Thursday, December 28, 2017

Festive Brunch Buffet

The holidays are when we tend to go all out in regard to cooking, baking and entertaining, with huge, extravagant formal affairs. Why not make things as effortless, tasty and seasonal as possible? Your best bet is brunch. 

I love Brunch ... traditionally a combination of ‘late breakfast, early lunch’, a relaxed yet graceful way to entertain both family and friends. It’s the culinary experience that seems to have it all; you get up at a descent hour, enjoy a relaxed noontime meal with your guests and every one is gone by 3 o’clock, leaving you to enjoy the rest of the day in quiet comfort. 

Christmas Day Brunch 2017
Christmas Brunch in my home is almost always Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon. An rich combination including some of my favorite foods; Hornby Island cold smoked salmon, perfectly poached Corlan Vineyard and Farm organic free range eggs, real Hollandaise Sauce with a dash of Smoked Paprika, capers and avocado on the side. I joke that I could eat Hollandaise Sauce like soup... and no joke, when out for Brunch, always order extra 'Sauce on the side'. 
This is a fairly time consuming version but a special treat at Christmas.

On the simpler side of the brunch spectrum, set up an attractive and enticing brunch buffet. It offers lots of options for creativity in your menu and décor. Plan a tempting variety of foods. Fill your buffet table with a selection of both hot and cold items including appetizers, assorted cheese, crackers and fruits, elegant entrées, muffins or breads and sumptuous desserts.

To set up the buffet table, place dinner plates at the beginning of the table followed by appetizers, salads and fruits, breads, entrées then napkins and silverware. Position serving bowls and platters at varying heights by placing on stacked books disguised with fabric and greenery. Serve desserts and beverages at separate tables. Offer fresh juices, traditional brunch libations such as mimosas or Bloody Marys, assorted coffees, teas and a pitcher of ice water.

The delightful mingling of sparkling wine and fresh fruit juice served in an elegant glass is in itself a perfect reason to host a brunch. Sleep in and enjoy the gathering of friends and family with an easy brunch that’s not to be missed.

Here are a few of my favorite make-ahead, festive recipes.

These flavorful make-ahead enchiladas can be served for breakfast or brunch. If you have leftovers, reheat them in the microwave for a quick lunch. If you cannot find sausage meat, buy sausages, remove and use the meat ... discard the casings.

3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, ½” dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 small zucchini, ½” dice (about 1 cup)
1 lb. Mild Italian Sausage Meat
6 sun dried tomato slices, small diced
¼ cup sliced black olives
8  (8-inch) whole-wheat flour tortillas
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. Tabasco sauce
Snipped fresh chives for garnish
Sour cream

In a medium skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium heat; cook onion, garlic and zucchini until softened and slightly browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. To the same skillet heat 2 Tbsp. oil and cook the sausage meat; keep the meat in about 1-inch chunks, don’t break it up too small as it cooks. Drain off any excess fat and add the fully cooked sausage meat to the bowl. Stir in the sun dried tomatoes and olives. Place about ½ cup of the sausage mixture into each tortilla and sprinkle each with about 3 Tbsp. of cheese.  Roll up tightly and place them seam side down, in a greased 13x9-inch baking dish
In a bowl, beat eggs, add the milk, and then blend in flour, Worcestershire and Tabasco. Pour over the tortillas, cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 12 hours. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before baking.
Using a spoon, baste the tortillas with some of the egg mixture in the pan. Bake in a 350˚F oven for 35-45 minutes or until egg mixture is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Sprinkle with remaining cheese; let stand 5 minutes. Garnish with snipped fresh chives, serve with salsa and sour cream.

BLACK FOREST TRIFLE                                                Yield: 12 servings
Trifle, a grand British dessert is transformed into a German favorite. This dessert can be made up to one day in advance. You can find Black Cherry Jam and Bottled Red Sour Cherries at ‘Runge’s Imports and Delicatessen’ on 4th Street in Courtenay.

