Tag Archives: Chef Jeff McCourt

True Confessions of an Island Foodie’s Love Affair with Local Prince Edward Island Foods

Happy Valentine’s from Prince Edward Island!

As many of you know, I am part of the year-long Canadian Food Experience Project.  Each month, food blogger participants are prompted by a prescribed theme upon which to base a posting on their individual blogs.  The February theme is “My Canadian Love Affair”.

What follows is the menu and description of my Valentine’s dinner 2014, using several of my favorite Island food products. In order to meet the timelines of the Project, I have prepared my dinner a week early so it can be included in the Project’s monthly round-up.  My Canadian Love Affair is all about the great local food produced on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province.

When I think of foods that I love, well….there are many!  But, coming from an Island blessed with rich red fertile soil and surrounded by the sea, I would have to say that seafood and potatoes would rank high on my list.  So, for my Valentine’s dinner, I have incorporated both but the potatoes in one of the recipes may be presented in a form that could surprise some of you.  Here’s a taste to whet your appetite ….

The following is the four-course menu for my Valentine’s Dinner which features some of my favorite Island products:

Starter

Island Mussels

(steamed in apple cider and herbs and dipped in Island-churned butter)

Soup

Jeff McCourt’s PEI Seafood Chowder

(a rich, smooth, and creamy chowder filled

with a variety of PEI seafood and Island potatoes)

Main

Lobster Newburg served in a patty shell accompanied by a crisp green salad

(lobster and mushrooms in a rich sherry and cheese sauce)

Dessert

Chocolate Potato Cake

Wine Pairing:  Rossignol’s Little Sands White Wine (PEI)

PEI Mussels
PEI Mussels

It would be hard to surpass PEI mussels.  They are shipped all over the globe and are world renowned.  There are many ways to prepare mussels and there are many different liquids in which they can be steamed, each of which will give a slightly different flavor to the mussels.  The important thing about steaming mussels is to use very little liquid. Using too much liquid will diminish the flavor of the mussels. It is the steam from the liquid that forces the mussel shells open, not the amount of liquid itself.  These delicacies take very little time to cook – they are cooked when the shells open, a process that generally takes about 5-7 minutes.  Be sure to discard any shells that have not opened during the steaming process.

Today, I have steamed the mussels in a small amount of apple cider enhanced by a sprinkle each of lemon thyme, parsley, and basil all dried from our garden last summer.  How much liquid is needed is based, of course, on how many mussels are being steamed.  Because I was only steaming about 15-20 mussels for these two appetizers, I only used about 2 tbsp of apple cider.

While mussels are used in various recipes, including mussel chowder, the most common way to eat mussels on the Island is dipped in melted butter (oh-là-là!).  Mussels are a common food found at many get-togethers because they are quick and easy to prepare and are so very tasty.

For the second course, I couldn’t bypass an all-time favorite of mine – a good seafood chowder.

Seafood Chowder
Seafood Chowder

This recipe comes courtesy of the Culinary Boot Camps at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown.  This award-winning recipe was developed by Chef Jeff McCourt who was the chef instructor at the one-day “Island Flavors” Boot Camp that I attended a couple of years ago.  This chowder was one of the dishes that participants made at the Boot Camp.  The Culinary Institute kindly gave me permission to share the seafood chowder recipe as part of the story I was writing on the Boot Camps.  If you find yourself on PEI during the summer/fall seasons when the Culinary Boot Camps are operating, this is a fantastic way to learn about cooking with local Island products and flavors.  Click here to see my story on the Boot Camps and to get the PEI Seafood Chowder recipe.

I have made many seafood chowder recipes but have not found any that I liked better than this one.  It is filled with a great variety of delectable Island seafood along with PEI potatoes and has a rich, tasty chowder base.  Seafood chowder is a great way to sample several different kinds of local seafood all in one dish. This recipe suggests a variety of seafood that includes lobster, oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, and crab.  On PEI, we would typically serve the seafood chowder with crusty rolls, biscuits, or baguette slices.

