil and was convicted of unlawfully importing oil labeled as extra-virgin olive oil that was, in fact, blended oil containing approximately 50 per cent sunflower oil, Semenak says.

How can you tell if you’re buying the real stuff? Well, price is usually a good indication. The cheaper the extra-virgin oil, the more suspicious you should be. Quality olive oil is expensive to produce and if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is, says Semenak.

She also offers tips on how to find the true liquid gold and what to look for when tasting an oil. The best olive oils are bottled at the estates where the olives were grown, she says.

You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy a green beer on March 17.

St. Paddy’s Day usually revolves around good cheer, good  food — and of course, good drink. Check out these 15 St. Patrick’s Day recipes in this week’s LA Times food section, among them marinated wings, lamb chops with mint pesto, beer-battered shrimp, Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, and Irish bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce. Sounds like a party to me!

And if a mid-week bash isn’t in the cards for you, Saturday is the spring equinox, another good reason to celebrate.


Well, it is still winter, according to the calendar, so what better way to spend a damp and gloomy Sunday than in the kitchen whipping up something sweet or savoury —  or both. Here are some ideas from some of our favourite newspaper food sections.

Although we’ve had a great kick of spring already, not everyone has been similarly blessed. Noelle Carter of the Los Angeles Times had a hankering for something smoky recently, but the weather down there has been unusually wet and stormy so there’s not much happening in the way of outdoor grilling.  I know, I know, we here in the True North grill year round — sun, rain, sleet or snow. But those delicate Angelinos melt at the first sign of moisture. Their solution? Indoor smoked baby back ribs,  scallops, pork belly and game hens. Check out Carter’s recipes and methods for each.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has several suggestions for whiling away the afternoon by indulging  your sweet tooth. Think sweetened  condensed milk, not really a North American gourmet staple but beloved in South America and Asia for desserts and drinks. As kids in Holland, we had the sticky sweet stuff smeared as thickly as possible on bread. I stopped eating this a long time ago, but was reintroduced to SCM by a Mexican cook who used it to make a spectacular mango pudding (three good-sized, perfectly ripe, not-stringy mangoes, cubed; a can of condensed milk and a teaspoon or two of fresh lime juice whirled in a blender until smooth. Chill, serve with a splash of raspberry or other berry sauce and a dollop of whipped cream and wait for the applause).

Here, SCM is the base for coconut brigadeiros, Brazilian candies that owe their melt-in-your-mouth texture to SCM that’s cooked down until it’s thick and fudge-like. There are also dead-easy recipes for chocolate fudge and SCM ice cream.

Another NYT column I’ve recently discovered, New Staples, is in T, their online Sunday magazine. Merrill Stubbs, owner and founder of Food52, looks at great new ingredients  currently in vogue with creative cooks. Her column features vadouvan, a spice mixture I first heard about in San Francisco last fall (vadouvan is a fragrant mix of East and West, including dried onion or shallots and garlic  and “fenugreek, curry leaves and a host of warm spices that can include turmeric, cumin, cardamom, mustard seeds and cayenne”); using rendered beef fat for cooking; duck hearts on toast; and something called Buddha’s Hand, a highly aromatic, very unusual looking member of the citrus family.

McCormick's Turmeric-Spiced Chicken with Tomato Avocado Salsa.

Spice company McCormick’s  2010 Flavour Forecast is a fun look at what  (according to one press release under their banner) “sensory analysts, chefs, trend experts, food technologists . . . cookbook authors and TV food personalities”  think might be flavourings that will catch fire with cooks everywhere (and get them to buy spices, of course). I love the idea of roasted ginger and rhubarb but am not so crazy about caraway and bitter greens (love the latter, generally avoid the former). I also can’t wait for the garden tomatoes to come on stream to try the turmeric-tomato combo.

Just for fun, I’ve tracked down their 2009 predictions, which follow the 2010 list below. Shows that predicting the future is a difficult game at the best of times. Still, it’s always fun, and often inspiring, to find out what the experts think. (more…)