1 single layer 9” chocolate cake
     or 2 small chocolate pound cakes (about 1½ lb total)
½ cup black cherry jam
½ cup cherry brandy
2 cups pitted red sour cherries, drained

1½ cup whipping cream
1¼ cup milk
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped
8 egg yolks
½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/3 cup Dutch cocoa
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 cups whipping cream
2 Tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 oz. bittersweet chocolate

Custard: In a saucepan heat cream, milk and vanilla over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge. Remove from the heat and whisk in 4 oz. very finely chopped chocolate until melted. In a large bowl whisk together egg yolks, sugar and cocoa. Gradually pour the hot cream into the yolks and sugar mixture, whisk constantly. Pour back into the saucepan; cook, whisking constantly until the custard thickens. Make sure it does not boil or it will split and curdle. If it seems to get too hot, remove from the heat and whisk rapidly. The custard does not need to be thick; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Strain into a clean bowl; place plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for 4 hours or until cooled.
Chef's Note: The custard can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Assembly: Slice the chocolate cake and use to make 'jam sandwiches' with the black cherry jam. Lay jam sandwich pieces in the bottom of a 12-cup wide trifle bowl; brush or drizzle with half of the liqueur. Spread with 1 cup pitted red sour cherries and place a few cherries around the side of the bowl. Spread with half of the custard.
Place remaining cherry jam sandwiches in the center and drizzle with liqueur. Cover with remaining cherries and place a few around the side of the bowl then spread with remaining custard. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or up to one day.
Whip remaining 2 cups cream with confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, spread over top. Garnish with grated chocolate or chocolate curls. 

Happy New Year! Wishing you a healthy, happy 2018!
Till next year... Bon Appétit!

Recipes by Sally Rae
Photos by Sally Rae 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Year End Wrap Up

The Christmas parcels and greeting cards are addressed and sent on their way. Donations to the local food hampers and various charities have been delivered. In the garden; the strawberries, kale and garlic are tucked in, mulched under a thick blanket of dry maple leaves. Dinners with friends are winding down this week... as is my work schedule. After a busy year, I'm looking forward to a very quiet Christmas.
Billie meets Santa 2015
Shado and Bobbi 2010
Thank you, for spending time with me here every month. I enjoy sharing my food and gardening knowledge ... and experiments! Feedback, questions and comments are very much appreciated. I'm already pouring through seed catalogues ... thinking about my garden for 2018!

Till next year... Bon Appétit!
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Happy New Year!
Billie and Portia

Poodle Photos by Sally Rae

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Lemongrass Questions Answered

Lemongrass ~ 2 fresh stalks - cut and dried -  powdered
'Lemongrass' is a tropical plant from the grass family. It is easy to use because it imparts its flavor very quickly, especially when added raw to a marinade or simmered in a clear broth. It's available fresh, dry and powdered, most recipes call for fresh lemongrass. It will grow well in temperate regions if given the right conditions.  

The stalks can be found fresh at most supermarkets; (Thrifty Foods, Superstore etc) and Asian Markets. When choosing lemongrass, look for stalks that are firm, full and pale green... the pale color indicates freshness. The bottom of the stalk may be woody, but it should not be shriveled or moldy. Bend the stalk and smell it. Choose a moist, fragrant one. 

To grow, sow lemongrass seeds indoors in late winter using bottom heat or a seedling heat mat. Maintain moist conditions and a temperature around 21°C (70°F), and the seeds will germinate in 5 to 21 days. Be sure to use sterilized seed starting mix, and a clear dome over your seedling tray to maintain moisture. Transplant outdoors or into containers in full sun once the weather has warmed up in early summer. At the end of summer move container plants into a frost free environment with good air circulation. Reduce watering to almost none, making the soil barely moist once a week. It may take a while for your home-grown plant to get as big as the stalks you find in the supermarket. 

