A Seasonal Menu for April

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A Menu for April

Watercress Soup with Anchovy Croutons and Spring Herbs
Seared Sea Scallops with Cauliflower Purée and a Currant and Pine Nut Relish
Vanilla Semifreddo with Rhubarb Compote

I’m exited to share this menu for April! We are coming out of the depths of winter and happily there are plenty of inspiring ingredients at our local farmer’s markets to help us usher in the flavours of spring. I have been thrilled to see stinging nettles, hedgehog mushrooms, radishes and fiddle heads. Many of the vendors are now offering bags of jewel-coloured watercress and bunches of chives with their pink flowers attached, along with the first stalks of rhubarb.

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This month’s menu perfectly showcases some of these early spring arrivals and the flavours are light and bright like the season itself. The menu was inspired by recipes from one of my very favourite cookbooks Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin. This cookbook is filled with fantastic seasonal menus that and is a constant source of inspiration for me.

Both Diane from Nourishing Vancouver, (my collaborator on this seasonal menu project) and I tweaked the recipes from Sunday Suppers to help streamline the dishes to make them doable for the home cook without sacrificing the bold flavours of the original recipes.

We started with a lovely watercress soup. I am always looking for new way to cook with watercress and this soup is an absolute winner that will become a staple in my watercress repertoire. The colour alone is enough of a reason to make and serve this soup but it also happens to burst with springtime flavour in every spoonful. We both added a potato to the broth to thicken the soup slightly and I topped my bowls with croutons that I seasoned with a compound butter seasoned with anchovies, lemon zest and herbs.

For the main course we wanted to highlight scallops. This dish comes together with ease, especially if you make the pine nut and currant relish in advance. Diane garnished her scallops with a mint and pistachio pesto and some cherry tomatoes which is something I will definitely try next time. The purée of cauliflower is a simple, healthy component that is super quick to make. Just steam florets of cauliflower and then put them in the blender with some olive oil, salt and pepper. I also roasted some of the florets for a colour, flavour and texture contrast on the plate and loved the result. The agrodolce currant relish with pine nuts and herbs works beautifully with the scallops but this would also be lovely on halibut or other white fish The whole dish comes together in about 20 minutes.

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Dessert in early spring means rhubarb for me. I grow rhubarb in my garden and am always giddy with excitement when it comes time to harvest the first slender stalks. I am personally not a fan of mixing rhubarb with other fruits, like strawberries, but let your palate be your guide here. You can caramelize the rhubarb for a deeper flavour but I just made a simple compote with a bit of orange zest, sugar and vanilla and it worked well with the vanilla semi-freddo.

I would love any feedback from those of you who are following along and making these menus or the individual recipes at home! Also, any spring favourites that are staples in your kitchen this season?

xo J

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Seasonal Menu for March

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A Menu for March

Burrata with Peppers in Olive Oil and Capers
Crostini with Cicerchia and Dandelion Greens
Smoked Black Cod with Arugula, Leeks and Potatoes in a Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette
Braised Mint Lamb Shanks with Green Pea Risotto
Olive Oil Chocolate Mousse with Toasted Pistachios

Happy Easter!

I had been hoping to have this seasonal menu up in time so that people could actually try these recipes for their Easter celebrations but life just kept getting in the way. No matter, this menu will be perfect for these final days of March and also for April when early spring often feels more like winter with cool temperatures, brisk winds and plenty of rain.

This is my second collaboration with Nourishing Vancouver’s Diane Owen and to say that I am enjoying the process of working together would be an huge understatement. I am feeling so inspired, and thinking beyond my own cooking experience, becoming aware of my food biases and learning, learning, learning. The added bonus of actually having a monthly deadline to photograph and write is a very good exercise being that I am the Queen of Procrastination.

As we did last month, Diane and I sat down together over a cup of tea and talked about what the month of March meant to each of us food and entertaining wise. We talked about what we crave during this transitional point in the culinary year, ingredients that are available in the market and cooking methods that suit the season.

This month our menu planning was influenced by a dinner that Diane had asked my small company, Kitchen Culinaire, to host for a group of her friends. It was the perfect way to design a menu that would suit the tastes of this particular group and also celebrate the season. Diane was also looking for something interactive at her supper club and so we decided that an olive oil tasting might be the perfect way to start off the evening. From there we needed to decide on a main protein. We agreed that early spring (and Easter) always makes us think of lamb and Diane had a particular mint braised lamb recipe that she was eager to share. Perfect.

