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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Monty has Returned...




Monty's name is actually Lawrence Hartle...Larry to most! I call him Monty because he is the only junior cook I know of that drives a sup'd up Monty Carlo. While living in Ontario I used to oogle my Chefs Monty Carlo...and here a lowly ole cook owns one..haha

 Monty is an Alberta Boy!! Except he rarely says "You Betcha" or "For Sure"...fresh outta High School and not your typical teenager. He has a work ethic...and a love of food, which has led to us working together. He reminds me of myself a few years ago...just starting out in the business. Eager to learn...and no experience.

 Larry came by his job in a funny way. The Chef was away on vacation and he showed up to ask if we were hiring...he was told we might be... Chef would be back in a few days and he could talk to him then. Well when Chef arrived back...here was this stranger in a white coat and beanie working away. "Did I hire this person??" Monty took it upon himself to just start showing up so that he could learn a few things...this is the kind of attitude and drive that get u hired immediately. He was hired on the spot!

 Sometimes no experience is the best experience! You are then able to mold someone into the person you would like them to be. He was of the pliable type lol. Larry started out on the breakfast line...a fast paced lonely line (only one person works it usually) that builds speed instantly if you want to survive...and survive he did. When I arrived on the scene Larry had already been on the line part time on weekends while going to school. Once out of school he opt'd for full time Breakfast. He learned the line quickly and can probably kick my ass easily cookin the menu now...



 He isn't much of a talker...you have to force a conversation with him. Slowly he is coming out of his shell (I've even seen him sticking up for himself now)...mind u I scare the crap out of most...I am the complete opposite...loud, brash, in your face... type A personality. When asked something cooking related he usually raises an eyebrow...turns completely red...and just stares at ya...this is when you realize that he doesn't have a freakin clue as to what you are talking about. This had to change...Monty needed the knowledge all cooks require. Luckily we work at the Sawridge and have such a great support system in place. Let the APPRENTICESHIP BEGIN...

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Proud Father watching his Kids Grow Up...


Finally the weather has stopped kicking the gardens ass!! I'm pretty sure it isn't going to snow and destroy it once again...
The Oil Field winds try to do a number on it daily...but they are all fighting back and winning.
So everything is starting to thrive...and I hope it keeps doing so for the next few months. I have multiple batches of Heirloom Tomatoes, various Herbs, Wala Wala Onions, Eggplants and Beans from a friends farm in BC. Long Beans from China. Bush Beans, Greens and Herbs from Italy. Okra and about a dozen other oddities from India. Tomatoes from across Canada. I even have some Watermelons growin.  Plus alot of stuff from around the area here...I am sure I have forgotten alot of things...but you will get to see it all as it starts to mature on the Roof. My Grand Father would be sooo proud...I wish he was still around to see it.
Tomorrow night I have a dinner for a few Exec's from each of the Sawridge Inn's around Alberta. Each team includes the Exec Chef from each property....so I figure this is an excellent time to start harvesting for the first time. So I will bring the cam to work tomorrow and shoot some pics of the results of the "First Harvest". From Seed to Plate is becoming a reality...and all in the middle of the worlds largest oil development. A little patch of new life.
I find the time spent building ... and rebuilding the garden to be well worth the effort. When life in the kitchen is getting too hectic...I just go for a lil walk up those stairs and open the trap door to Tranquility. Five minutes of watering and weeding does wonders to recharge the batteries. They are my babies and I am doing my best to nurture and help them thrive daily... 
Again I want to thank all the people that have sent me seeds....they are still arriving in the mail. I am still planting what I think will actually make it to maturity in time before the end of the Season.
I think the experiment is a success...even the ones that don't grow are not a failure..they just aren't meant to grow in an Oil Field.
It's been a busy summer...but I will keep everyone updated as often as possible...
Enjoy the sun...


Monday, May 17, 2010

A Global Garden moves to a Roof...

So I was off today...
 Decided I had better get the actual garden started on the roof. A 6'3" tall person should not have to venture up dark black stairs with pipes hanging everywhere to get to his garden....I have the goose eggs as proof. But hey...I am just glad work allowed me to build it. So today construction began.


I asked the maintenance and shipping dept to give me a hand...and we hauled all the buckets, plants and soil up to the roof....Sweet!!!!!!!!! Thanks for the help guys....was very appreciated.


