Eric Akis: Cookbook an ode to our beautiful province

Eric Akis

Every year, I receive numerous cookbooks from publishers for review. I’m amazed at the quality and rich content most have, but the book that rang my dinner bell the loudest this year was British Columbia from Scratch: Recipes for Every Season (Whitecap Books, $40).

This 312-page hardcover book is described as a celebration of our province through a cook’s palate and photographer’s lens. It achieves that admirably and with style. There are so many tasty tales, recipes and images packed into this tome that I was not surprised to learn it was years in the making.

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The talented chef who co-authored it is Denise Marchessault, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate and recipient of the Grand Diplôme in recognition of superior qualifications in cuisine and pastry. For years, Marchessault operated French Mint Cooking School in Broadmead, before settling in Vancouver.

It was at her school that she met Caroline West, the Victoria-based photographer with whom she collaborated on the book. West’s resumé also includes spending years working as a magazine art director in Sydney and London for publications such as Vogue.

“Our biggest challenge was logistics. By the time we were awarded the [book] contract, I had moved to the mainland, while Caroline remained in Victoria. She had to lug her bulky collection of photography equipment and vintage crockery on the ferry, for each week’s session,” Marchessault said.

“I was living in a temporary home and cooking on a temperamental stove, duct-taped in place. Caroline worked with natural light only, so she chased the sun, from window to window, while I cursed my stove.”

Flip through the book and you would never guess this duo had any troubles creating it. It’s absolutely beautiful and masterfully laid out.

British Columbia from Scratch is divided into spring, summer, fall and winter sections with lovely, seasonal photos by West scattered throughout. Each section begins with savoury recipes, followed by sweet ones, all perfect concoctions for the time of year.

For example, in the spring section, you’ll find a splendid asparagus and lentil salad, and in the summer section, a wicked blueberry cheesecake with hazelnut crust. In the fall section, there’s yummy buttermilk roasted chicken, and in the winter section, festive cranberry meringues.

That’s a tiny taste of the diverse recipes in the book. When you read them, you can tell a lot of work has gone into fine-tuning them. Marchessault said that’s because she had a team of testers, many of whom are past students.

“If a recipe was too complex, for example, there was pushback. One tester noted of a pulled-pork recipe: ‘I’ve had relationships that were shorter.’ The recipe was simplified and later received a two-thumbs-up rating,” Marchessault said.

One of my favourite parts of British Columbia from Scratch is the fundamentals section at the back of the book. Here are great recipes and tips, some with step-by-step photos, for making such things as stock, pastry, dressings and even tortillas. It’s information that’s really going to help home cooks be more confident.

“A fundamentals section was always part of the plan. You can’t cook from scratch if you’re not armed with the basic principles of cooking,” Marchessault said.

If you have someone on your Christmas gift list and are not sure if this book would be a fit, Marchessault says she wrote it for anyone who appreciates the simple pleasure of cooking from scratch and for those who love British Columbia.

“I’m a bit biased, but B.C. ranks at the top of my list for best food culture, lifestyle, weather and easily accessible ingredients,” Marchessault said. “Not to mention B.C.’s spectacular beauty.”

Footnote: The publication of British Columbia from Scratch has been bittersweet for Marchessault and others involved with the book. During its creation Caroline West was diagnosed with brain cancer and after a two-year struggle, died in October, not long after the book’s release.

“It was a privilege working with such a talented photographer. She found beauty in the most obscure places, be it a melted knife handle or a sheet of parchment,” Marchessault said. “She loved vintage stores and whenever she came across a bowl with polka dots or a linen napkin with a scalloped edge, she’d scream in delight. Like her photography, Caroline was genuine, unaffected and a little bit quirky.”

 

Winter Salad

Makes: Six to eight servings

The unlikely combination of my favourite raw and roasted vegetables comes together beautifully in this hearty and vibrant salad.

Roasted kale provides a satisfying chewy texture when moistened with the dressing. It also serves as a last-minute crispy garnish along with the toasted hazelnuts.

This makes a lovely accompaniment to roast chicken or beef and is delicious rolled in handmade tortillas too.

3 cups red cabbage (about 1/2 small head), thinly sliced

1 cup red onion (about 1/2 onion), thinly sliced

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided

1/2 large head cauliflower (about 14 oz), chopped into bite-sized pieces

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 bunch kale (about 8 oz), washed and coarsely chopped (reserve the stems for soup)

1 cup thinly sliced carrots (about 2–3 medium carrots)

1 cup thinly sliced celery (about 2–3 stalks)

1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled (about 3–4 oz)

1/3 cup hazelnuts, skinned and toasted in a dry pan
1 Tbsp dried cranberries, finely chopped

Sesame Dressing (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Place the cabbage and onion in a medium-sized bowl; add the vinegar and 1/4 tsp salt. Toss to combine then set aside while roasting the vegetables.

Toss the cauliflower in a large bowl with 1 Tbsp oil and a pinch of salt. Spread evenly onto a prepared baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, or until tender and browned around the edges; turn the cauliflower once during roasting. Transfer to a bowl.

Toss the kale in a large bowl with 1 Tbsp (15 mL) oil and a pinch of salt; spread evenly onto the same parchment-lined baking sheet that the cauliflower was cooked on. Roast until crisp, about 10–15 minutes, turning the kale over once.

Just before serving, tip the cabbage and onion into a sieve to drain the vinegar.

In a large bowl, toss the drained cabbage and onions with the balance of ingredients, reserving a large handful of kale as a crispy garnish. Toss with about 3 Tbsp Sesame Dressing, then transfer to a clean salad bowl. Top with the reserved kale and serve with dressing on the side.

Sesame Dressing

Makes: About 1 cup

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 Tbsp sesame oil

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp each sugar and salt

1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger

1/2 tsp freshly minced garlic (about 1 clove)

1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Alternatively, toss everything in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Leftover dressing keeps in the fridge for 2 weeks.
 

 

Whole Wheat Cranberry Scones 

This recipe is from British Columbia from Scratch (Whitecap Books, 40.00). While testing this recipe, author Denise Marchessault said she had so many scones in the freezer, her twins were tossing them into their lunch bags. “I figured my testing was complete when I learned the scones were a valuable trading commodity during school lunch,” she writes in the recipe intro. Marchessault says she often doubles the recipe and freezes half.

Baked scones can be easily frozen, or the dough can be stamped out and frozen unbaked.

Makes: 12 to 14 scones

 

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour

1/4 tsp table salt

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup white sugar

1 cup cold unsalted butter, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups whipping cream, plus more to brush the scones just before baking

2 Tbsp light brown sugar, for the topping

 

You’ll need a small, 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter and a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Combine the dry ingredients, except the brown sugar, in a large bowl and mix with a whisk or fork. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is crumbly with some irregular pieces. Add the cranberries and mix to combine.

Add the cream and mix with a fork. When the mixture becomes too unmanageable to mix with a fork, use your hands to gather the dough. If the dough is too dry, add additional cream by the spoonful until it just comes together.

Turn the dough and any bits of flour, onto a floured work surface; using your hands, shape the dough into a six-inch-diameter disk. Roll the dough to a thickness of one inch and about nine-inch in diameter.

Dip the cookie cutter into flour before stamping out each scone. Gather together any remnants and stamp out additional scones. Place the scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving at least one inch between each. Brush each scone with a bit of cream and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp brown sugar.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour, or up to 24 hours, before baking.

Bake in a preheated oven until golden, about 15 minutes, rotating the pan once. Best served warm.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His latest is The Great Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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