weekend in the country

Idyllic. Enchanting. Pastoral. These are the words that come to mind as we cruise up the gravel lane leading to historic Hastings House Country House Hotel. Upon arrival at the Salt Spring Island inn, one immediately swoons over its character and charm. Set on nine hectares overlooking Ganges Harbour, the luxurious, award-winning estate houses the island’s first Hudson’s Bay Post, along with a turn-of the-century farmhouse, a lovingly restored barn and an 11th-century Sussex-style Manor House. Outside, sheep graze on the emerald-green fields next to well-manicured lawns and artfully designed landscaping. Every morning, guests awake to a hamper outside their door filled with fragrant coffee and warm-from-the-oven muffins while an English breakfast awaits in the Manor House. Dinner is expertly crafted from local ingredients such as island-raised lamb, artisanal cheese, and herbs and vegetables from Hastings House’s extensive garden. In the Snug, guests may curl up with a book, watch a British comedy or help themselves to a night cap. Simply put, it’s a little piece of the English countryside in the Gulf Islands—and the perfect autumn getaway.

Alison

into the fog

 

It’s no secret that Tofino is home to an incredible food scene, from the award-winning Pointe at the Wickaninnish Inn and vibrant Sobo, to local institution/food truck, Tacofino (their crispy fish tacos are a must). During a recent stay at Chesterman Beach, we were utterly charmed by Wolf in the Fog, Chef Nicholas Nutting’s ode to inventive and approachable West Coast fare. The Victoria-raised chef is dedicated to sourcing the very best seafood, meat and produce from regional fishermen, farmers and growers, along with locally foraged mushrooms and seaweed. Located in ‘downtown’ Tofino, Wolf in the Fog boasts a hip vibe that draws and equally hip crowd. Upstairs, guests gather around communal tables over punch bowls and expertly executed share plates such as the Block Party (complete with fried chicken and ribs) and the Spanish Picnic (brimming with seafood and romesco sauce); downstairs in ‘the den,’ guests saddle up to the bar for artisan sandwiches (think Spot Prawn Bahn Mi and Smoked Tofino Brisket). A must-try dish? The Bamfield Seaweed Salad with shitakes, wild rice and daikon (pictured above). ‘Sleek surf lodge’ characterizes the decor, thanks to high ceilings, exposed wood beams, stunning cedar light fixtures, vintage dishes, a surfboard installation, a glowing bar and a lounge section equipped with luxe sofas and low tables. Après surf, anyone?

Alison

spot on

spot prawns (photo by Christina Symons)

spot prawns
(photo by Christina Symons)

On the west coast, early May marks the beginning of spot prawn season. For six to eight weeks every spring, the succulent crustaceans are snapped up by chefs and home cooks alike—then prepared simply to show off their natural sweetness. Of the shrimp species harvested off Canada’s west coast, spot prawns are the largest—and most delicious. We first caught some of our own in the Broughton Archipelago, the largest marine park in British Columbia. Following an afternoon spent kayaking amid the jewel-like islets, we returned to our boat, pulled up the trap and were pleasantly surprised to find it full of the large, coral-hued beauties. There’s nothing quite like eating seafood that you’ve plucked from the waters beneath your hull.

Kicking off the season, the Chef’s Table Society of British Columbia hosts their 8th Annual BC Spot Prawn Festival (May 10th) at False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf in Vancouver. Spot prawns will be celebrated throughout the month at various festivals, including the Spot Prawn Festival at the Victoria Public Market (May 17th-18th), the 4th Annual Okanagan Spot Prawn Festival (May 18th to June 1st), Feast Tofino (spot prawn week kicks off May 22nd) and at the 6th Annual Cowichan Bay Spot Prawn Festival (May 24th-25th).

 

 

from our kitchen to yours

1550175556.MAINOn the west coast, mid-spring means the arrival of beautiful fresh produce such as asparagus, rhubarb, radishes, spinach, lettuces and herbs, along with stellar seafood such as spot prawns and halibut. To celebrate the season and the blissfully warm months ahead, we’re giving away two signed copies of our cookbook, Sea Salt: Recipes from the West Coast Galley. One copy will be given away through Instagram and the other via Twitter.