For my main course, I simply had to choose lobster!  Lobster is still the seafood king on the Island and Islanders love their lobster.

Lobster
Lobster

The most typical way Islanders enjoy their lobster is straight out of the shell, dipped in melted butter, and served with potato salad, coleslaw, and rolls.  A jellied salad and slices of tomato and cucumber are also often  included.

There are numerous enterprises around the Island that, seasonally, serve lobster suppers that generally consist of mussels, seafood chowder, lobster in the shell, salads, rolls, and a selection of pies and other desserts.  There are three main lobster supper venues on PEI.  Saint Anne’s Church Lobster Suppers in Hope River, not far from Cavendish, PEI, began in 1963 when a priest came up with the idea to have lobster suppers as a means to raise money to pay off the $35,000 mortgage on the church.  New Glasgow Lobster Suppers in New Glasgow, in operation since 1958, and Fishermen’s Wharf Restaurant in North Rustico also serve full lobster suppers as well.  A traditional lobster supper at one of these establishments is a must-stop for lobster lovers visiting PEI.  In addition, most restaurants on the Island will feature lobster in one form or another on their menus.  Last summer, I crisscrossed the Island in search of the best lobster roll on PEI since these are a common menu item for many restaurants.  Click here to read about which one was my favorite.

The popularity of lobster is somewhat ironic.  Today, it is a high-priced food, often considered by many a luxury and reserved for special occasions.  However, on PEI, that was not always the case.  I remember speaking with an Island woman who grew up about 65 years ago in an Island fishing community where her father was a lobster fisherman.  She remembers being embarrassed opening her lunch at school and revealing a lobster sandwich since lobster was associated with poor people!  My, how times have changed!

As a child, I had no interest in eating lobster.  In fact, when my family was having a “feed of lobster” at home, my mother always roasted me a chicken!  They would coax me to try the lobster but it just didn’t appeal to me.  Finally, as a young adult, I gave in and tried a bite of lobster….well, let’s just say that’s when my love affair with lobster began and I’ve been making up for all the years I didn’t eat it!

So, it would be a logical choice that I would choose lobster as the main course for a special Valentine’s dinner.  I have opted to go with a traditional Lobster Newburg served in light and airy patty shells accompanied by a crisp green salad.

Lobster Newburg
Lobster Newburg

Lobster is fished in PEI from spring through to fall so we have no winter lobster fishing season on the Island.  Many of us freeze lobster meat when it is in season to enjoy in recipes, like Lobster Newburg, throughout the remainder of the year.  My recipe for Lobster Newburg can be made with either fresh or frozen lobster meat.

Lobster Newburg
Lobster Newburg

Lobster Newburg, although it is often considered an elaborate menu item, is really quite easy to prepare.  It’s also a good way to stretch lobster to increase the number of servings you can get from the meat of a lobster.  What makes Lobster Newburg so tasty and silky in texture is the sauce.  This is a rich, creamy cheese and sherry sauce so large portion sizes are not necessary.  I traditionally serve Lobster Newburg in patty shells.  However, it can also be presented over toast points or served over a bed of steamed rice.  Or, it may be served in small individual casserole dishes with a side of steamed asparagus spears.  The recipe for my Lobster Newburg follows at the end of this posting.

Much as Islanders have an enduring love affair with food that comes from the sea that surrounds us, we also have a special fondness for our famous PEI potatoes.  For the past two years, I have followed a couple of potato farmers from the planting of the crop to the harvesting process.  To read these stories and get a couple of my favorite potato recipes, here are the two links to the postings for Smith Farms of Newton, PEI and Eric C. Robinson Inc., of Albany, PEI.

I have chosen to serve a Chocolate Potato Cake as a finale to my Valentine’s dinner.  Yes, potatoes in a cake!  It’s amazing how many different ways potatoes can be served.  Earlier this week, I posted my recipe for Chocolate Potato Cake on my food blog.

