Herbes, Mustard, and Fast-facts.


I have decided that I did a poor job introducing myself in the beginning of my blog, save for my name and a few things that I love (food and science, mostly). So here are five fast-facts about me. Some are long, some are short, all were the first things that popped into my head.

1) I have recently un-vegetarian-ized myself after about a five year spell of no meat eating. Why did I join back into the meaty chorus? Food tastes better than supplements I was feeling the pressure to take, the organic option is just around the corner, and I felt like I was missing out on a big part of the culinary experience. I mean, I am 18 years old and can make moist muffins, flaky pastry, flavorful tofu, and roasted root veggies, but merely weeks ago did I figure out the secret to moist chicken and am still working on my ability to cook red meat to that juicy-tender hot spot. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, so here we go.

2) As a continuation of the first point, through my vegetarian spell, I kept seafood in my diet. I mean, I live on the west coast. I simply cannot imagine passing up the local spot prawn festival, turning a blind eye to Fanny Bay smoked oysters, and pretending that cedar plank salmon with whisky maple sauce just doesn’t exist. I am very forlorn when Sebastien, who works on his dad’s commercial fishing vessel as a deckhand, leaves for those long stretches throughout the summer, but by keeping the boat in a steady supply of cookies (as in ten dozen batches at a time) I figure I can guarantee myself several long, languishing meals of endless prawns, crab, and sport fish. So delicious, and we can even call it healthy.

3) I work at an organic farm and garden five days a week, and basically explore various levels of dead rats on the other two. Why dead rats? I am super lucky and grateful (thanks Ellie!) to work in a super shiny and neat lab on the UVic campus. I volunteer there helping with things like decapitations, profusions (taking all the blood out then taking the brain), and brain slicing. This may sound gross to most, but I love this kind of stuff. Seeing what the different layers of the brain look like is so surreal, and being able to watch a heart beat in your hand, its makes you realize how completely incredible bodies are. You might be thinking, wait, don’t you have pet rats? This is true, and some people may find that a little creepy. But to be honest, it isn’t that freaky for me. I respect both my rats and the lab rats, and I understand that the lab rats were bred for a very important and specific purpose. It also helps that they look very different from each other; mine are a variety called “Cuddly Rat” whereas the lab rats are those standard and typical albino kinds. Either way, they are very smart and curious little animals that are great pets and also great to work with.

4) I recently had a heart surgery to correct an arrhythmia that I was born with. It probably the single strangest experience of my life that I was fully awake for. Isn’t that totally bizarre? It was really interesting being able to just watch the dynamic of an operating room though (for example: did you know they play music in there?) especially thinking that maybe I could be on the other side of this operation some day…

5) I love mustard so much. It is the ultimate condiment, adding its vinegar loveliness to all it touches. I currently have five varieties in my fridge, and am always hunting for more.

Well, for the last one, I guess I was thinking about yesterday’s dinner. It’s true that I’m a sucker for mustard, but what about honey mustard? Possibly the best thing ever. So here’s the recipe, along with some delicious chicken to dunk it in, and quinoa to compliment it, all placed on a nice bed of spinach fresh from the garden! This is really a recipe for Sebastien, as it combines two of his favorite flavors: herbes de provence (typical frenchie) and honey mustard. The trick to the delicious chicken is in the cooking; all the seasoning in the world won’t make up for a dry chicken breast. Quality chicken is also important- I get my free range hormone and antibiotic free chicken from Cowichan Bay Farms.

Herbes de Provence Chicken
The ultimate juicy chicken!

