Freezing for the Season

Strawberries in Vancouver garden Currently in Vancouver we have STRAWBERRIES in season. Three weeks late due to a wet spring, local berry buyers are eager to scoop these berries up! I have fond memories of my family going out to pick berries each year at the farms. My brother and I were known to eat more than we put in our bucket, leaving the farm with full bellies and stained faces.

Strawberries are delicate and juicy making these delicious gems very perishable.  Processing should happen the day of picking and purchasing.  Some ways to process strawberries would be in jars (make a pulp to use when pureed strawberries are needed), make jam and storeyour freezer.

My favourite way to save the season is to freeze. This way I have access to beautiful fresh tasting berries after the summer season is over. By doing this work myself I also can ensure that my berries are processed in a safe and allergy-free environment. The opportunities are endless when they are frozen whole, but they can be frozen sliced or in a sugar syrup.  Make sure the berries are firm, unblemished and bright red.

Strawberries from the Garden How to freeze strawberries (or any berry when in season):

  • Remove stem and hull (or slice off tops) strawberries.
  • Rinse gently under cool water to remove excess dirt. Do not soak.
  • Place on paper lined cookie sheets in a single layer and place in freezer.
  • After the berries are frozen completely, you can either store in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container.

One way I love to use frozen berries in our house is to make breakfast smoothies.  We go through quite a bit of berries this way so to make the berries last until the following spring, I label each bag with the month on it. When the berries in the bag are finished, that is it for the month for the strawberries until the next month.  It works our great and everybody wins because I love to hoard and J likes to eat.

Multi photo of strawberries from Vancouver garden Resources:

http://www.bcstrawberries.com/

http://www.eatlocal.org  -Your local FARMERS MARKET

Favourite strawberry farms in the Vancouver area:

http://www.wafarms.ca/ Richmond

http://krauseberryfarms.com/ Langley

Birak Berry Farm –Richmond

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5 Tips to Have a Safe Environment for a Guest with Anaphylaxis

Dealing with anaphylaxis can be scary for a host because it is such a severe health condition. Of course there is more than these five tips, but these are really important things to consider. Being clean, organized and aware are key components to being a wonderful host.

5 Things to Do in Your Home When Having a Guest with Anaphylaxis or Allergies Over

  1. Wash all surfaces where there is food preparation and consumption. Use soap and water to thoroughly wipe and sanitize so that all surfaces are clean and uncluttered.  Being uncluttered shows that you have diligently considered their allergies because you are aware of all items on your counter.
  2. Wipe down all handles (like fridge and oven doors) and faucets.
  3. Change all tea towels and dish cloths. If you do not feel comfortable using yours, paper towels are a good go-to cleaning towel.
  4. Think about dedicating a cupboard or fridge shelf to contain the items that your guest is allergic to. Tell your guest that you have taken the time to decontaminate the other cupboards and you are aware where you keep and store these items. This information can also give your guest the areas to avoid in your kitchen.
  5. Be aware of items that could have come into contact with allergens so that there is no cross contamination. These are items like jam, margarine containers, mayo jars or ingredients from bulk food bins.  Squeeze bottles, spice jars that shake, and brand new containers can make your guest feel more comfortable.

There are a few other things to consider:

Offering to tell your guest the last time you cooked something they were allergic to in your kitchen is very thoughtful. My friends and family try not to cook or bake something that I am allergic to if they know I am coming over for a few days before. They always like to tell me what they have done to make me more at ease.

Be aware a person dealing with anaphylaxis may not feel comfortable eating at your house. They also might offer to bring their own food.

Honesty is the best policy and make sure there is good communication between you and your guest!

Chive Blossom Vinegar

FearlessFoods

Canning and preserving can be a satisfying and safe way for me to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of the summer. I am able to create food that is made in a controlled environment that is fish and peanut free. Each year I try new recipes and I am always looking for new ways to build a complex flavour profile.  One way to do that is to use flavoured vinegar when pickling!

This post was inspired by the website Food in Jars (http://www.foodinjars.com  ), I was thrilled to see a way to use the chive blossoms that were flourishing in my own backyard. You can do this with any amount of blossoms.

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You will need:

  • Jar or bottle
  • Chive Blossoms
  • Any type of mild vinegar (I used basic white vinegar because I keep quite a bit it at home because of all the pickling and cleaning I use it for)

The following are the steps I used to flavour the vinegar:

 

Sterilize the bottle. I used a 1 Litre milk bottle that I dropped in boiling water for a few minutes.