To prepare fresh lemongrass for your recipes; wash it thoroughly, remove any loose, tough outer leaves and trim the ends. You'll need a sharp knife, as the stalks are very fibrous. Clean, garden pruning shears are a great tool for this! Use the heart of the stalk... the bottom four to eight inches up to the point where the leaves branch out. Because of its tough texture, lemongrass is usually added to recipes whole, then removed and discarded before serving, much like a Bay leaf. The center portion can be eaten if it's finely chopped. Either use whole pieces, crushed slightly under the back of your cleaver, or slice sections very thinly in cross section. It's important to crush it before you chop or slice it, this gets the oil out.

Store fresh stalks in the fridge wrapped in a paper bag, lemongrass grass stems can last 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. The stems can also be frozen for several months. To dry the stalks or leaves, cut them into pieces while the plant is still fresh, as they can become crumbly and difficult to cut when dry. Separate the leaves from the stalks, and lay them on paper towels or on a screen in a dry area out of direct sun. When completely dry, store in a jar in a cool, dark place.

What to do if you can't find fresh lemongrass? Substitute 1 tablespoon of cut and dried lemongrass for each fresh stalk. It is advisable to soak dried sliced lemon grass for two hours before using. If dried isn't available, try several strips of lemon peel per stalk... the effect won't be quite the same, since lemongrass has a more subtle, delicate flavor than lemons or limes. The zest from one lemon is equal to two stalks of lemongrass. You can also use lemon zest along with something else that can replicate lemongrass's herbal notes. For example, you can use arugula to provide this aspect of the lemongrass flavor. Coriander stalks have more flavor and should be used instead of the leaves. This substitute is best used in soups and broths. Other substitutes: lemon verbena or lemon balm or lemon leaves. When using the ground powder use one teaspoon as an equal to one stalk of fresh.

For an introduction recipe using lemongrass, check out my 'Thai Sweet Potato Soup' ...kefir lime leaves can also be purchased fresh at Edible Island and Thrifty Foods. The excess leaves can then be dried and stored like Bay Leaves.

Till next time... Bon Appétit! 

Photos by Sally Rae 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Starship Enterprise Cake

When the party theme is Star Trek, it doesn't matter the age... Trekkies both 
young and old will be impressed with this beauty!
Starship Enterprise Cake
When attempting a 'replica cake', assemble models, photos, blueprints or illustrations showing the detail required for the cake and sketch out your project. 
Cake batter ready for the oven

Use a heavy cake batter recipe, pound cake works well.
This ensures it will be easy to carve into the shapes needed and remain sturdy for construction without crumbling. Consider the shapes needed for the finished cake and bake different shapes or sizes to have less cut edges to deal with when frosting. Any elevated pieces can be shaped using Rice Krispy treats for less weight.
Elevated supports and engines made of Rice Krispy treats

For this project, a piece of cardboard, cut to replicate the Starfleet assignment patch worn on the left breast of the uniforms, was covered in silver tissue paper. The cake requires dowlings and skewers for stability and support. A larger styrofoam piece was covered in black tissue paper and placed below the cake board. Edible star-shaped sequins (from the Bulk Barn) added, then both boards covered in plastic wrap.  
Cake board, styrofoam and dowlings

The cakes are cut and shaped, Rice Krispy treat sections shaped, then the cakes covered with a thin layer of frosting called a 'crumb coat'. The crumb coat seals in stray crumbs before the second layer of frosting is applied. It also shores up the cakes' basic shape giving clean edges and straight sides. The crumb coated cake must be chilled until the frosting is set before applying the second frosting.
Allow frosting to 'firm up' at room temperature

A 6" cake separator was used to elevate the main body of the cake and three dowlings are pushed through the cake, cake board and into the styrofoam then cut level with the cake top with clean garden pruners. The Rice Krispy treat supports and engines have numerous wooden skewers inserted to stabilize the height and weight. 