4 chicken breasts
½ c olive oil
Herbes de Provence seasoning mix (contains thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, savory and lavender)
Generous few pinches of salt

1-Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2-Trim and remove the skin of your chicken (this is a vaguely healthy dish, after all).
3-Use some of your olive oil to brush onto your chicken. Sprinkle your Herbes de Provence on a plate and add a pinch of salt. Rub the chicken breast into the herbes and salt so it is well (VERY well) coated.
4-Put a pan on medium high and cover the bottom with a half inch layer of oil. I know you are thinking “that is way too much oil, this dish is going to be greasy”. I promise though, your will take out the chicken and most of the oil will still be in the pan, having done its job of crusting the outside of the chicken very nicely and sealing all that juicy goodness in. So, when the oil is nice and hot put in the chicken, one piece at a time so you can pay attention to it well. Turn up the heat, and don’t let the chicken sit there very long. Shake the pan and flip when nicely browned and crisp. Repeat with the other pieces of chicken and line on a baking tray.
5-Place the chicken in the oven and set the time. I say, about 20 minutes. This is not a very easy thing to be specific with though; it really depends on the thickness of the chicken breasts. Mine were not too large, but there was one piece much thicker then the others. So, I started out by setting the time to 10 minutes, then gauging from there. To test, you can use a sharp knife to poke and peer into the thickest part, checking for doneness. They should be white all the way through with no pink left. Take them out as soon as you think they are done, so they aren’t overcooked, which is very easy to do. You won’t have to watch over them like a hawk, but keep it in your mind- it’s the perfect time to prepare the other parts of the meal, so you’ll be in the kitchen anyways.

Quinoa
This grain has been a big hit lately, and its easy to understand why. A complete protein with a nutty complex flavour, it is as delicious now as it was in South America 600 years ago.

1c quinoa
1 ½ c water
½ tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp butter

1- Rinsing the quinoa is very important, otherwise you might get an unpleasant bitter taste from this grain. I don’t have a fine enough strainer to rinse the quinoa, so I used one of those Ziploc bags for veggies with the small holes in it. It works very well! Rinse it three times with this method.
2- Add the quinoa, water, pepper, and butter to a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes. Fluff with a fork when liquid is absorbed.

Honey-Mustard Dip

1 Tbsp yellow mustard
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp honey
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp (or more!) curry powder

1-Mix it all together in one bowl!
Bon apetite!

Tri-Berries mean Pie Berries!




I am crazy for berries. Today I had a conversation where I decided that blueberries, no strawberries, no, blackberries, no raspberries were my favorite of all time. In a nutshell; I love them all. We used to have a big raspberry patch by our garden (before it created a monopoly on the place and had to be removed) and I would spend ages picking the raspberries and plopping them into old yogurt containers. One in the container, then one in the mouth; a very good system to abide by. Once inside the house, they would join a medley of blackberries to create a fantastic brown-sugar crumble. With a spoon of vanilla ice cream melting on top and hot berries bursting on the roof of your mouth, there was nothing quite like it. Nowadays we sport a hearty blueberry bush and a thorn-less variety of blackberry. They keep us satisfied in the season, and leave plenty for freezing so we can enjoy their flavors year round.

On my bike to work I pass all these fresh produce signs advertising strawberries, raspberries, and even a handful of blueberries. These fresh, local fruits have been calling out to me for the last few weeks, so I’ve decided to jump on it before it too late. What better way to celebrate such a delicious situation then a Tri-Berry Pie with a Vanilla Lemon Crust? Adapted from “The Essentials Baking Cookbook” by Bay Books, I amped up the spices, lemon-y goodness, and vanilla to bring you this delectable dish. Here’s the nice thing too; it’s a free form pie. No careful rolling, sealing, and decorating (which I actually adore doing, but with so much working, I minimize “feet time” these days), this makes it a really good pie to make if you’ve never tried pie making before. It is very forgiving, and even if you don’t get that perfect flaky crust, how can berries, pastry, vanilla, and lemon NOT taste good? Tear it when you fold it over, don’t finish the edges? Hey, it’s rustic. It looks even better that way. Serve with a big dollop of unsweetened whip cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon for a nice contrast to this sweet dish.