Contest details are as follows:

1) Post a photo on Instagram and/or Twitter of a fresh ingredient that is currently in season where you live. If you’d like, include in the caption how you plan on using this ingredient. (For example, “I’m transforming this fresh rhubarb into a pie for dessert.”)

2) In your post, include the hashtag #seasaltcookbookcontest – this information will help us keep track of entries.

3) Contest winners must be followers of our Instagram account (@alison_seasalt) and/or Twitter account (@seasaltcookbook). For example, if you submit a photo through Instagram and Twitter, you must be followers of both accounts.

4) Up to two entries per person (one on Instagram and one on Twitter). Multiple entires on each platform will not increase chances of winning.

5) Contest is open to Canadian and American residents only.

6) The contest will be open for two weeks, closing Sunday, May 18th, at 11:59pm Pacific Standard Time.

7) We will draw two names at random and will announce the winners via Instagram and Twitter. The winners may then email us with their delivery information.

Good luck!

to market we go

(photo by Christina Symons)

The arrival of May marks the beginning of farmers’ market season on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Armed with baskets ready to be filled, locals and visitors alike flock to the region’s many outdoor markets in search of organic produce, fresh bread, artisan cheeses and charcuterie, as well as plants, flowers and handmade arts and crafts. Pair your market visit with a winery tour, then tote your goodies to a park or beach for the perfect picnic. Visit our farmers’ market page for our comprehensive list of the region’s many markets.

Alison

happy birthday, sea salt

(photo by Christina Symons)

(photo by Christina Symons)

One year ago today, our cookbook dream came true — Sea Salt: Recipes from the West Coast Galley hit bookstore shelves across Canada. Since Sea Salt was released, we have thoroughly enjoyed connecting with our readers in person, through email and via social media. Hearing that you have enjoyed reading and cooking from our book — whether at sea or at home — and that you’ve even purchased copies for family and friends, is incredibly rewarding. Thank you for welcoming us into your kitchens and galleys.

We are thrilled to announce that Sea Salt was named ‘Best Fish + Seafood Cookbook in Canada’ by Gourmand International. Our book is now among seven finalists vying for the worldwide title in the same category. The winner will be announced at the Beijing Cookbook Fair Gourmand Awards in May and Hilary — our fearless cook and food stylist — will represent Sea Salt at the event. What’s more, Sea Salt is a contender for a Taste Canada food writing award in the regional/cultural category (finalists will be announced in August). It is truly an honour to be nominated alongside so many reputable chefs and cookbook authors.

We kicked off 2014 with appearances and cooking demonstrations on Global Noon News with Lynn Colliar and at the Vancouver International Boat Show and Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. In March, three of our recipes were featured by House & Home magazine. The absolute highlight of 2014? Welcoming another little sailor — my second son — to our crew.

One of the questions we’ve been asked most often over the past year is, “What is it like working on a book with your family members?” After years of brainstorming, researching, writing, recipe testing, photographing and editing, we can say that there’s no greater satisfaction than pouring your heart into something you love with the ones you love.

Alison

something sweet

Sea Salt and Caramel Brownies
(photo by Christina Symons)

Valentine’s Day has us thinking of all the sweet treats, pretty confections and flaky pastries that we’d like to whip up for our loved ones — and nibble on, ourselves. In honour of February 14th, we’re delighted to share the recipe for Sea Salt and Caramel Brownies from our book. These moist, fudgy brownies will vanish almost instantly when presented to your guests. The sweet caramel is beautifully offset by a subtle sprinkling of rock salt. We love to use rock salt from the Vancouver Island Salt Co., based in Cobble Hill.

Sea Salt and Caramel Brownies

Makes 16 brownies

¾ cup (180 mL) unsalted butter
2 oz (56 gr) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
2 cups (475 mL) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1½ tsp (7.5 mL) vanilla extract
1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60 mL) plus 2 Tbsp (30 mL) unsweetened cocoa

Caramel

¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar
⅓ cup (80 mL) light corn syrup
3 Tbsp (45 mL) water
Pinch of salt
⅓ cup (80 mL) heavy cream
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
Rock salt

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Line a 9-in (23-cm) square metal cake pan with parchment paper. Spray paper lightly with cooking oil. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt butter with chocolate over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Whisk together sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl. Slowly add chocolate mixture, stirring until thoroughly incorporated. Sift flour and cocoa together and fold into batter until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.