Cut the tender purple blossoms off of the chive plants and thoroughly wash blossoms with cold running water. I let mine soak in cool water for 10 minutes, then drained off the water (because the sediment had fallen to the bottom), covered with new water and gently swished the blossoms in the water for a few minutes.

Dry blossoms thoroughly

Place in jar to fill ½ to ¾ full. Cover and fill the jar with white vinegar.

Store in cool dark place for a few weeks,( I put mine in the fridge), strain and use accordingly!

I will keep you posted on how I used my chive blossom vinegar! Thanks for the inspiration Food in Jars!

Simple and Fresh Salads for the Sumer

Four Salads

From top left to bottom right: Roasted Beets with Lemon and Fresh Herbs, Cherry Tomatoes with Basil and Olive Oil, Coleslaw with Rice Wine Vinaigrette, Mango Salad with Orange Zest and Mint

Summer is coming and I am getting excited about all the local produce. Direct from farms to the Vancouver farmers market to my garden, these are all wonderful tools I am grateful to have access to. Waiting for the weather to be a bit hotter and drier, I am being patient and waiting carefully for seasonal fruits and vegetables I love.

When it comes to salads, I have to be a bit fussy with the ingredients because of my allergies and intolerances. Not only do I have to avoid putting seafood on top of greens or a sprinkle of toasted pecans, I have to avoid using many raw fruits and vegetables because of my oral allergies. Oral allergy syndrome is an immune system response to proteins found in one or more foods from the same pollen family. As an adult I developed oral allergy syndrome. It is always great to have more information about symptoms and how to prevent further discomfort when eating certain food groups.  For my case in particular, I have to avoid raw apple and pears, stone fruit such as peaches, pears, apricots and raw veggies like celery and carrots. I can eat them cooked, but I avoid and do not consume these particular types of produce.

This week I took a drive down to South East Marine Drive to visit the farms to see what was locally available. I walked away with a mix of local items such as green onions, baby bok choy and new potatoes.  But before I got started cooking up those inspiring and exciting ingredients, I had to tidy up my fridge! It was time for a fridge cleanup!

I was able to compose four light and fresh salads for dinner with my “fridge-clean up” routine. Keeping it simple, I was in and out of the kitchen in twenty minutes after making all four salads.

Coleslaw with Rice Wine Vinaigrette

¼ head of green cabbage, thinly sliced

1 carrot, grated and blanched in boiling water for one minute

2 green onions, thinly sliced

½ tsp celery seeds

Rice Wine Vinaigrette

3 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine cabbage, grated carrot, green onion and celery seeds in a bowl. In small bowl mix the olive oil, rice vinegar and pinch of sugar. Combine with sliced vegetables and toss to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I found this article to be well researched with a great explanation oral allergies and food intolerances. Read more at: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Allergy+season+What+when+apples+bite/4602829/story.html#ixzz1PqrW45hI

Mac ‘n Cheese…Meet Caramelized Onions

Happy Father’s Day

A celebration shout-out to all the dads today.

Hosting dinners at my house is a common event when there is a celebration because of my food allergies to fish and peanuts. I am always looking to expand my repertoire because I rarely cook the same meal twice. I like keeping it simple and I do love to make an impression.  With hosting any type of meal, planning in advance is very important. The focus and main priority should be the guests once they have arrived. Like Martha Stewart has taught us, the guest should think your party was executed effortlessly and you just “whipped this up. Mise en place for your recipes should be completed; dishes and clutter should be removed from eyesight.( Of course, this does not always happen because in real life time runs out because of busy schedules and there is never enough dishes in the kitchen.) And honestly, at the end of the day…sometimes you just want to impress your guests.

Onions waiting to be caramelizedThe following recipe is my new “having people over on a weekday night and we are celebrating” meal. This indulgent dish is rich and delicious. I have found it is a great recipe to make in advance the night before and pop in the oven when ready to serve.  I also have made this in my father’s home and split the recipe into two casseroles, one for eating and one for freezing. He suggests when you reheat the casserole from the freezer to add a touch more liquid before baking.