To make this feast truly a PEI dinner, I chose a white wine from PEI’s Rossignol Winery in Little Sands, PEI.  The Island has three wineries – the other two are Newman Estate Winery in Gladstone and Matos Winery in St. Catherine’s, PEI.  Each makes fine wine that is a great accompaniment to any meal.

Rossignol's Little Sands White Wine
Rossignol’s Little Sands White Wine

To compliment the tablesetting, I chose locally-grown tulips from Vanco Farms’ greenhouses in Mount Albion, PEI.  Aren’t they beautiful flowers!

Vanco Tulips
Vanco Tulips

So, this is my local flavors Valentine’s dinner for 2014, featuring some of my favorite and most loved local PEI foods and wine.  I hope you enjoy them, too!

Lobster Newburg

Ingredients:

4-5 oz cooked lobster (either fresh or frozen)

1 tbsp butter

3 oz mushrooms, sliced

1 tbsp butter

1½ tbsp flour

⅛ tsp paprika

pinch nutmeg

¾ cup whole milk or half-and-half

2 tbsp grated cheddar cheese

1 egg yolk, slightly beaten

½ tbsp sherry

1½ tsp brandy

1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon

salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Melt first amount of butter in a medium-sized saucepan.  Add and sauté mushrooms for approximately 2 minutes.  Set aside.

In separate saucepan, melt remaining tablespoon of butter.  Add flour, paprika, and nutmeg.  Whisk in the milk until mixture is smooth.  Add cheese.  Stir mixture constantly until slightly thickened.

Add approximately 2 tbsp of the hot sauce to the egg yolk to temper the egg so it won’t curdle when added to the hot sauce.  Add the tempered egg to the sauce in the pan.

Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, then add the lobster meat and mushrooms.

Add the sherry and brandy and cook and stir slowly for 1-2 minutes to heat the lobster and mushrooms.  Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Serve immediately in baked patty shells or over toast points or steamed rice.

Yield:  2-3 servings

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Hup, One, Two, Three, Four — It’s Off to Culinary Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada

On my last day of summer vacation, I went to boot camp – culinary boot camp, that is —  at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI.  Sixteen people formed the group for the full day “Island Flavours” boot camp.  We were a mixed group that came from PEI, Halifax, NS, Montreal, QC, and Waterloo, ON.  It was a packed day of activity (and work!) but it was fun!

Now in their 4th year of operation, the boot camps (which started as a pilot project), are offered from May to October.  Some are one-half day events while others are full day camps.  A variety of bootcamps are offered that include half-day events such as Healthy Eating 101 and Chocolate and Wine.  Full day boot camps include Lobster 101, Local Flavours, Seafood 101, Thrills on the Grill, and Seasonal Desserts.  Half day camps start at $129 + GST/per person and full days range from $199 to $269 + GST/per person.

Asked why the Culinary Institute, a teaching school for training professional chefs, started the seasonal culinary boot camps, Chef Instructor Jeff McCourt who teaches most of the camps, says the initiative began with “the onset of culinary tourism and, being a school already, they [the Culinary Institute) are fulfilling a short-term education component.”  Culinary tourism is one of the latest vacation trends.  Whether it is simply choosing interesting, unique, and memorable regional dining options where you are vacationing, attending foodie events (like the PEI Shellfish Festival happening in Charlottetown this weekend, for example) or food conferences, or participating in culinary boot camps at acclaimed cooking schools like the Culinary Institute of Canada, including food-related activities on holidays is a great way to sample local cuisine, try new food products, meet people who share culinary interests, and/or learn new cooking methods and techniques.

