Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Salads Part One

Horseradish Dijon Vinaigrette
Spring has sprung and I am busily tending to our little garden in the city.  My thoughts are filled with visions of sprouting fresh greens, arugula and vine ripened tomatoes. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am a total carnivore and live by the BBQ even when the weather gets close to the freezing mark…I’ll save that for another story. With all this meat and BBQ goodness I still need - and yes even crave - a great salad.

Today I am going to share one of my new favourite vinaigrettes. I got my inspiration from Chef Lynn Crawford and her restaurant Ruby Watch Co.  It was during a recent birthday celebration that I was served a very lovely, yet simple, salad with panko crusted goat cheese fritters. The fritters were excellent, but it was the vinaigrette that stole the show for me. Chef Lynn created a very simple vinaigrette that had horseradish as an ingredient, which I thought was exquisite.  Below is my own rendition of this very tasty dressing.

What you will need:
1 cup (250mL) - Olive oil or a good light flavoured salad oil (i.e. sunflower seed)
⅓ cup (75mL) - White wine vinegar or Apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15mL) - Freshly grated horseradish or prepared (hot or mild your choice)
1 tbsp (15mL) - Dijon mustard
1 tsp (15mL) - Honey
1 tsp (5mL) - Worchester sauce
1 clove - Garlic (grated or minced very fine)
2–3 sprigs - Fresh thyme
½ - Lemon, juice (use the zest if you like more bite)
To taste - Sea salt and cracked black pepper

1.       Combine horseradish, honey, garlic, Dijon, Worchester and lemon juice (zest) into a bowl and gently mix with a wire whisk.
2.       Add vinegar keeping in mind that for the desired amount of dressing, the ratio should be 1 part vinegar and flavouring ingredients to 3 parts oil.
3.       Once evenly combined, slowly add oil to the bowl. Whisk oil gently and then more vigorously once all the ingredients have been added.
4.       Once dressing is thoroughly mixed – taste and adjust to your liking.
5.       Add thyme (stems removed) and then mix, taste and adjust again.
6.       Enjoy with your favourite salad greens or anything else you can use a vinaigrette for – i.e. a marinade for chicken.  The vinaigrette will last a couple of days refrigerated. (Note: If using olive oil, give the dressing a good shake when you take it out of the refrigerator as olive oil tends to clump when cold).

I hope that you will enjoy my twist on a traditional vinaigrette. Wishing you a great summer and happy salads!  Until next time…

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Where did I learn to love food?

A little about me...

Where to start? Some people might introduce themselves by listing their credentials, like where they studied, where they’ve worked, if they’ve worked in a Michelin star restaurant, how many restaurants they’ve opened, etc, but I feel it doesn’t matter all too much at this time in my life. Don’t get me wrong, a solid foundation and understanding of the culinary world are important to me but I don’t think it defines who I am and my passion for food.

I want to begin my story by speaking about the influential role models that have helped me get to where I am today and my life as a Chef. I have always been fascinated with flavours and how to make food taste good. In no particular order, the following have hugely impacted my life: my grandmother, father and my mentor, Master Chef Robert Orsi.

My grandmother was an awesome cook! Period. She was the best I have ever known; just thinking about her food still makes me salivate. Gosh I miss her. When I was young, I was always so excited to visit her, and she would be so happy to cook for the family. She would start to prepare days before we would visit.  After all the hard work, she’d be so happy to just sit and watch us eat.  But I think that she was happiest watching me try and enjoy her food as much as I did. She would take note of what foods I loved most and would always make sure that on every visit it would be there for me to enjoy again. I often stayed with my grandmother when school was out, and she would take ‘normal’, every day food and make it her own - like deep fried French fries. Oh my gosh they were so delicious…and was probably in part due to the fact that she used pig fat to deep fry them.  She often walked to the local markets and pick fruit, meat and snacks.  Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we had amazing way of communicating with one another…through food. Deep down, I loved her and I knew that she loved me back, and I could taste it through her cooking. I truly believe that when food is cooked with love and passion, it always tastes better.

My Father, like myself, is the main cook at home.  My mother cooks but not nearly as well and not with the same kind of passion for flavour and creativity as my father.  My very first job in the house kitchen was to learn how to make rice.  Measure it, wash it and add just enough water for it to cook to the correct level of tenderness. I was probably only 11 or 12 when I started, and was responsible for making the rice for years.  By the age of 13, I had already ventured out to start cooking main dishes on my own. I remember the first dish I ever cooked –meatloaf – it was simple but very tasty (if I may say so myself).  The look of satisfaction and amazement was something that I loved.  It was such a great feeling to know that I could create this and that people enjoyed eating it. My father also introduced me to concept of marinating meat, how to sauté, to stew and to roast meat.  My father was definitely the master of the BBQ – even to this day.  I often try to replicate his flavours. His ability to combine different flavours inspired me to learn how to cook on the fly and helped me develop my palette for pairing different flavours in my cooking.

Last, but not least, my mentor Master Chef Robert Orsi. Chef Robert is originally from France, but we met at a private culinary institute when I was contemplating a career change in my life. I had all the necessary formal education, gone to university, studied majoring in law and doing very well I might add.  But there seemed to be something missing.  I decided to pursue a life in the kitchen much to the chagrin of my parents.   My parents had  “higher” hopes for me , that I would head in a more “professional” direction.  On my initial trip to the school, it was an eye opening experience, one that I will never forget.  A professional kitchen, people frantically buzzing around trying to get their practicum complete and at the front of the room a very large man with an even larger hat barking orders in a combination of French-english …hurry hurry…vite vite…remember to work clean!  It was incredible.  That was the first time I met Chef Orsi.  It was him that sealed the deal for me to join and begin my formal training.  At times, I feared him…other times we joked.  But always, I have loved and respected him as my mentor and in many ways he was just like a father.  We still keep in touch.  He and his wife have always been so good to me.  He taught me the basics of the kitchen, respect for ingredients, respect for fellow chef, respect the people who produce the food and most importantly respect the kitchen.

I have been the constant student in my pursuit for knowledge in all things culinary.  I practically eat and sleep food.  I hope that you will join me on my journeys and hopefully pick up a few tips and flavours to make your own. I invite you to follow my journey (food, work, personal, etc).

Friday, 15 April 2011

Dare to dream...

Let's just call this an experiment and see where this takes me....