As we were starting with an olive oil tasting that would feature the liquid gold made by our Puglian friends, the Creanza family, we thought an Italian menu might be our inspiration for March. A risotto bianco with a nod to spring in the form of peas and pea shoots seemed a perfect accompaniment to the mint brined lamb shanks (cut in the style of Osso Bucco). A olive oil, dark chocolate mousse with toasted pistachios would be a nice, light finish and so now it was just the first course that we needed to nail down.

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Diane had polled the members of her group who would be joining us and there was a request for the first course to include either fish or duck. We decided that duck might be a bit heavy to precede the braised lamb and so set our sights on a first course with a smoked fish component. I remembered a salad that I made countless times when I worked at Lumière restaurant in Vancouver. It was one of the first salads I learned to make at the restaurant and a perennial favourite by the guests there. It pairs smoked black cod, with leeks and baby potatoes and arugula all dressed with a grainy mustard and topped with thinly sliced radishes. A nod to Italy with the rucola (arugula), the west coast of Canada with the black cod and spring with the radishes. Done.

We rounded out the meal with some appetizers that featured the olive oil that we would be tasting at the start of the evening. Burrata flown in from Puglia served with olive oil braised peppers and capers, crostini with cicherccia topped with dandelion greens and a shaving of Parmigiano and pickled mushrooms preserved in olive oil.

The evening arrived, Diane and her husband and their lovely group of friends gathered in the kitchen. We blind tasted two different oils, we nibbled on the appetizers, talked about food and travel and adventures with knives and sipped Prosecco. We served a three course meal in the dining room and everyone seemed to enjoy the meal itself and the time talking and laughing around the table.

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The components of this menu worked very well together and much of it could be done in advance. It was also great to be able to tie things together with the theme of the olive oil that was used in every single dish we served. For me the highlight of the meal was Diane’s recipe for the lamb. I had never cooked lamb shanks that were cut in rounds just like veal for osso bucco. I have never brined shanks before (3 days in advance!) and I had never braised meat using just shallots and a puree of mint instead of the traditional carrots, onions, celery etc. I was absolutely thrilled by the way these lamb shanks turned out. Perfectly seasoned, tender, tasting of mint but in an ethereal way. This is not something I would have thought to try and it will now be a staple for me to teach at classes and serve at my own family’s table.

I will be posting the recipes for the black cod salad, braised lamb and the olive oil chocolate here in the coming days. Diane has them up on her site Nourishing Vancouver right now as well as her eloquent words about our menu collaboration and the dinner we co-hosted.

Menu planning for April is in the works. Stay tuned.

xo J

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A Seasonal Menu for February

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A Menu for February
Avocado, Beet and Watercress Salad with Lime and Crème Fraîche
Really Easy Duck Confit
Roasted Fennel with Oranges and Pepper Flakes
Pears Poached in Red Wine with Mascarpone Cream and Toasted Pistachios
Chocolate-Dipped Florentines

I cook a lot.

I host a lot of dinner parties and (happily) people even pay me to teach them how to cook and host dinner parties.

Gathering people around the table for a meal is an important and joyful part of my life. So, it is no exaggeration to say that I really love to plan menus. I love to think of what is in season and to figure out the pieces of the puzzle that makes a good meal. Ensuring that there is a rhythm to it, that the dishes work together in harmony and that I can pull off a meal without being wild-eyed and exhausted by the time the food is on the table. Still… I sometimes struggle with planning a menu and making it fresh and inspiring, simple but interesting and to not just rely on the tried and true dishes that I have cooked and served over and over again…

This is why I am so excited to be working on a seasonal menu project with Diane Owen. Diane trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London, taught cooking classes and worked at Bishop’s restaurant in Vancouver. She is a passionate cook and she seems to love menu planning as much as I do! We sat down a few weeks ago and planned a menu based on favourite dishes we had been recently cooking and what we thought worked well and was in season during February. It was so much fun to thumb through our favourite cookbooks, talk about particularly memorable meals that we have cooked and eaten and people who have joined us at the table.

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Both of us agreed that when we sit down to plan a menu we generally start by picking the main protein and build a meal around it. Diane suggested cooking duck legs for our first menu and we quickly agreed on using the “easy duck confit” method. I have taught this method of cooking duck legs at many a class and people are always surprised to discover how easy it is to make delicious, French bistro-style, duck confit at home. We had our protein.