Oven-Baked Orecchiette with Caramelized Onions and Smoked Cheese

You can make this vegetarian by removing the pancetta. This recipe can be replaced with any type of melting cheese like a fontina, sharp cheddar or mozzarella. Serve with a light salad and a glass of wine.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup diced pancetta

2 large sweet onions, sliced thinly

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound orecchiette (little ears) pasta

1 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup grated Parmesan

8 ounces grated smoked cheese

2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sauté pancetta in a small skillet over medium heat for three minutes or until crisped and golden.  Drain on paper towels.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and salt them immediately.  Sauté for three minutes or until they are coated in oil.  Turn heat to medium-low and continue to cook onions for 30 to 40 minutes until they become a thick golden mass.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil.  Add orecchiette and boil until al dente 8-12 min.  Drain immediately and transfer to large bowl.  Stir in cream, butter, 1/2 cup Parmesan, onions and smoked cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to a buttered baking dish, sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and dot with butter.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until pasta is hot and top is slightly browned.

Serves 4.

Published from The Globe and Mail September 2003 by Lucy Waverman and “A Matter of Taste” by Lucy Waverman and James Chatto (An excellent cookbook about seasonal menu recipes and  wine pairing.)

Be Proud and Say It Out Loud!

Understanding the severity of anaphylaxis and allergies is important when dealing with your personal health and safety. It has taken me many years to not be embarrassed about my condition and to not be shy about how comfortable I feel in a situation.

Stick up for yourself. If you cannot be bold enough yet, find a close friend or family member to be your advocate. Their guidance will help you build the confidence you need from within to stand up for yourself.

My personal experience in professional kitchens has made me come into contact with allergens. This was clearly not a safe environment for me but I was determined to have a successful career cooking in a kitchen. At the time I did not let my allergies stop me, nor did I complain about cleaning squid, barbequing salmon or baking peanut butter cookies. I felt very strongly about becoming a professional cook and baker and went against doctor’s and family’s orders not to. I do not regret my choices that I have made in the previous 12 years but I now know that my health and safety comes first. Hiding behind my food allergies was unsafe to myself and clearly put me in danger.

*This is my personal opinion and experience, always consult your allergist or doctor with any questions or concernes about your allergies.

Summer+White Sangria= Delicious

White Wine Sangria
FearlessFoods

It is my first batch of my white sangria of the year. Every time I make sangria it turns out different because I am always adding in new ingredients, tasting, and then mixing in more of this and that.

White Sangria

You can use any type of nectar and fruit in this recipe. I am fond of sesonal fruit like sliced strawberries, thin slices of tropical fruit and lemons. For this batch I used an Alphonse mango that I peeled then cut along each side of the flat pit in the centre of the fruit.  I was able to easily cube the mango into cubes after removing the pit.

One bottle Pinot Gris

3 shots Triple Sec or Grand Marnier

¾ cup apricot nectar

2 limes, sliced thin

1 mango, peeled and cubed

¾ cup club soda

Combine wine, Triple Sec, nectar, mango and limes in a pitcher. To serve, stir well and add club soda.

White Wine SangriaBe sure to check all labels when buying wine for allergens. It was brought to my attention when travelling in New Zealand that there was “May contain traces of fish products” on wine ingredient labels. In some wines there are fish, egg and milk products used as a clarifying agent. Wine also contains sulphates and preservatives that some people have sensitivities or allergies to. It has come to my attention that it is possible that some wine making companies such as a ”u brew” can include less sulphates and preservatives contained in it. For me personally less sulphates and preservatives helps reduce triggering my asthma that I would obtain after drinking just one glass. (This is my personal experience so please consult with a medical expert if you have allergies or a condition is severe).

For more on sulphates myths and truths in wine, please check out, http://www.beyondthegrape.com/marygorman-sulfites

For a brief explanation on fish products in wine, check out the first minute of this link, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy5Zeyf6oUY

What IS Worcestershire sauce?

Worcestershire sauce is a key ingredient that has anchovies in it. This secret hidden allergen can be found in many store bought salad dressings, marinades and barbeque sauce. Worcestershire sauce adds a huge punch of flavour (so I have been told) because it contains a concentrated blend of vinegar, sugar, anchovies, tamarind, garlic and other spices. You can also find it as a component in Caesar salads, hamburgers, and alcoholic beverages such as Caesar’s (Also note that Caesar’s contain Clamato juice which has clam juice as a key ingredient) or Bloody Mary’s.

  • Many people do not know that anchovies are in Worcesteshire sauce! So do not assume they know this information
  • Always check ingredients in any store bought dressing or sauce
  • I like to specifically ask “Does this contain Worcestershire sauce?” as well as “Does this contain fish or shellfish?”, because if it is something like a burger or other food, it may be seasoned with it. The first question assumes the cook or server knows the ingredients in Worcestershire sauce.

