Back to School

Three delicious recipes culled from the Boreal Chef's classes for cooks

II by Miche Genest I Photos by Cathie Archbould II

Boreal Chef~Fall 2011 (V5I3)

In September, when the kids are back in school and easing into their fall routines, some atavistic force sets to work on us adults and turns our thoughts to self-improvement. Years of schooling have conditioned us to expect and need a sharpening of the mind come September, and a fierce desire is born to cloister ourselves in a small room for three hours on a weekday night and be instructed, whether in the art of used-silverware jewellery, arc welding, cake decorating, or various other new and suddenly necessary skills. This is good. It keeps the neural pathways humming.
   For years I, too, perused the autumn leisure guides and the Yukon College fall calendar in search of higher learning. I enrolled in writing workshops or history classes, constructed art books, learned how to collage, made my own paper, and fashioned a traditional Yukon First Nation babiche game bag with gut and trade beads. I learned how to give constructive feedback and how to say thank you when on the receiving end. I learned how to clean up after myself and overlook moments of confusion or indecision on the teacher’s part. Then, last spring, I leapt over to the other side of the desk (or in my case, kitchen counter) to join the ranks of those who instruct and so discovered the pitfalls of the workshop life from the teacher’s point of view.
   In kitchens scattered throughout Whitehorse, my students and I wrestled with sourdough starter, filleted fish, tamed bison ribs, tossed salads with rose petals and fireweed tips, and made more sourdough chocolate cakes than I’m willing to count. Errors were made; disaster courted. The teacher’s pride took a hit when a vegetarian nut loaf with morel Calvados cream sauce, billed as a “special occasion” supper, first refused to bake and then crumbled into an unsightly pile when sliced.
   When a platoon of mini sourdough cakes exploded in the oven, the class presented the teacher with the notion that labelling the salt and baking-soda jars is sound kitchen practice. On another occasion, we agreed as a group that next time we would not mix the ingredients for two different recipes together in the same bowl. And in a moment of private reflection, the teacher concluded it might have been rash to tackle nine different tapas in the first three-hour class she’d taught since the mid-’90s.
   But there have been some fine successes amongst the disasters, and those we will now celebrate. Herewith find three recipes, robust and cheerful ghosts of cooking classes past, present, and future. The first is a class favourite: an amazing Middle Eastern dip whose name, Muhammara, is one long onomatopoeic hum signifying mmm, mmm, good. This version is made with roasted red peppers, walnuts, and highbush cranberry jelly instead of the traditional pomegranate molasses so hard to find in the North.
   The second recipe is a Swedish blueberry soup, delivered straight from the Internet to the class, with instructions to the students to make it their own using wild blueberries and that favourite boreal sweetener, birch syrup.
   The third recipe, based on domestic and wild mushrooms, has not yet been unleashed upon the cooking-workshop world. My friend and trusty sous-chef, Priscilla Clarkin, sat in for future students and wrote down ingredients and method as I stumbled between counter and stove in my kitchen--a happy event partly because it brought back the fun-filled hours we spent in 2009, developing the recipes for my first cookbook, The Boreal Gourmet.
    All three recipes are based on ingredients coming into season in the late summer and fall, so it’s time to brush off your foraging skills, gather the ingredients, and cook up these back-to-school specials in the private culinary learning centre also known as your own, busy kitchen.

Muhammara Sauce

Adapted from a recipe in The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, by Paula Wolfert, who calls it “one of the outstanding dips of the eastern Mediterranean.” Many thanks to Jeffery Mickelson, an inventive Yukon chef last seen at Klondike Kate’s, in Dawson City, who planted the idea in my head. Check out his blog: nosetotail.blogspot.com.

4 large sweet red bell peppers
1 small hot chile pepper or 1 tsp. (5 ml) Sambal Oelek or other hot sauce
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) walnuts
1/2 cup (125 ml) bread crumbs
1 tbsp. (15 ml) lemon juice
2 tbsp. (30 ml) pomegranate molasses (substitute 2 tbsp. high- bush cranberry jelly)
1/2 tsp. (2 ml) ground toasted cumin, more for garnish
Salt to taste
2 tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil, more for garnish

Roast the peppers and chili under the broiler or on the barbecue until they’re black and blistered. Place in a covered bowl or a brown paper bag to steam for 10 minutes. Peel off the skin and remove the stem, core, and seeds by grabbing the stem in the fingers and pulling; alternately, slit the peppers open and use your knife. Paula Wolfert advises draining the peppers on paper towel, but the juice is too delicious to waste, so I reserve the peppers in a bowl, juice and all, until I’m ready for them.
    In a food processor, grind the walnuts with the lemon juice, bread crumbs, highbush cranberry jelly, Sambal Oelek (if you didn’t use a chile pepper), cumin, and salt until smooth. Add the roasted peppers and process until thoroughly blended and creamy.
With the machine on, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Add the chile to taste. If the paste is too thick, thin with 1–2 tablespoons of water. If you have time, refrigerate overnight to let the flavours develop. If not, serve right away. It’s still fabulous.
    To serve, let the dip come to room temperature and sprinkle with cumin and olive oil.