The second coat of frosting is smoothed onto all surfaces and allowed to sit at room temperature until dry enough to touch. When the frosting does not stick to your finger when gently touched, smooth any imperfections with your hand over a piece of plastic wrap. Pipe the detail onto the cake using the assembled drawings, models or illustrations you gathered in the beginning. Sparklers give a great effect... insert through the back of the 2 engines.
An edible Starship Enterprise!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial post as much as I enjoyed creating this cake!
Till next time...  Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae
Starship Enterprise Cake by Sally Rae

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Dedicated Denman Island Farmers

Denman Island Farmer's attend even in the snow!
It's unusual for Denman Island to have a snow fall that stays on the ground for more than a few days. As an ex-Albertan, I moved west to get away from the cold and 'white stuff'. The odd year we have had high accumulations of wet snow, then freezing temperatures. This phenomenon makes for dangerous driving, weighted broken tree branches, downed fences and sometimes lengthy power outages. I drove in dry Alberta snow for many years, but this wet, slushy stuff is a whole different ballgame. I never thought I'd beg for rain, but when the snow falls it is the following rains that wash it all away. Sure the clear, sunny sky with snow on the ground is beautiful but snap a few pictures then I've had enough!
Pat ~ Corlan Vineyard and Farm

On October 31st, I was gardening and raking up dry leaves for mulch, dressed in capris pants and a light hoodie... two days later we have 3 inches of snow on the ground, clear skies and temperatures near freezing. This is possibly the earliest snow I've seen since moving here 27 years ago... but I digress. The feature heroes of this post are the dedicated Denman Island Farmers I met at The Old School and Recycling Center this morning. 
Emily ~ Two Roads Farm
Tracy ~ Ruby Slipper Ranch

Where else can you shop for local, organic; produce, meat, eggs and wine in a snow covered field? Yes, Denman Island is a very special place to live!

I managed to scoop the last dozen of large eggs from Pat (Corlan Vineyard and Farm), and lucked out on a special today of 'fresh' turkey from Tracy (Ruby Slipper Ranch) and a bag of incredible vegetables from Emily and Sam (Two Roads Farm). My new addiction is; steamed fresh organic beets, spiralized into beet 'spaghetti', dressed with Signature Cranberry Pear White Balsamic Vinegar and Blood Orange Olive Oil, marinate and serve topped with crumbled goat cheese. Unfortunately today, Two Roads Farm beet harvest is frozen in the ground, so I opted for a fresh, incredibly white cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes (yes, they were selling local tomatoes in the snow!), a couple of red onions and new to me... a Futsu squash and Sieglinde potatoes, also called German Butter potatoes. According to Sam they are a creamy, yellow fleshed potato that are even better than Yukon Gold!
Fresh Market shopping in the snow... guess what's for dinner tonight?
The snow has started to fall again, it is not quite freezing, so the flakes are huge and will no doubt pile up fast. Environment Canada has issued a Special Weather Statement warning of accumulations of another 4-8 inches. Oh well, at least we will have a Denman feast of fresh, organic food and a toasty fire to keep us warm.

Till next time... stay warm and Bon Appétit
     ...and remember to turn your clocks back this weekend!

Photos by Sally Rae 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Thai Sweet Potato Soup

Happy very Belated Thanksgiving! My computer was out of commission for a few weeks and I didn't realize how much I would miss it until it was gone! 

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving feast of Braised Lamb Shanks, a Double Smoked (half leg of) Ham, Lemon Olive Oil Roasted (home grown) Sweet Potatoes, Wilted Fresh (garden) Kale and Sweet Onions with Blackberry/Ginger Balsamic Vinegar, the last garden Zucchini stir fried with Mushrooms, Fermented Dill Pickles and Pickled Beets. We were already stuffed, so dessert was kept light with a Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake and Lemon Curd made in the Instant Pot

It's that time of year again, when grocery stores carry the super ginormous, orange fleshed sweet potato. Now that the holiday has passed, the prices have dropped, so if you have a cool storage area, now is the time to stock up. These huge tubers are great for dehydrated dog treats, soups and Sweet Potato Salad. I made a double batch of the recipe below for my freezer and look forward to it warming and nourishing us through the upcoming monsoon season! This recipe is easily converted to vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock and diced, cooked sweet potato instead of chicken... and omit the whipping cream.