Bake brownies in the middle of the oven for approximately 35 minutes, until the edges are set and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool at room temperature in the pan for 1 hour. Refrigerate brownies until firm, approximately 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the caramel. Bring sugar, corn syrup, water and salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring, until mixture turns a golden caramel colour, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream and vanilla.

Pour caramel over the brownies, spreading evenly. Cool completely in pan on rack.

Once brownies are completely cooled, scatter rock salt over top. Gripping the edges of the parchment paper, lift brownies from the pan. Remove paper. Cut brownies into 16 squares. Serve at room temperature.

winter treasures

cornmeal-crusted Fanny Bay Oysters  (photo by Christina Symons)

cornmeal-crusted Fanny Bay Oysters
(photo by Christina Symons)

One of the many joys of living on Vancouver Island is the access of fresh seafood right at our doorstep all year long. During chilly fall and winter months, oysters are at their plump, briney peak. Several varieties of the bivalve mollusc are harvested sustainably from the shores of the island and Gulf Islands; the tiny community of Fanny Bay, located on Baynes Sound, is a major source for these beauties. (In hopes of farming an oyster far superior than the indigenous Olympia variety, Joseph McLellan brought oyster seed to the area from Japan in 1947; today, his family operates Mac’s Oysters Ltd.) Coveted by chefs and home cooks alike, freshly shucked Fanny Bay Oysters are enjoyed raw and whole (as purists prefer them), as well as smoked, breaded or simmered in chowder. One of our favourite preparations is pan-frying them in a cornmeal and panko crust and serving them with cucumber and radish salad with lemon and dill yogurt. We had the pleasure of preparing this dish on Global Noon News with Lynn Colliar on January 19th, and we are delighted to share the recipe with you here. Enjoy!

Cornmeal-Crusted Fanny Bay Oysters with Cucumber and Radish Salad

Makes 12 oysters

Dredged in a cornmeal crust and lightly fried, these oysters are served with a salad of cucumber, radishes and peppery watercress. We like to use fresh oysters from Mac’s Oysters, located in Fanny Bay.

¾ cup (180 mL) all-purpose flour
Pinch of cayenne
2 large eggs
1½ cups (350 mL) panko bread crumbs
½ cup (125 mL) cornmeal
Salt and pepper
12 fresh oysters, shucked
1 cup (250 mL) canola oil
¾ cup (180 mL) Lemon and Dill Yogurt

Cucumber and Radish Salad

1 small red onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1 small bunch radishes, cut into rounds
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced into rounds
1 small bunch watercress, stems discarded
¼ cup (60 mL) coarsely torn flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
Salt and pepper

Mix flour and cayenne together in a small bowl. In a second bowl, whisk eggs. In a third bowl, combine panko and cornmeal. Season ingredients in all three bowls with salt and pepper.

Pat oysters dry with paper towel. Lightly dredge them in flour, dip them in beaten eggs and then coat in the panko mixture, pressing lightly to help the crumbs adhere. Set aside.

In a non-stick sauté pan, heat canola oil over high heat until a pinch of flour sizzles when added. Working in small batches to ensure that the oil remains hot, fry oysters, turning once, until the coating is crisp and golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towel.

In a medium bowl, mix red onions, radishes, cucumbers, watercress and parsley. Dress with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange oysters on a platter and spoon cucumber salad on the side. Serve with Lemon and Dill Yogurt.

Lemon and Dill Yogurt

Makes ¾ cup (180 mL)

This delicious yogurt dip will really earn its place in your refrigerator or icebox. Smear it on burgers, sandwiches and wraps, or use it as a dip for vegetables.

¾ cup (180 mL) plain, Greek-style yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp (45 mL) finely chopped fresh dill
Pinch of salt
Pinch of granulated sugar

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate in an airtight container.