 The sun was out....lil fluffy clouds floatin around...couldn't have asked for a better day!! So I moved everything into the area I had decided to grow in. Then went to work sorting out buckets. The way I want it built is to slide one bucket inside the other...the inner bucket is drilled out on the bottom for drainage...and drains into the bottom bucket...the bottom one has on hole drilled a couple inches from the bottom...so there will never be more than two inches of water in each bucket...the roots can grow down into the actual water for that extra lil feed.



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Global Garden Begins...

Ya Ya I know it has been a month since I actually posted...but life was busy. We enjoyed a bit of Texas and Mexico...got back to our own Oil Field...and are back into the swing of things at work and at home...so I am back! I know I know...you hadn't even realized I was gone.


 I have to say a BIG THANK YOU to all the people that have been sending me seeds for the "Global Garden" on the Rooftop of the Hotel. I have tried to email back all who have sent.
 To start it has snowed twice in the last week here. But I have alot of faith...so six days ago I broke out the starter trays and went on the hunt for the seeds. I bought some lil half popsicle sticks at the local craft store and went to work trying to label enough so that I could track all the seedlings. Ya... just that took a few hours lol. Then went out into the rare sunshine and went to work at filling all the trays and pokin lil holes for the seeds to drop into. The planting of the seeds was the quickest part of the whole process.There were over a thousand seeds...sometimes I wish I drank!!!


 So once I had the trays full of seeds I wondered what I was supposed to do next...It's too friggin cold out to leave them outside. If I move them into the house Sushi and Kalan (our cats) are either gonna eat them once they sprout...or piss on them thinking we bought them some new kinda indoor pisser! So I realized I cant keep them at home...maybe they would be ok sitting by the pool  at the hotel...it's indoors..gets lots of sun..thats a plan. I carefully place them into the truck...not wanting to spill water and muck all over the upholstery (shoulda watered them AFTER the move!!). It may have been the slowest the truck has traveled since the farmers Wife owned it lol. Once at the hotel I went to Peter our Manager with my dilemma. His thoughts were that they would be destroyed by random people if left in the pool area...I agree'd. Which left us with another dilemma...where the hell are my thousand lil babies gonna go. Peter is a smart man!!! A Vacant Office...


 I moved all the trays into a previous sales office!! It had a wall of sunlight...and even better a baseboard heater...I cranked it. Now the Sawridge Inn has its own little hothouse. Went to the kitchen and grabbed some garbage bags to lay all over the desk...and started layin down trays. Viola instant Grow Room. Ran down to Canadian Tire and grabbed a lil one gallon sprayer thingy...so that I didn't create massive spillage etc on this make shift grow table...or fry the computer that likes to turn on for some reason half way thru waterings. I was so excited to see if they would sprout...for a day or so I watered. Then.....


  There were lil sprouts poking out of the soil everywhere....every tray had dozens and dozens of new life!! I was freaking right out...anyone that passed was quickly sucked into the office to gander at them. It has actually been funny to see everyones reaction to the project. Every day I go in to water...and every day at least a half dozen people come in to see the progress...and dozens of others grab me in the kitchen to talk about it. The garden just makes people happy for some reason. Every day everyone has been amazed at the amount of growth...you would think none of us had grown anything before. Every day they jet up another inch....if you listen to people in the hotel its like listening to fishing stories..."then I walked by 20mins later and they had shot up another three inches...lol". I am glad they are making people smile.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Night with Michael Smith...


First: New Brunswick "Oven Head" Smoked Salmon with Roasted Cauliflour Goat Cheese Puree, Carrot Sauce and a Salad of Smoked Mackerel, Apple and Watercress...


Fish: Prince Edward Island Lobster with Chardonnay Braised Leeks and Caper Raisin Relish...

 Salad: Grilled Eggplant and Arugula with Olive Oil Roast Tomatoes, Tomato Vinaigrette and Mint Hummus...

Meat: Slow Roast Elk and Duck with Five Canadian Grains, Oxtail Mushroom Gravy and Asparagus...


Treat: IRON CHEF Strawberry Shortcake with Cumin Biscuits, Avocado White Chocolate Mousse...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Online Black Box...Win a Prize!!



 Everyone loves watching a "Black Box" competition....myself included. If you are unsure what a Black Box is..it is a box of mystery ingredients. It is where Iron Chef stole their concept from. Usually it contains more than one ingredient...and all must be used in the dish that is put forward for judging. Most cooks have been forced to do many Black Boxes...be it in Culinary School ... Work..or even some Interviews for Jobs.

