Nourishing Narratives

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I love cookbooks. You could say I collect them. Someday I would love to open a Chef’s Library (fully licensed of course). I read cookbooks instead of novels, I’ve always said I have too short an attention span for a novel, a cookbook is like a collection of short stories. Tasty short stories.

I have an interesting relationship with cookbooks. They come to me at different times, I flip through them, look at the pictures, read a couple recipes. Sometimes I will become obsessed with the book right away, I’ll read and re-read it, try recipes, seek out more information about the author. Other times, the cook book isn’t really where I am at in that moment. And I will put it away, almost forget about it. And then, at some future moment I’ll remember and rediscover that book and fall in love with it. I had that with Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton. I received it for Christmas one year, flipped through it and put it away. This past winter, I was looking for ideas, pulled Prune off the shelf, and Bam!, I was hooked. I wanted to make everything in the book and I didn’t want to make anything that wasn’t in the book.

Some books are great collections of recipes. Others are great inspirations. Some are both. The French Laundry, but Thomas Keller, is a great coffee table book. It has great recipes, most of which you will never make, but it is punctuated by beautiful little stories of his career as a young chef. I often encourage my cooks to read the story about the rabbits. But I also love books like the Mennonite Heritage Cookbook or cookbooks put out by church guilds and community clubs. These have low production values but are filled with great recipes. They often assume you know how to cook, they use instructions like “add enough flour to make a soft dough” and “cook until done”. But if you want five different recipes for million dollar relish, these are the books for you.

I am often asked, “what is your favourite cookbook?” Sometimes I will say which ever one I am leafing through at the time. But if pushed, I will list two books. The first is always The Joy of Cooking; not the new one, but the old one. You know the one, the one with the hand drawn illustration of how to skin a squirrel. This book is dense with recipes. There is pretty much a recipe for anything you might want to make. But these were recipes for a leaner time. If I am making a dessert out of Joy , I always double the amount of chocolate it asks for. But I particularly love the ‘About’ sections: here the book will give you detailed description of how ingredients work and the techniques behind types of recipes. Anyone interested in cooking would benefit from studying this tome. The other is The Zuni Cafe. I don’t know if I have every made a recipe out of this book, but every time I pick it up, it inspires and educates. I love the stories she tells of working for the Troisgros brothers or of Alice Waters in the early days. I am particularly excited by her lengthy and rule breaking treatises on such subjects as salt or making stocks. Whenever I am struggling with a menu or a dish, I return to The Zuni Cafe.

 

So, whenever I get an idea in my head of some new food adventure I want to go on, I always start by seeking out a new cookbook. This summer Danielle and I decided to embark on a “Eating Clean” plan. Danielle’s personal trainer gave her an incredibly boring meal plan. It was nutritionally complete, not too onerous to follow, but dull and we knew we wouldn’t be content with just eating yams, broccoli, boneless chicken breasts and eggs. If it was going to work for us we had to make it tasty. So, down we go to the nearest bookstore. After flipping through a pile of healthy cookbooks, we landed on Naturally Nourished by Sarah Britton (Random House, 2017). The recipes in this book fit in with the vegetable intensive lifestyle we lean toward and were embarking on. But more than that, it is a beautiful book with great pictures. It is filled with some gorgeous and creative recipes: charred green beans with romesco sauce, celery leaf salad with balsamic eggplant or cauliflower steaks with charmoula and eggs.

We bought the cookbook on Thursday and we had to bring a dish to a cocktail party  on Saturday. So, we decided to make a dish out of Naturally Nourished. After flipping through the book, we landed on “Baked Feta with Olives, Peppers and Tomatoes”. It looked like a great sharing appetizer. Serve it with some of my fresh baked sour dough and it should be a hit.