And then I found it. At my local grocery store. Yes…vegan Worcestershire sauce. You got it! It is an expensive little bottle, but a worthwhile purchase for the fridge.  I can see why people do love the stuff, and why a pantry should keep stock of it. And now my hubby, J, is addicted. I think he may have added it to some grilled chicken that he made last night and it was delicious.

Here is a link to the The Wizard’s line of sauces. The company also has a line which includes gluten free Worcestershire sauce. http://www.edwardandsons.com/thewizards_info.itml

 

“Huh? There’s fish in it?”

AHHHH!!!! Caesar salad! My nemesis. The salad of death.  A bowl of scariness.

And it’s everyone’s favourite meal. The cheese. The dressing. The CROUTONS. Starting my career as a garde manger line cook , I have made many in my time. Mention of it makes me angry. Angry because I cannot eat it.  “What? You can’t eat Caesar salad? It’s THE BEST”, or “Huh? There’s fish in it?”

Oh hidden allergens. Anchovies are a key ingredient in Caesar salad dressing. Many do not know that Caesar salad dressing has anchovies in it. Terrible. Egg yolks are another common allergy that many people have; it is a key emulsification ingredient to bind together this creamy and delicious dressing. I, thankfully, have outgrown my egg allergy as I have grown older and can consume this delicious and indulgent food group.

So I look the other way when I see people eat it so I do not stare longingly into the dish. My eyes glaze and I try not to drool over the stranger picking up a single crouton with their fingers. But the other night, my friend, C, brought over this AMAZING salad to a family BBQ. It was the Caesar salad I always wanted.

(No Eggs, No Anchovy) Caesar Salad

From the Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook

This delicious recipe is taste so fresh with all the bright flavours of lemon and capers. Make your own croutons , gluten free if needed, to finish off this “classic” recipe.

1 roasted garlic bulb, cloves squeezed out, peel discarded

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp capers

1 tbsp caper juice

1½ tsp Dijon mustard

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp coarsely ground black pepper

⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Add all ingredients except oil to a food processor or blender; blend until almost smooth. Add olive oil in a slow, thin stream until dressing is thick and creamy.

To serve, toss enough dressing just to coat with torn romaine lettuce leaves; add homemade croutons. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Homemade Croutons

6 slices of bread, cut into cubes (I had leftover bits of misc. bread in my freezer)

3 tbsp  butter

1 clove of minced garlic

1 tsp dried oregano

Salt and white pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in small frying pan and add the garlic. Cook the garlic until fragrant. Off heat add oregano, salt and pepper and stir until well combined.

Place bread cubes in a large bowl. Pour butter mixture over bread cubes and immediately toss to combine. Spread bread cube on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until dry and golden brown. This will take approx. 10-15 min depending on the size of the cubes.

 

 

 

Lattes, anaphylaxis and putting safety first

Coffee is a delicious and indulgent treat that I have huge appreciation for. The experience of going out for coffee, whether it is alone or in a group, is a common trend found in Vancouver.  It is a universal spot because there can always be one found while on the go. For me, meeting at coffee shop to catch up with friends is convenient and easy as it is not always feasible to host a gathering at my place.

Having severe allergies, I tend to avoid restaurants as a meeting place with friends and they understand and respect my circumstances. But I do love meeting and going to coffee shops for my usual caramel latte. (Working in the back of a cafe spoiled me because I got my lattes served to me in my favourite cup every morning*teehee*)

It was shocking when one day a few years ago I had a mild allergic reaction after a sip at a local coffee shop. I knew from the first sip that something was wrong. My analysis of the situation was that there was peanut butter flavoured syrup on site and somehow there had been cross contamination. I was blown away that something like that would happen and now take better precautions when ordering my coffee.

Here are some steps I take when I order my coffee:

  • Go to a coffee shop where you can develop a relationship with the owner and/or workers
  • Look to see if they serve peanut butter syrups or baked goods
  • Look to see the contents of their readymade food for example how many peanut or seafood related items they sell. For me, it is a judgement call of whether I feel comfortable ordering from the drink menu at all.
  • Assess the general hygiene of the coffee bar and condiment areas. I never use stainless steel utensils that can be washed, I only used individually wrapped stir sticks (it is usually straws).
  • I bring my own mug!
  • If I am sitting at a table or bar, I never touch the top with my hands. I place my mug onto a clean napkin so my mug never touches the surface of the table.
  • I wash my hands once I leave the premise if I have touched any unnecessary surfaces.