 Today I want to have one just for "Fun". I am going to give everyone 5 ingredients. What I would like from you is a recipe using all five of them in your dish...as well as a photo of the finished product. I am going to try to choose five ingredients which are common enough globally that anyone can play. I am pretty sure most will have played with most of the them...but not all.

 The Prize??? A brand new copy of the book "Culinary Artistry" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. I consider this book to actually be one of the most valuable reference resources I have and use. It has wine stains...and food splatters..pages that wanna come out ... but I refuse to give it up. Yours will be shiny and clean...with the smell of fresh bleached dead wood haha. It contains a listing of flavour matches. Say your making Salmon for dinner...but dont have a recipe. Look up Salmon in the book and it lists all the flavours that go well with Salmon...choose a few of these flavours and voila...you have just created your own Salmon dish minus a recipe. It is now your Salmon dish! The book helps you to build flavours that work.

So onto the Contest!!! I would like everyone to create and email a recipe using :

1. Bone Marrow - Which is available in most supermarkets. Veal bones are best ... but good ole Cow bones work too. You may find them as Soup bones. Try to buy the Femur Bones with the ends taken off...you want the straight sections. One to three inch sections work. Ask your butcher to cut them for you if necessary...they usually dont mind. I know it is a freaky ingredient...but I want to get everyone using something they wouldn't normally use. Please dont send me a recipe that has Human Femur Marrow used please...lol. Remember that the Marrow can be served in any form as long as it is there ie: Demi Glace is Marrow, Beef Broth is Marrow, Ossobuco is Marrow..it's all up to your imagination how you use it.

2. Quinoa - An Andean grain like product that does not get the press it should. It is closely related to the beet family actually. Highly nutritious and very versatile. If your local supermarket does not carry it (you may find it in the bulk or grain sections)...try your local health food store. Everyone at work and online is asking me what this grain is...Google it!

3. Grapefruit - No explanation necessary here. You can use the Zest, the Juice or the Fruit itself.

4. Frozen Green Pea's - Oh ya...the Jolly Green Giant is going to love this!!

5. Cardamom - You can use the Green or Black variety. An Indian spice with a very unique flavour that I love. Most stores carry it now.

 So you MUST use all 5 of those ingredients in your dish. I have made them fairly easy for the first Black Box. You can use any other ingredient available out there...as long as the five I listed are in it. Once you have made the dish, scribble out the recipe and snap a pic of it. Email it to acookslife@hotmail.com . The competition starts today..and ends March 30th..right before I head out on Vacation. That gives you two whole weeks to figure something out...most cooks get around two minutes. The entries will be judged by my Wife (she is a cook too) and I....and maybe a few other cooks. I will mail out your Prize as soon as we have made a decision.

 Have fun with it ... that is what Black Boxes are all about... Creating new combination's of flavours!


 I want to thank Wiley Publishing for providing the copy of Culinary Artistry to give away. They have been at the forefront of Culinary and technical publishing for over 200yrs. Some of my "most prized" of books have been from them...Culinary Artistry being one of the most beloved. You can check them out at : http://ca.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Good Luck to All!!




Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Clandestine Dinner...


So for the past few weeks I have been tinkering with an idea in my head! A Fine Dining experience like no other available. A Clandestine Dinner....


 What do I mean by Clandestine??? I want to set up a Fine Dining experience for a dozen people in a totally out of the ordinary setting ... and feed them something they most likely have never experienced before. Not only that...but I am not going to tell them where dinner is till 2hrs before the meal. The possibilities are endless. Someone mentioned to me today that it should be a TV show...and he's right! A mystery meal in mystery settings...but instead when they get the co-ordinates of the dinner ...a Huey lands outside their home. Whisking them off to exotic places....haha. Dream on!! I'd watch it..but I'm a Food Geek. The only reason it hasn't become a weekly feature on your boob-tube is because the whole process is beginning today...maybe someday you will be watching it. Till then...


 I am thinking "White linen...Candles...Crystal and China" all in the oddest place you could Imagine. Imagine your Table set up on "a set Railroad Tracks", beside an "Oil Rig" , in the back of a "Rock Truck" bigger than most homes - or ontop of a "Skyscraper" kinda deal. The more "Extreme" the better as far as I am concerned.