The recipe is simple, quarter cherry tomatoes (or you could coarsely chop bigger tomatoes), dice red peppers, pit and chop olives. Toss all this together with oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper. Then you crumble feta into the bottom of a crock or casserole dish. Top the feta with the tomato, olive mixture and bake at 400F (200C) for 25 minutes. Then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with coarsely chopped Italian parsley and serve with bread or pita.  We topped it with oregano flowers from our garden. When we made it, we found it super tasty, but the feta never got soft enough to be a dip. I think a lot depends on what feta you use. If your feta is fairly soft and creamy, it will work fine. If it is on the harder/drier side, I would suggest whizzing it in a food processor with a little heavy cream or cream cheese and then putting into the dish. This dish is a great appetizer, but if you served it with a piece of grilled chicken and some brown rice you would have a delicious dinner.


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Baked Feta with Olives, Peppers and Tomatoes

from Naturally Nourished, by Sarah Britton (Random House, 2017)feta dip 3

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1/2 red pepper, seeds and stem removed

1/3 cup kalamata olives

2 tsp. dried oregano (you can use fresh if you have it)

salt and pepper

7 oz feta

extra virgin olive oil

Italian parsley

bread

  1. preheat oven to 400F
  2. quarter tomatoes, chop peppers, pit and chop olives
  3. toss tomatoes, peppers and olives with oregano, salt and pepper and a little olive oil
  4. place feta into oven proof container feta dip 2
  5. top feta with tomato mixture.
  6. bake for 25 minutes at 400F
  7. before serving, drizzle with olive oil and parsley. Serve with bread.

The Happy Place

arnes market

You have to be there by 8:30 am. I know its summer and you want to sleep in on your Saturday mornings, but to get the good stuff you have to be there by 8:30 am.

I love the proliferation of Farmer’s Markets. While most of us still do the bulk of our shopping at big supermarkets, more and more of us are choosing to do some of our shopping at local farmers markets. It’s fun to meet the artisans and farmers who make and grow our food. It feels good to make the connection. We can also find much more variety of ingredients, from funny looking tomatoes to carrots that aren’t orange to herbs herbsthat you might not know what to do with. In Winnipeg, you used to have only one option, St. Norbert Farmers Market. St. Norbert is still the biggest market. It operates on Saturday Mornings in the Summer and a smaller version on Wednesday afternoons. It also operates an indoor market in the winter months. But now you can visit a different market almost any day of the week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays you can visit the Wolseley Farmers market, on monday nights you can go to the Transcona market. Thursday’s you can also visit the Downtown market at the Hydro building. Just this week I discovered the South Osborne Farmer’s market. This market featured veggies that were grown less than a mile away at the Riverview communal gardens. It was also the first market I’ve been to that featured local brewers. Have a beer while you shop? Yes, please. Another great market is the one hosted by Pineridge Hollow every Saturday Morning. Go carrotsfor breakfast, tour Jan’s gardens, take a walk in the park and take home a trunk full of locally grown veggies. There are also a number of markets scattered around small town Manitoba. For a listing, check out http://www.directfarmmanitoba.ca

But my favourite farmers market is the Arnes Farmer’s Market. They call it “The Happy Place” and almost every saturday morning in the summer you will find me in my happy place. Born out of the fertile soil of Dennis Bobrovich’s creative mind, this farmer’s wood carving1market is far more than just a collection of food vendors. Dennis has converted his family farm into a living work of art. The market stalls are fashioned from found objects, old trees, boat bottoms, camper tops and reclaimed wood. He has stripped and shellacked dead trees to create a surreal landscape. He has gardens, pigs, goats and chickens on his property. He has an old station wagon that looks like it was converted into either a smoker or a still for making moonshine. A brightly painted school bus is his billboard advertising his market. This year, he has added a flintstones themed playground with hand made wooden play structures. An old tree, roots still attached forms his swing set. This market is busy, by eleven the overflow parking lot has overflown onto the highway and cars will line the ditches.

onionsI like to get there by 8:30 am. I will yell at my family to get them out of bed and into the car still wiping sleep from their eyes.  More often than not, I give up and leave without them. If I bring back tasty treats, I know they will forgive me. The market doesn’t open until 9:00, but I always like to start with a walk around. See who is out and what the have to sell. I make a mental plan. First, doughnuts. This is always the longest line up. Simple, glazed doughnuts made fresh that morning. And they always sell out. If you get there early enough they will still be warm. The doughnut vendor also sells home baked breads, butter tarts, pies, cookies and bars. Then you have to beetle across to the perogy ladies. I like the sauerkraut filled ones, but for my kids it’s the bacon and potato or cheddar and potato, and those two are always the first to sell out. Once you have those two items taken care of, you can relax a little.golden beets