From there we decided to focus on some bright flavours of citrus and so roasted fennel with blood oranges seemed a good fit alongside the richness of the duck.

Salad course? We were initially drawn to the idea of greens paired with more citrus but decided to go in another direction with roasted beets, avocado, crab and crème fraîche served as a composed salad that we have both made and loved in the past. There is still a nod to winter citrus with a good kick of lime juice in the vinaigrette as well as some heat from jalapeño chills.

For dessert Diane told me about a lovely red wine poached pear recipe she makes that is served with a mascarpone cream and served alongside handmade florentines. Perfect.

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We had our menu! Now it was time to head off to make the meal in our own homes for our own friends and families. This is where things got interesting for me. Even though our core, three-course menu was the same, the way we decided to round out our meals is where our own personalities and food/cookings styles and preferences emerged. We both made the meal for friends but Diane chose dinnertime to serve it and I went with lunch. She added a few hors d’oeuvres to start and some black pepper and fennel popovers, while I made duck fat potatoes and sautéed the beet greens from the salad in olive oil with garlic. There was no crab available at my local fish shop and so I left it out. Diane made pistachio florentines and I used the sliced almonds I had on hand to make mine. Together, we rejigged the fennel and orange dish after we both made it and decided to cook the fennel a little less and add in the oranges at the end. We both decided we wouldn’t change a thing about the red-wine poached pears with the mascarpone cream.

Diane has graciously posted the recipes for our menu (except the duck fat potatoes and sautéed beet greens) over on her site at Nourishing Vancouver. She has also beautifully written about her process in the kitchen and much more about our upcoming project together.

Tomorrow we will meet to plan our menu for March. I can hardly wait! xo J

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Join Us In Paris!

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A Moveable Feast in the City of Light

Come and explore the many epicurean delights that Paris has to offer. For ten days, we will search out the freshest ingredients at local markets and in the shops of artisan bakers, butchers, cheese-mongers and confectioners. The Sunday Raspail Market, Rue Mouffetard, Rue Cler Market, outstanding bakeries Poilâne and Du Pain et des Idées, French chocolate meccas Etoile D’or and La Mere de Famille are all on our itinerary. We will taste test macarons from famed bakeries Ladurée, Pierre Hermé and Gerard Mulot, seek out the best baguettes in the city, sample a selection of incomparable demi-sel butters and spend an afternoon tasting wines and cheeses from some of the top French producers.

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A big component of our days together will be centered on hands-on cooking classes in the gourmet kitchen of our light-filled apartment in 10th Arrondissement. These classes are designed to be informal yet informative and are always filled with laughter. After exploring nearby food-centric streets such as rue de Abessess and rue des Martyrs, we will spend two afternoons and three evenings, wine glasses in hand, gathered around the stove preparing some French-themed meals with all of the goodies we have gathered.

Two lunches and a dinner at classic cafés and our favourite off-the beaten-track bistros will keep us moving around the city on foot and by metro. While there is a food-related activity planned daily there will still be plenty of time to check out museums, galleries and historical sites in the city and beyond. Paris is a food lover’s paradise and we look forward to making the most of our delicious daily discoveries! As we are wanting this to be an intimate experience, we are limiting the number of guests to 10 people. We hope you can join us.

Details:

     This 10-day tour runs from June 17th to June 26th 2016 and includes:

  • 10 day guided culinary and cultural tour
  • visits to artisanal bakers, chocolate and candy shops, butchers and cheese mongers
  • 2 lunch and 3 dinner demonstration cooking classes and lectures
  • tastings of tea and macarons, cheeses, demi-sel butters, regional wines and an appetizer workshop
  • 2 lunches and 1 dinner at some of our favourite cafés and bistros

Price per person is 2030 Euro, all taxes included.

For additional information or to check availability, please contact us at events@kitchenculinaire.com

To confirm your spot on the tour a nonrefundable deposit of $500 is required along with your full name and birthdate as per passport. The nonrefundable balance of the tour cost will be due 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is strongly recommended.

Travel arrangements by Finistera Travel – Consumer Protection BC 70260

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Roasted Fennel with Orange and an Upcoming Project

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Finally a new recipe to share as well as details on an upcoming project I am excited to be working on.