 The food would be just as "Out There!" as the landscape for the Meal. I think the food will follow theme's but I haven't pondered those theme's enough yet. My odd thought process is beginning to process it all though. All food will be prepared and transported in Thermal Boxes....hot food hot..cold food cold. FoodSafe it shall be. There will be no illnesses on my watch.  I figure I have about a month or so to figure the food aspect of it out. Spring is quickly approaching in the Oil Fields. I am not going to cater to your "allergies" or your "lifestyle choices" food wise...if you don't like it...don't eat it! I have to deal with those annoyances enough at work...this is about PLAYING!! This is about me having just as much fun as all the guests.


 So I currently have some feelers out in the local community about the idea.....and I am truly amazed at just how many people want to be a part of it. Not just guests..but people that just want to help make it all happen. My concept is to draw 12 random names out of a hat...please dont ask if your best friend, lover, etc etc can also come. These 12 people will be notified 2 days prior to the actual dinner...so they can clear that evenings schedule. There will be a cost for the meal...but it is a "Not for Profit" affair. I just want to cover the costs of the food and any expenses I may have producing it. Maybe I will also build in a donation to a local charity too. Please do not accept the invitation and not show...you have just wasted a seat that someone else would have liked. It is all about 12 strangers enjoying a neat meal, in a neat setting with 11 neat new friends haha. Think of it as Culinary Networking. Two hours before the meal I will send out an email or text to all invited with GPS Co-Ordinates to the actual meal. If you get lost...well that added to the adventure ... don't get mad...it's all about having Fun!!

 During the course of the meal a photographer or myself will be snapping pics for the blog. So if your wanted on Foreign Shores ya might wanna disguise yourself that night..haha.


 I have not figured out the beverage part yet. I think wine flights accompanying each dish would be an awesome idea...but not sure of the Gov't ramifications yet. I dont want to be liable for someones accident. I am sure I can get that aspect of the meal figured out though. Some dinners may even feature Cook Made beverages. That Spruce Beer recipe has been sitting on the computer way too long.

 I wanted to start them before the snow had melted (by holding the first indoors). I actually wanted to have the first one in the middle of an Alberta Whiskey Distillery...right in the middle of their production floor..but have not had any luck getting replies from Companies. I also thought of inside the Syncrude Oil facility ...but I know there will be a tonne of red tape for that one as well.

 
 Some of the meals may require finishing on site...which I will look to the guests for help. Some meals may be totally done on site....Campfire Meals Rock!!! Ever been taught how to Smoke Salmon by a Native Elder??? You get the idea. 

 So that is my plan...so far. Hopefully I will be able to go into full on mode when I return from Texas next month. I would like to have the first dinner towards the end of April.

 I would really appreciate some feedback on the idea...be it site suggestions or anything neat you would like to add...leave a comment on here or email me at acookslife@hotmail.com

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Global Garden


Well it is almost time to start sprouting the RoofTop Garden at the Hotel. So I would like to put out a challenge to everyone!! Since the Blog is getting hits from all over the Planet...I would like the Garden to be Global.


 So I'm curious to see if anyone...anywhere on the planet wants to send some seeds for us to grow. All of the product will be used in our Restaurant...with the overflow (if any...depending on my gardening skills) will go to the local Community Soup Kitchen. We are looking for Herb/Spice and Vegetable seeds..but if you have an interesting Fruit that will grow and mature quickly that works too.



Yesterday our Chef signed the contract with our only Local Farm..to provide us with fresh Local Vegetables this coming Season. The RoofTop garden is meant to provide all the things that this supplier will not be growing. The familiar and the not so familiar.


 Our climate during the summer is short...I will start sprouting everything in the next month. During the summer we recieve sunlight till 11pm at night...so long days. Which should be excellent for plants. The Garden is going to be sustainable...built out of old buckets. I am going to build an Eco-Garden that is self watering (thru a siphoning tube system) and self fertilizing. With the odd bucket of Poo Water (rotting local foliage in water) to help with growth. It will be totally Organic...even the soil will be brought in (ours contains Oil). So I would prefer the seeds didn't come from plants that have been sprayed with pesticides or fed with chemicals. The Garden will basically be Pest Free because it's going to be built ontop of the Hotel...so no lil critters eating my labors of love. If your item needs more heat...I will tent the item to HotBox it. Be sure to send growing instructions on how YOU care for item during it's growth...along with any special tips your Mother or Grandmother gave you about it. A recipe that you use the item in would be quite excellent also.