This soup is a great way to use those really huge sweet potatoes now available at low prices. It is easily converted to vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock and diced, cooked sweet potato instead of chicken and omit the whipping cream.

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (8-10 cups diced)
1 onion, diced

Thai Sweet Potato Soup with Chicken
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 generous Tbsp. organic coconut oil
1-1/2 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
5-6 cups flavorful chicken stock
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 fresh lemongrass stalk
2 kefir lime leaves
salt and black pepper to taste
1 can (400 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
1/2-1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, optional
1/2 cup whipping cream, optional
1-1/2 cups cooked, diced chicken meat...
       or cooked, diced sweet potato

In a large stock pot melt coconut oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger. Sauté until softened and fragrant but do not brown. Clean the outer leaves then pound the bulb end of the lemongrass with a skillet or flat meat tenderizer. Add the chicken stock, cayenne, lemongrass, Kefir lime leaves, salt, pepper and diced sweet potato. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes soften.

Remove the lemongrass and Kefir lime leaves. Use an immersion blender and purée the mixture until smooth. Add the coconut milk and bring back to a simmer, stirring often... do not boil!
Stir in the cream if using. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary with lime juice, powdered ginger, cayenne, salt and pepper.
Ladle soup into servings then divide the chicken meat equally to each serving.
Till next time... Bon Appétit!

Photo and recipe by Sally Rae 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Delicious Breakfast

Perfect Soft-Boiled (Steamed) Eggs
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and happens to be my favorite meal .... with brunch a close second!

Who doesn't love a soft boiled egg? I make them just to use the adorable, wooden egg cups that I've had for years. But getting the timing just right, so the white is set and the yolk still runny is tricky. I heard a new method for soft-boiled eggs from the folks at Cooks Illustrated. Actually, not boiled at all, but technically steamed! The end result is a more consistently perfect egg without the tendency for cracked shells which can result from placing them into boiling water.

PERFECT SOFT-BOILED (STEAMED) EGGS   Yield: 2 eggs    ... from Cooks Illustrated
The key is twofold: get your eggs quickly into the pot with the lid on and immediately set a timer. A digital timer is best or even a stop watch so that timing is accurate. If you are doing a lot of eggs at once, adjust the size of the pot or use a steam basket so all the eggs cook for the same amount of time. Also, be sure to use eggs that come straight from the fridge!

Bizarre Breaky but delicious and so colorful!
Brie cheese, green and red 'kraut, avocado and 2 perfect eggs

2 cold eggs
salt and pepper for serving 

Fill a small pot with 1/2-inch of water. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the water to a full boil. Quickly and gently, set the eggs in the pot and tightly cover with a lid. Immediately set a timer for 6-1/2 minutes, and continue to cook the eggs over medium-high heat.
As soon as the timer rings, put pot into the sink and run cold water over the eggs for 30 seconds to stop the cooking. Serve in egg cups if you have them.
Sally Rae's Breakfast Smoothie Ingredients
Smoothies are another one of my favorite 'breakfast to-go' items. I have a few beautiful, big, old-style milkshake glasses that are perfect for at home and work. For the ferry, a large yogurt container works just fine! Any extra is easy to store in the cooler for the day in town. When the container is empty, no need to worry about it getting broken or damaged.

