Monday, September 29, 2008

Fruit Pie Judging

Yesterday (Sept.28/08) I was one of three judges for a Fruit Pie contest at the Coquitlam Farmer's Market ( in Coquitlam, BC.
Not a bad gig if you can get it - 13 pieces of incredible pie (and a token cloth market bag) in exchange for my time! Obviously I did not eat 13 whole pieces - they were cut small and even then we ate just as much of each piece as we needed to, to make our judging notes and score for each entry. Although the majority of the entries were apple based, the creativity was rampant as there were many variations of crust and accompanying filling ingredients.
The winning pies were as follows:
Honourable Mention - Blueberry Rhubarb (I believe there was a trio of filling ingredients, not two, but I can't think of it off hand... and I believe this one was also flavoured with cardamom - not my favorite flavouring for pie, but was very good nonetheless.
Third Place - Apple Cranberry made by a man named Brian (I remember this only because I autographed a book for him) and he stated that this was the first pie he ever made! He layered the filling by putting the cranberries on the bottom and then the apples which gave it an incredible display once cut into slices... but the best thing about his pie was the crust. I could have eaten just his crust all day and been satisfied! His trick?... he added 1/4 cup vodka to the crust dough... yes, vodka! He learned this from a magazine and it stated that the fast evaporation process of the alcohol will create a flakier crust and because vodka is so pure it won't leave a residual flavour.
Second Place - Apple... but not just any apple pie - this was incredible! I loved everything about it. The texture of the filling, the crust, the flavour, how it held up, etc. The presentation was incredible as well. She cut excess dough into many different shaped leaves to represent autumn and then sprinkled coarse sugar over top with gave it a glistening diamond effect. This pie was just as great to look at as it was to eat. Even the bottom crust was flakey and the added spice was just enough to compliment but not enough to overpower the selected bramley apples she chose for the ingredient. One of the best apple pies I have ever had!
First Place - This was agreed upon by all three of us that this was the hands-down winner - Apple, Pear & Fresh Ginger! The fresh ginger especially for me was the thing that gave it top marks... obviously everything was great about it, the crust, texture, etc. but the flavour combination of those three ingredients was to die for! The fresh ginger was added in just enough quantity to taste it but not overpower the other flavours... I can almost still taste it! This was the only one that I ate the whole piece of because I just couldn't resist no matter how much pie I was eating!
All in all, a great event and would love to do it again. A big thank you to all of the 13 registrants - everyone did a great job and I can only hope that this becomes and annual event that I am involved in, and see you again next year! the way, if there is anyone looking for a food judge... I am available!!!
Happy eating,

Friday, March 28, 2008

Meals don't have to be elaborate to be tasty!

I'm a big fan of getting people back into the kitchen and cooking rather than relying on fast-food or pre-made, packaged foods. This being said, it's important to point out that cooking does not have to consist of elaborate menus to be enjoyable. Half the fun is making it yourself and enjoying the company of people you are eating with.

For example, here is a photo of a very simple lunch I had in Savannah, GA. It is a cornmeal-crusted grouper filet on foccaccia bread with a side salad and wedge fries.... very simple, but yet still very vivid in my memory as one of my tasty meals there. Yeah, sure, I ate/sampled many dishes while I was there, and some quite complex, but my point is there is something to be said about rustic simplicity in a dish.

As home Chefs, you should embrace this culinary day & age we're in where the more rustic a dish is, the more gourmet it looks (usually). Gone are the days when we make home-made pizzas in a perfect circle, for example. I remember being a kid in the 70's, and if this was done it was considered a good thing and people would compliment with "wow, that looks just like store-bought or take-out pizza"! Now however, we want out pizza crusts to be misshapen and pie edges to be formed irregularly... it shows that it is undeniable home-made... and rustic!

This sandwich could be very easily copied at home and to make it even easier, just buy pre-made foccaccia if you want. Although, grouper is not a popular availability at our local fish counters, it could be done with almost any mild fish filet... cod, snapper, halibut... you choose. Mix cornmeal with some salt and pepper and dredge your filets through this mixture on both sides and then just pan-fry, deep-fry, or bake. A small amount of mayo or tartar would definitely compliment as well. Top with lettuce and tomato or serve the greens as a side salad and you're done!

This is just one small example of how simple cooking can be... the possibilities are endless. Cooking can be an addiction if we let it. Start with simple dishes and go from there. Take a cooking class to get inspired or have a cooking class in your home.