Makes about 3 cups (750 ml).

Blueberry Soup

Adapted from a recipe by Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson, executive chef and co-owner of Aquavit, in New York City. With thanks to Christian, Emilie, and Helene--enterprising students in the vegetarian cooking class at Takhini River Lodge last summer. The soup can be served hot or cold, depending on the weather and your own inclination. It was a hot day in July when we concocted this beauty, so the group opted for cold. But try it warm after a fall day of berry picking to help your fingers uncurl.
Note: Pineau des Charentes is an aperitif from the Charentes region of France made with fermented-grape must and cognac eau-de-vie, with a flavour slightly reminiscent of conifers. It is currently available in the Whitehorse liquor store.

6 cups (l 1/2 L) fresh or frozen wild blueberries 3 tbsp. (45 ml) birch syrup
2 tbsp. (30 ml) maple syrup
2 tbsp. (30 ml) lemon juice
2 1/2 tsp. (12 ml) ground cardamom
1 cup (250 ml) Pineau des Charentes (ice wine or white wine)

To garnish:
1 ripe mango, diced
1/2 cup (125 ml) plain yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraîche
Combine blueberries, syrups, lemon juice, cardamom, and Pineau de Charentes in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer for 8–10 minutes. Remove from heat, cool, and chill for an hour or two, or serve hot.
Option: purée in a food processor then press through a sieve for a smooth and creamy texture. Or just leave it, as the cooking class did. They preferred the texture of the whole berries. Garnish with a spoonful of yogurt topped with a small mound of diced mango. In class, we were 12 people, so to make sure everyone had a good sampling we served the soup in 1/2 cup (125 ml) glass canning jars and charmed ourselves with the presentation. A small serving is fine; this soup is intensely flavoured.

Makes about 1 quart (1 L).

Mushroom Crostini

1 baguette, thinly sliced (day-old is fine; you’ll be toasting it)
2 tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil
1/3 cup (75 ml) chopped shallots, green or purple onions
4 cups (1 L) chopped crimini, portobello, or wild agaricus mushrooms
A scant 1 oz. (20 g) dried morel mushrooms, soaked in water to cover
1/2 oz. (10 g) dried shaggy manes, soaked in water to cover
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp. (15 ml) tamari or soy sauce
1/2 cup (125 ml) Pineau des Charentes or vermouth
3/4 cup (180 ml) whipping cream
1 tbsp. (15 ml) minced spruce tips (substitute fresh rosemary or 1/2 tbsp. dried)
3/4 cup (175 ml) cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

To garnish:
1 tsp. (5 ml) chopped spruce tips or fresh rosemary 1/4 cup (50 ml) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Soak dried mushrooms in hot water to cover for about 30 minutes or until thoroughly softened. Squeeze out excess moisture (reserve for excellent sauce or soup) and dice.
Heat oil in a cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Add onions or shallots and sauté 2–3 minutes. Add the crimini, portobello, or wild agaricus mushrooms and sauté until beginning to brown--about 6 minutes. Stir in garlic, sauté 1 minute, and add tamari sauce, mixing thoroughly. Add morels and shaggy manes and sauté for another 5 minutes.
Turn heat to medium high and add Pineau de Charentes. Cook for 3 minutes, until it’s good and bubbling, and then add cream. Cook until the mixture thickens enough to hold together (about 4–5 minutes). Remove from heat and add spruce tips and Parmesan. Mix thoroughly and let sit for 20 minutes. (Can be prepared in advance to this point, but bring out of fridge to warm up for an hour before continuing to the next step.)
Turn broiler to low. Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and toast for 2 minutes each side or until golden brown. Spoon about 1 tbsp. onto each slice of baguette, sprinkle with Parmesan, run under the broiler for 1 minute, top with chopped spruce tips or a sprig of fresh rosemary, place on a platter, and serve.

Makes about 36 crostini. Y


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