        Yield: 1-2 servings
The 'Pepto-Bismal' color is from organic red beet crystals. All measurements are guesstimates, so the yield may vary.
Banana and Strawberry Smoothie

1 cup unsweetened almond milk or plain homemade kefir
1 ripe banana
1-2 Tbsp. organic red beet crystals  
1 Tbsp. hemp hearts
1 generous spoon organic cashew butter
1/2 cup frozen organic strawberries 

Place all ingredients into a blender and whirl on high speed until there are no lumps. Pour and serve.

**CHEF'S NOTE: there are so many variations to this guideline recipe... substitute Coconut Milk and Mango, Banana and Blueberry, add Greek yogurt, flax seed... endless possibilities for a nourishing, fast, to-go breakfast!!

Another idea if you're in a rush for work or heading to the ferry ...a slice of Banana Bread or 'Pumpkin Pecan Loaf' and a fresh coffee fills the breakfast bill. I always have overripe bananas in the freezer (does this sound familiar?) They are used to bake different versions of banana bread ...with or without nuts, gluten free, grain free etc. Once the loaves cool; slice and wrap individually, pack into a freezer zip lock bag that is labeled with the item, date then pop in the freezer. In the rush out the door or for a lunch box they are ready to go... maybe not the most nutritious breaky, but it's home baked, you know the ingredients and it's better than no breakfast at all!

Till next time... Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae
'Steamed Egg' Method from Cooks Illustrated
Smoothie Recipe by Sally Rae  

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Denman Island Blackberry Faire 2017

Produce judging and displays
"The biggest little parade this side of the Salish Sea"
Denman Island celebrates the end of summer with the annual Blackberry Faire. The festivities kick off early morning with the Blackberry Run/Walk. An 8.5 km course that takes participants up the big hill then onto Pickles, Lake and Northwest Roads. All proceeds from the run are donated to Canadian Breast Cancer Research. After the run the Blackberry Faire follows on the Community Hall grounds... a parade, food booths, a book sale for fundraising, music, produce judging and displays and craft booths. This is also the venue for the famous Denman Island Zucchini Races, where the only rule is that 'all axles must go through the zucchini'!

The parade assembly takes place at the Guest House then travels to the Community Hall field. Named in The Flagstone as "the biggest little parade this side of the Salish Sea", this year did not disappoint. Lead by a couple of frisky, side stepping horses, along with music and costumes there were kids on bikes, miniature goats with fairy wings and a tutu, baton twirling, a ewe pulling a cart of tiny fairies, assorted canines, an old truck, farm tractors, flashing lights of the Ambulance and Denman Island Volunteer Fire Department trucks and the grand finale, a beautiful, white steed sprinkled with glitter, complete with a flower wreath and braided tail with flowers.
Produce entries from my garden
I decided to enter some of my fabulous garlic for judging this year. The Hornby Island Fair has Denman judges who rave about the participation there. Our competitive nature has created a bit of a buzz on Denman this year to up our game for the judges who come over from Hornby Island. 

While watering the garden the night before Faire day, I realized there is more here to enter than just garlic!
Heirloom Tomato Collection takes first place!
The first ripe Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato was staring me in the face, the Seascape Strawberries are always a show stopper... and I pick Corentine cukes every 3-4 days!

I managed to round up five good looking entries; two varieties of hardneck garlic, my favorite Corentine cornichons in two sizes, an Heirloom Tomato Collection (Aunt Ruby's German Green, Sally's Salsa and Yellow Hawaiian) and last but not least, twelve stunning, huge Seascape Strawberries. 
Seascape Strawberries take second in the Berry Category

It was a busy day with lots of activity, socializing and fun. The weather was beautiful, although the afternoon got a bit hot for some of us. The Denman Island Garden Club ran the Produce Competition for the first time this year and I send out many thanks to all those involved in organizing all the activities that go into this annual event.

It was a great day on Denman! Now those winning tomatoes will become delicious sandwiches for dinner... and seeds will be collected and saved for next year!
Winner winner, makes great dinner!
Till next time... stay cool and Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae
Organic produce lovingly grown, watered and cared for by Sally Rae