...and for those of you who are wondering "does he actually take photos of his meals at restaurants?" ...what can I say? I love food!!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter dinner at Mom's tonight

Everyone who knows me and/or experienced my passion for food and people has become aware that it stems from a great love that has been passed on to me from my Mom. She and I have spent many great times together and tonight will once again be reunited in the kitchen in love for family and the special relationships that we all share together at such gatherings. Where some may feel that this subject of a blog should be reserved for Mother's Day, I feel inside of me that relationships (with your Mother, Father, Sibling, Partner, Child, Friend, etc.) should be celebrated whenever, and as much as, possible.

In this rare early photo of me and my Mom together, I am reminded of the bond that we have shared from the very beginning. Sure there were obviously times that we have disagreed, and even argued, but those times are only of the past and serve no purpose to the complete enjoyment of today`s times that we share together.

My Mom glows all of the time, but especially when all of her children and grandchildren are brought together for special occasions such as these. We will all gather at her home tonight and because busy lives interfere with everyday communication, it will be a great time to get caught up with my siblings and their children.

I, as always, am invited into the kitchen to not only carve the traditionally turkey, but to assist my Mom in bringing the final touches to everything being served. This is a perfect opportunity for us to not only rekindle our special bond, but to celebrate it once again.

She has passion in everything she does, and it shows in even the smallest things, like preparing sushi for her one granddaughter and fiance because they do not eat meat, and wants them to feel as special as everyone else tonight. Otherwise it will be a very traditional meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, and many vegetables... however, the main course will be the conversations we all share and the embracement of each other.
Whether you are getting together with family this weekend or not, I do wish everyone health and happiness in everything you do... but especially to recognize that mealtime doesn`t have to be a chore, but a catalyst for bringing people together and building/celebrating relationships.
"Happy Easter"... and to those that don`t celebrate "Easter", then this translates to me wishing you "Happy Life... and whatever this moment brings you".

Friday, March 14, 2008

Fresh Trout for Dinner!

I received an email this morning from a friend of mine in Ontario and it reminded me of the incredible trip he took me on last summer.
He lives on Longbow Lake and him & I took his two-seater float plane north for about a one-hour flight to Lennon Lake for some trout fishing. There are no roads leading to this lake and thus can only be reached by air, or by traveling through the bush for miles and miles.

I have never experienced anything like this before. We touched down on the water and there was obviously no one else around - we had the whole lake to ourselves and it couldn't have been a more prestine day. As we climbed out of the plane and positioned ourselves on the floats with rods in hand, we discussed that we would assess the length of our stay dependent upon how long it took us to catch our limit of 2 trout each. Well, needless to say that we caught our limit (pictured above) within 28 minutes of touching down on the water!

Obviously not ready to go back just yet, we pinched the burbs on our lures and caught & released for the next couple of hours. The fishing was amazing as trout have this instinct to attack any fast moving object going past them. We would drop our heavy weighted lure into the water and let it sink all the way to the bottom, before reeling it up as fast as we could. Needless to say the trout we biting like crazy when our lures zipped past them!
After a short rest for a box lunch on the shoreline, our luck seemed to have died off and decided to fly back.
Dinner of trout that night was incredible as we served it up to family with a side dish of incredible memories that we shared with all.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Garlic always tastes better from Fresh

Firstly, I must apologize for my lack of entries. I know it's not much of an excuse, but I have been very busy lately!

I am prompted to write this, because I was at a check-out yesterday of a local warehouse store when a gentleman approached the line-up with a large jar of chopped garlic in brine.
I know we all lead very busy lives, and this inexpensive solution seems to be very attractive especially since for less than $4, there is no peeling and/or chopping, but think about it... where's the flavour??!!

If you take any cut up vegetable (or fruit for that matter) and soak in brine for a year or more (or however long it sits like that until you buy it) most of the flavour is going to be transferred to the brine. You wouldn't buy asparagus this way, so why would you buy your garlic like this... I know, I know, there's more prep involved when preparing garlic for cooking than asparagus, but my point is flavour!

If you want your food to taste it's best, use fresh whenever, and as much as, possible!
As for the gentleman that approached the line-up... it was a great opportunity to pass him my business card and strike up a conversation about food - always interchange your Chef's hat with your Marketing hat as needed, I always say!

Happy Cooking...