If you haven’t had breakfast, the market sells tasty breakfast sandwiches or you can grab a dozen spring rolls from the spring roll people. They are new this year and they make a pork and veggie and a shrimp spring roll. They also sell meat on sticks, which is always good. While eating your breakfast you can listen to the music of the resident busker. This man knows every song ever written, from sixties classics to acoustic versions of today’s hits, you will have a hard time resisting the urge to sing along. Be sure to throw some coins in his guitar case.

boundary creekNow, its time to get your veggies. There are three large veggie purveyors. Because you have done your walk about, you will know who has what. You will have to get your potatoes from one, your kale from another and your cauliflower from the third. You will also notice, that most of the other vendors, will have some kind of fresh produce to offer. I always wind up at Boundary Creek Farms. They are an organic CSA farm and they come out to Arnes every weekend to sell what ever they have left. They always have a great selection of greens: swiss chard, kale, arugula and sometimes mizuna. They all have delicious onions, fresh garlic, herbs, beets and colourful carrots. I often buy one of everything, and my goal is always to be their biggest customer of the day.

potteryNew this year is the Whisky Road Farm. Just down the road from the old Seagram’s plant, they raise chickens, pig and lambs on an organic farm. There are as few good bakers to buy bread from, be sure to visit the jam lady for tasty preserves and pickles. You can also pick up some local honey. If you are hankering a sweet treat, visit the fudge guy. Arnes is more than just about food. In the old barn there is a great antique dealer.Under the tent there is a used book store. There is a wide range of crafters, from hand spun pottery to jewellery to furniture. You also pick up some of Denis’s own hand carved wooden pieces.used books

 

You probably have your favourite places to shop for local fare. Maybe you are a St. Norbert loyalist, maybe you like St. Leon’s or Crampton’s, maybe it’s your neighbourhood market, but you need to make a point of driving north to Arnes. It is fun, whimsical and sure to inspire. Maybe it will become your happy place.

Farmer’s Market Pasta Salad


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The simple version:

whatever veggies you find at the market with pasta and a vinaigrette

The Detailed version:

300g Pasta, Something short like penne or fusilli.
I like to use Nature’s Farm Pasta or a good Italian brand. If you are going to the St. Norbert Farmers Market you can pick up some fresh pasta from The Mitchell Block

zucchini500 g zucchini or summer squash

100 g sun dried tomatoes (or slow roast some fresh tomatoes)

100 g arugula (or other green)

30 g flat leaf parsley

30 g fresh basil

any other herbs that inspire you

45 ml olive oil

15 ml red wine vinegar

5 ml grainy mustard

salt and pepper to tastepasta salad

  1. boil the pasta, drain, rinse and cool
  2. slice zucchini, toss with a little olive oil. sprinkle with salt and pepper. grill on bbq til just starting to char. cool
  3. chop herbs coarsely, slice tomatoes
  4. combine oil, vinegar and mustard together to make a vinaigrette
  5. toss pasta with zucchini, herbs, tomato and arugula. Toss with vinaigrette.
  6. Serve. This salad is nice with a little crumbled feta or shaved parmesan.

This Salad is great with fresh corn on the cob, grilled with the zucchini, fresh cherry tomatoes, or any nice seasonal veggies. To make a meal out of this, just top it with a grilled chicken breast or some nice Italian sausage and of course, a nice hunk of freshly baked sourdough.

bread

 

 

 

 

Welcome

dnaWelcome to our new website. We want to write about food, dream about food, cook food. We want to share recipes, swap ideas, answer questions, ask questions. We will cater, maybe open a restaurant, maybe write a book. Need help? We can help you with an event, give you advice on any food projects you may have in mind, help you execute. You dream it, we will help you create it. Stay tuned to this page, we will have lots happening here.

 

p.s. we are new at writing and designing our own website, we welcome your feedback. If you have any suggestions or requests, please send them to chef@alexanderskitchen.ca Thanks.

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