This recipe is from the recently published Gjelina cookbook that I have been cooking from A LOT over the past few months. The restaurant is located in Venice Beach, California  and I have been lucky enough to visit and enjoy some seriously good food there. The cookbook is a thing of beauty with inspiring, accessible recipes from Gjelina Chef Travis Lett and gorgeous photos and styling by the talented team of Nikole Herriott and Michael Graydon. This fennel salad with blood oranges and a hit of chilli is dead simple and pairs well with fish, chicken or even as part of a vegetarian menu.

Speaking of menus I am working with a dear friend and fellow cook, Diane Owen, in planning and posting a seasonal monthly menu here on my site as well on Diane’s site Nourishing Vancouver.

Diane and I originally connected during a culinary tour years ago and have been cooking and talking about food together ever since.  We decided to team up to combine our talents to plan, cook and share a monthly menu that will be prepared in our respective kitchens, enjoyed with friends and family and written about on our websites. It is a great way to get focused on what is in season in our Vancouver markets and share ideas and tastes and tips and encourage feedback from our local food community.

For our inaugural menu we decided to focus on taking a sunny, palate vacation during what can be one of the most challenging culinary months of the year. Citrus fruit and juice combined with crispy, liquorice tinged fennel, we paired this dish with duck confit. We rounded out the savoury component of the menu with a crab, beet and avocado salad with crème fraîche that we served as our starter. We ended the meal with red wine poached pears and mascarpone cream and some chocolate dipped florentines. A simple, doable and delicious menu.

Each month we will plan a new menu, host a dinner and talk about what worked (and what didn’t). Many people find hosting a dinner party, even for family and/or good friends, to be an intimidating undertaking. Diane and I hope to help demystify the process and ensure that your next dinner party is not only delicious but relaxing and enjoyable for you and your guests!

I will post our first full menu with photos in the next days. Diane has the menu and recipes listed over on her site up now, as well as hors d’oeuvre suggestions and cooking notes. It is a joy to work with Diane on this project and we look forward to hearing from you for upcoming menu recommendations and/or dishes that you love to use to entertain with over the next months. Stay tuned…

 

 

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Time in the Kitchen

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There were so many things that I could have/should have been doing today. Catching up on accounting, sending emails, doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom. But…today I felt the pull of the kitchen, my very favourite place in the house. I decided now was the moment to take a bit of time and chop, roast, plate and photograph.

I sliced the red onions, chopped the fennel and scrubbed the carrots. Arranged them on a baking sheet, drizzled them with my favourite olive oil and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. Swirled some harissa through some yogurt, put some lentils on the stove to boil, chopped some mint and pistachios.

It was a rainy afternoon so the light wasn’t perfect for photographing but still, it was good enough.

There was a very good lunch and an hour or so of creativity. Mind and body nourished.

Happy Saturday.

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This lunch is adapted from a recipe by My New Roots and was first cooked and enjoyed with my friend Melissa.

xo J

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Rigatoni with Spicy Cauliflower and Leftovers

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Monday lunch for one on a cold and cloudy afternoon.

Our dinner two nights ago was pasta with roasted cauliflower, made spicy by the addition of a red chilli and garlic. We grilled Italian sausages and also some peppers that I peeled, seeded and added to a bowl with some capers, more garlic and a few glugs of very good olive oil.

Today, rooting through the fridge I tossed everything together, sans the sausage, and added in a handful of parsley, some shavings of Parmigiano cheese and a sprinkling of salt. More olive oil.

Kitchen diary January 18th, 2016.

xo J

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Kitchen Culinaire Workshop in Puglia

There is so much that has happened since my last post. We hosted a truly amazing group of participants at Masseria La Selva for our very first culinary tour in beautiful Puglia, Italy.

Bill and Judy, Pat and Leigh-Anne, Jill and Victoria, Vivian Grace, Sheryl, Lorraine, Ross, Stephanie, Lynn and Adrienne, Joanne, Max, Lisa and Paolo.  Every single person came with an open heart, an open mind and a real desire to cook, eat, learn and share.

I wanted to share a beautiful series of short videos that my sister Lisa took over the course of our 8 day adventure together. The brief interviews that accompany the images were done by my sweet son Max.  He asked each of the participants as well as two of our amazing Italian colleagues, Santina and Francesco, what was their favourite moment of our time together. The beauty of the images and words fill my heart with gratitude and make me miss each person and the magic we shared as a group.

xo J

 

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