(photo by Christina Symons)

(photo by Christina Symons)

across the pond

Bel Cafe at the Rosewood Hotel GeorgiaWith the holiday season in full swing, it’s the perfect time of year to pop over to the big city for a food-driven sojourn. In recent weeks, we’ve visited Vancouver on a few occasions and have dined at some of the city’s most talked-about restaurants. In November, Hilary and I were among 24 guests who had the pleasure of attending Edible Canada‘s Guest Chef Market Dinner featuring Vikram Vij. The charismatic chef and restaurateur invited us to stand around the kitchen island as he prepared a vibrant, multi-course meal of coconut masala prawns, Vij’s family chicken, cinnamon-stewed lamb curry and rice pudding. Memorable doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.

During visits to the city, we lingered over beautiful brunches at the always-exceptional Hawksworth Restaurant (the pacific sablefish brandade and smoked chicken hash were superb) and Oakwood Canadian Bistro (where we were won over by the tuna confit benedict and asparagus omelette with fried brussel sprouts). The West 4th room is divine all year long, but feels especially cozy during the festive season thanks to the crackling fire, tartan banquettes and Canadiana-inspired décor. For dinner, we soaked up the weekend buzz at Fable Kitchen; the “canned” tuna (served in a shallow mason jar), Weathervane scallops and bacon with cauliflower velouté, and lemon meringue parfait were spot on. And, back downtown at Yew, we nibbled on beautifully executed sustainable seafood while gathered around one of the luxe low tables.

On one of our visits, we were delighted to stay at the Opus Hotel, Yaletown’s ultra-stylish boutique hotel. Decorated in bold hues and one-of-a-kind artwork, the 96 contemporary rooms and suites are a tech-lover’s dream thanks to in-room iPads, Samsung Galaxy smartphones and a virtual lifestyle concierge service that suggests restaurants, shopping and entertainment tailored to guests’ personalities. The award-winning property is home to sparkling Opus Bar—the perfect place to sip champagne before a complimentary jaunt in the hotel’s Jaguar XJ—and La Pentola della Quercia, a sleek, Northern Italian-inspired restaurant (which won silver in the 2013 Vancouver Restaurant Awards’ “Best New Restaurant in Vancouver” category).

Back on our beloved Vancouver Island, we’re looking forward to a restful, memorable Christmas with our nearest and dearest – and wish the same for you and your loved ones.

Happy holidays and bon appétit!

Alison, Lorna and Hilary

the end of a season

This past October was one of the driest on record here on Vancouver Island, making for a lovely extended boating season and several fall day sails. The crisp chill out on the water served as a reminder that before too long, Aeriel would be tucked snugly under her cover for a long winter’s nap.

Thankfully, wonderful memories of summer sailing will tide us over until spring. Bill and I cleared our calendars for the month of August, stocked our galley and began our journey by setting sail for Vancouver. We had great fun docking in Coal Harbour and playing tourist in the big city from the boater’s perspective—a little change from the protected anchorages and small marinas that we frequent. Then, with the winds out of the south behind us and the gennaker set, we headed to Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands, capping off our northerly leg at the Shark Spit Regatta on Marina Island. For the southerly leg of our trip, we attended a wedding at Bird’s Eye Cove Farm in Maple Bay before exploring the southern Gulf Islands and Saanich Peninsula; here, we enjoyed our annual visit to Butchart Gardens.

With few exceptions—including a stellar stuffed challah French toast at Sea Glass Waterfront Grill in Sidney—all of our meals were made onboard. Before we left home, I prepared several items from our book, including bacon jam, apple and cranberry trail bars, panforte, coastal cluster granola, chocolate chip cookies spiked with cinnamon, cardamom and chipotle, and pulled pork (which was vacuum packed and frozen in advance). In total, 38 recipes from Sea Salt were enjoyed on our 2013 summer cruise. After cooking from handwritten recipes scrawled in notebooks for the past few summers (all part of the trial process during the creation of our book), it was a pleasure to have a copy of Sea Salt: Recipes from the West Coast Galley to refer to and know that my daughters, Alison and Hilary, were such a big part of its creation.

Best wishes for a wonderful fall and holiday season ahead,

Lorna