 So my goal is to see what arrives in the mail and try growing it...an experiment. Herbs and Veggies of all kinds should thrive....they soil will be a foot and a half in depth...so dont send anything that needs more room to grow. It will be very cool seeing what arrives from other countries. Enclose your favorite recipe for the seeds that you are sending. At the end of the season I will let alot of the plants go to seed...and mail back a variety of everything that was grown to anyone that sent seeds. A seed exchange of a sorts..haha. I would also be willing to pay any reasonable mailing costs if you like.

 I am looking for things that you wouldn't normally find in stores or from suppliers. Something truly local in your region of the World. The odder the better.


 As things mature I will snap pictures of my triumphs and my dismal  failures..a running post to keep everyone up to date. I will also showcase your recipe on the Blog.

 Anyone that is interested in the idea can email me at : acookslife@hotmail.com and I will send you a mailing address.

 Way excited to get this started...Spring is starting....time for FRESH FOOD!!!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Could you pass the "Salt" please...


 As a cook I fear the day that a physician tells me that I have to reduce my salt intake. Salt is everything to food...it isn't the Flavour of the Food .. but it is the enhancer!! Salt just makes everything pop on our tongue...the simple truth is it doesn't make anything taste any better..we just love it's taste. I could not live without the stuff!! Most of the Planet would agree.

 Thru the ages it has played an important role in human civilization. It allowed us to cure meat...which allowed us to travel great distances...which allowed us to explore our planet. It has been used as payment for services...it has started wars and it has ended wars. Most recently during the Revolutionary War the British used the Tories to intercept the Rebels salt supply and destroy their ability to preserve food. During the War of 1812 they used Salt Brine to pay the soldiers because the Government was too poor to use money. It has played a pivotal role throughout history.



Salt comes to us in one of two ways. It is either mined as Rock Salt or it is created by evaporating Sea Water to create Sea Salt. A cooks kitchen usually contains three forms of salt. Table Salt for the Pastry department, Kosher Salt for all cooking and Fleur de Sel (or Sea Salt).


Table salt has Iodine and an anti-caking agent added to it. It is usually a fairly fine grind...which allows us to shake it at the table. The Iodine is added to prevent Iodine deficiency in our bodies...which leads to Thyroid gland problems. This form of salt is mainly used for cooking and as a table condiment. It is mainly found in North America. In France 35% of all Salt contains Floride...due to the lack of it in their water. Another additive which can be added is Folic Acid...which results in a yellow tint to it. In Canada, Windsor Salt (our most common) adds Inverted Sugar to our Salt....the reason for this is unclear...but just adds to our weight problem.


 Kosher Salt is the most common in any commercial kitchen. I open a box a day at least. All salt is Kosher...even table salt. Kosher salt is compacted salt grains which form small flat platelets. These larger flat grains draw the blood from the meat better during the Koshering process. The grains are larger which allows them to remain instead of dissolving into the meat...which draws the fluids out of the meat...rendering it Kosher. I would use Sea Salt in the kitchen 24/7...but Kosher is more economical of the two. It also has a milder flavour than table salt.


 Sea Salt and Fleur de Sel are the superstars of the kitchen. Both are created via evaporation. Sea water is evaporated until Salt crystals form. The mineral content of the water affects its colour and flavour. Once the water has been evaporated it is then ground to the grain size wanted. Fleur de Sel is typically hand harvested..the workers scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks into the Salt Marsh or Pan. Brittany is where the finest Fleur de Sel originates.  It is our most expensive form of Salt in our kitchen. It is sold in airtight containers...it usually has a slightly damp look and feel to it.

 Now that you know a little bit about Salt...lets get to the real reason for the post. Finishing Salts!!

 Finishing salt is a generic term given to Salt which has a special mouth feel, flavour or colour that would be "Lost" if used during the cooking process. Finishing Salt is the last thing to hit the plate before it is handed off to the server to be brought to the guest. Which preserves their special characteristics for your guest to enjoy. With that being said ....they can be just about anything. Any flavour you can think of can be made into a Finishing Salt. They make the dish just that little bit more special...it's the little things that all add up to an amazing meal. They are usually extremely expensive to purchase...$165.00 for 12oz of Soy Salt....gimme a break. I am a cook....and a frugal cook at that...today we learn how to make overpriced Salt.