Tri-Berry Pie with a Vanilla Lemon Crust

Crust

1 ½ c white flour
½ c icing sugar
125 g chilled butter, cubed
1 vanilla bean
¼ c lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Filling
1 lb. your favourite berries, in this case blueberries, rasberries, and strawberries (cut into rough pieces)
zest of two small lemons
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ c icing sugar

Topping
beaten egg white (1-2 depending on the size of your eggs)
sugar and icing sugar for sprinkling

1- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2- Whisk together the flour and icing sugar so light and well blended. Cut in cold butter until it resembles bread crumbs (I coat my fingers with the flour and break it apart by gently squishing it).
3- In a measure cup, squeeze lemons to get ¼ c of juice, and add your vanilla extract. Mix these two distinct liquids together well, because you might find that you don’t need all the liquid and you want to have both of those flavors in there.
4- Scrape the beans out of your vanilla pod and set aside. Make a little well in the flour mixture, and pour in half the liquid. Add the vanilla on top to help it distribute evenly via the liquid. Mix together by cutting it with a flat edged knife. Keep adding little bits of liquid until you can press your mixture together and it will stay as placed. Squish into one big ball
5- Roll out dough onto parchment paper into a big circle, about 8 “ in diameter and put in the fridge for 10 mns. Meanwhile, mix all the filling ingredients into a bowl.
6- Take out dough and make sure it is pliable. Brush bottom with a bit of egg white, then pile filling in the middle. Gently pull up the edges and press around the filling. Brush with egg white, and sprinkle with a little sugar.
7- Put into the hot oven, and bake for about 30 minutes (For me, it takes 30 minutes in my big oven, and as much as 40 minutes in my toaster oven). You know its down when its nicely browned, and you can lift it gently with a spatula without it sticking. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve!

Sizzling Summer and Salsa Cream



We talk about the weather a lot on the west coast. I mean, we have other very entertaining topics that we also revert to, such as ferry fares (outrageous!), HST (money outa the pocket!), what’s in the garden (zucchini is off the hook!), and how the economy is doing (chug chug chugging along!). That’s not to say there isn’t an Albert Camus or Dylan Moran among us, but you know how much we love exclaiming about the weather when it legitimately does something exciting. Summer heat has been pumped up on Vancouver Island for the last week, and I’ve never been at a lack of what to say to customers as I hand them change or ice cream. “You keeping cool in this heat?” is the usual remark followed by a chuckle or a sigh by said customer as we exchange knowing looks that say I know I complained about rain for nine straight months, but now I’m burnt to a crisp and dressed in pure sweat. To be honest, I love the sweltering heat. It motivates me to wake up early for that sunrise-run that would be impossible to do in the middle of the day. It gives way to the edge of the lake that I jump in after work every hot day, eyes squeezed shut and ears plugged, bracing for the cold. It means ice cream after breakfast. It puts the sun in sundress. Another great thing about the heat is I find South America and the Mediterranean creeps back into my cooking. Grilled fish broken over fresh greens, Greek salad stuffed into a toasted pita, fresh cut salsa always in the fridge, and crispy taco salad all make a come back. The season of beer and BBQ’d corn is coming up on us fast, so I thought I’d include a simple little sauce that has a little dressiness in its back pocket- salsa cream. Call it whatever you want to add a little zip or crispiness, just make sure you slather it on anything and everything.

Salsa Cream

I improvised this recipe when I wanted a Mexican style sauce to spoon onto some scallops wrapped in bacon. The idea of a roasted salsa, smoothed out with a little milk and sour cream, seemed just right. Spoon over chicken, steak, scallops, crab cakes, or crispy fried tofu. This recipe makes quite a bit, so plan to shake it up the next day by adding roughly chopped fresh salsa ingredients (more tomatoes, black beans, corn, red onion, green onions etc) and serving it with chips. If you’re not feeling the same thing twice, freeze it in individual portions for convenient use on a rainy day (if you can even think about rain in this heat).

6 tomatoes
3 chilies
1 head of garlic
1 small onion
1 bunch cilantro
juice + zest of 2 limes
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vinegar
3 Tbsp homo milk
1 c. sour cream

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Wash and remove stems of tomatoes and chilies, then arrange on trays. Rub most of the skin off the head of garlic and wrap well in tin foil. Roast for 30-40 minutes until tomatoes are soft and skin is broken, chilies are blackening, and garlic is soft to poke. Unwrap the garlic and let all ingredients cool. Meanwhile, chop up that onion and fry in a little oil until soft and translucent. Get the roasted veggies ready while the onions cool down. Get the garlic out by chopping off the very top with a big sharp knife, and squeezing the soft garlic out of its cloves with your hands. Put directly into the blender. Pull the skin off the tomatoes, either by pulling with a small knife or your hands (careful for juices that haven’t cooled!). Put the tomatoes in the blender. Depending on how spicy you want this dish, remove half or all of the chili seeds (more seeds, more spice) and all of the skin. Place in blender. Add the onion, cilantro, lime juice + zest, salt, and vinegar. Blend until smooth. Taste- always taste the seasoning of your dishes, no matter what the recipe says! Check for a bit of lime taste, and that its not too salty or bland. Adjust as needed. Add the cream and blend. When smooth, blend the sour cream in.

Why doesn’t the picture look like it contains cilantro? To be honest, I tried to get away with using cilantro from my garden that had gone to seed, so it was very pale green. The sauce tasted fine with a very subtle cilantro flavor, but I amped it up the next day by adding a whole lively green bunch, and liked that better, so that’s what I included in the recipe.

And so it begins (with bocconcini).


I’ve wanted to start a blog with a little food in it for some time now; it was just a matter of when. I started thinking about it seriously in April, as I lost my hair and sanity throughout exam period, but reconsidered, for fear of sounding like a deranged ninny. Instead, I decided that it should be done in summer. Summertime is perfect for starting a blog- fresh ingredients everywhere, lots of time, and endless relaxation! That’s the theory anyways. Between working seven days a week, becoming a new mom to a pair of rats, my parents selling their house, and stealing time from my deckhand boyfriend, it hasn’t been the endless lolling days I imagined. One thing hasn’t changed though-the food. Whether I’m wrapping chocolate at Organic Fair or slicing rat brains at the UVic labratory, food won’t stop my mouth from watering. The season has only accelerated this, as I dream of cherry trees slung heavy with red drop earings, peaches with skin sliding off from ripeness, green grapes popping with sass, carrots carrying on crunching, and pitchers of iced, minty tea beading up with sweat. How can someone help but find poetry in a blueberry brule or a strawberry pie? Flaky crust and fixing custard, oh how they complete us. So the time has come. I cannot help myself any more. I have to express to the world how much food means to me, and may have to include a few life musings of the student-y sort. Do not be alarmed if there is a mention of “my boys” (Mitchell and Cameron, my cuddly rats), I know rodents and food have never been an in vogue combo, but they are just so much fun. The other boy, Sebastien, is my taste-tester Frenchie boyfriend, who is the one who provoked the beginning of this blog. Now you know a little cast and crew, I am Jennifer Marie, better known as Jenny. And so it begins.

A very, very simple appetizer that always looks pretty enough to impress people.

Tomato-Bocconcini Salad

Count on at least 3 per person, depending on the other appetizers being offered

2 portion bocconcini cheese (size varies)
1 portion tomatoes
1 portion basil
enough skewers for one portion
reduced balsamic for drizzeling **

First thread on one bocconcini ball, then one tomato, and then one more bocconcini ball onto the skewers. You can choose to thread fresh basil around the tomatoes, but I often just chop basil into strips and sprinkle all over the plate for some nice shape variance. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic. Serve! Simple, fresh, and only needs great organic ingredients.
** Reduced balsamic is great for salads and garnishing plates, so make a good amount, it lasts literally forever. Pour a bottle of balsamic into a pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Leave the lid off and turn the fan on (don’t stick your nose in the pot like a certain sibling did). Watch it closely, and wait until its thick enough to coat the back of a spoon- the final idea is a syrup consistency, but if it is as thick as syrup when its hot, it’ll be super thick when it cools down. Don’t be too tempted to keep heating it after you are able to coat the back of a spoon nicely- you can always heat it back up if you find its still too thin. Shut it off and let it cool fully.