Lindsay Arsenault, Boot Camp Coordinator, says one of their most popular culinary boot camps is the Kids Camp, a 4-day summer camp where youth from ages 7-17 are taught basic life skills about food – where food comes from and how to prepare basic meals and they even move on to more advanced food preparation.  In this camp, the youth also get to spend a day on a farm, plant a row of potatoes, pick seasonal berries, and then return to the kitchen to learn how to make jam. The camp concludes with the youth preparing a buffet for their parents.  Since its inception, the Kids Camp has become so popular that it is not uncommon for the Institute to have waiting lists for these camps.  Says 10-year old Michael MacEwen, of Tea Hill, PEI, who is a “seasoned three-year veteran” of the Kids Camp, “I go to the camp every year because it's fun, you learn how to cook "really good food" from "real" chefs, you get a chef's outfit, and they are happy to adjust the recipes for me to be gluten-free. I go back every year because there is always something new to learn.”

Lindsay tells me the boot camps are gaining a positive reputation as shore excursions for cruise passengers visiting the port of Charlottetown.   Currently, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas cruise lines have started offering the Boot Camps as shore excursions for passengers.  The Culinary Institute has customized their boot camps to accommodate cruise ship visits and time lines.  This is a wonderful opportunity for those passengers to taste authentic Island food, experience the Culinary Institute and cooking in a professional atmosphere, and go home with great Island recipes as a souvenir of their PEI port visit.  As someone who is a frequent cruiser and a foodie, I know this is one shore excursion that would match my tastes!  I also learned, from Lindsay, that some organizations have taken their employees to the Culinary Institute and used the boot camps as team building events.  Now, that’s an innovative (and fun) way to bring work teams together!

Attending culinary boot camp is also an opportunity to explore future career options.  At the boot camp I attended, a dad from Montreal brought his Grade 11 daughter to the Island specifically to attend a couple of boot camps as she is planning a career as a chef.  This opportunity allowed her to experience a large industrial-sized teaching kitchen, work alongside a professional chef, and to decide if this is the cooking school she might attend full time when she finishes high school.  The day before this boot camp, Alison and her dad, Stephen, spent a day with the chef.  This is essentially a customized day of personalized attention where the participant(s) work with the chef on a particular subject of their choosing – in Alison and Stephen’s case, they chose to focus on preparing seafood.  Alison’s comments after her culinary experience were very positive and there was no question that she thoroughly enjoyed it.

The boot camps can accommodate a maximum of 16 participants and Lindsay tells me that, on average, their boot camps are comprised of 50/50 Islanders and tourists.  On the day I attended, we had a number of family groups participating – Alison and her Dad, Stephen, from Montreal, the six-member Simmons/Tummon family from Waterloo, ON, who were back for their second boot camp in as many years, and a mom (Debbie) and her son (Anthony) from Charlottetown.  Debbie told me this boot camp was her Christmas gift to her son and she decided to join him for the day in what was her sixth boot camp in three years.  Asked why she had enrolled in six boot camps, Debbie said, “it allows me to try different things.  I probably wouldn’t have made the food we made in the camp if I found them in a recipe book but, after participating in the culinary boot camps, I am more inclined to be more venturesome in cooking.”  The Simmons/Tummon family – mom, dad, two sons and two daughters aged 15-22, told me their attendance was a Christmas gift from an Island relative (neat idea).  Dad, Shawn, told me they enjoy the camps – “the girls like to cook and the boys like doing different things”.  I thought it was fabulous to see these families spending quality time together, enjoying themselves, and learning different cooking techniques.  Two other women drove from Halifax, NS, specifically to take this boot camp as an extended weekend get-away.

So, now I’m going to share with you my impressions after attending the full day offering of “Local Flavours”, a new boot camp for 2012.  For those of you regularly following my blog, you’ll figure my choice of “Local Flavours” was an obvious one given my blog focuses primarily on Island food products.

The focus of the “Island Flavors” boot camp is on cooking with ingredients that come from the land as well as the waters around PEI.  After dividing the 16 participants into four groups and assigning each group their recipes, the day started out with participants boarding a small tour bus, along with Chef Instructor Jeff McCourt, to go on a shopping expedition for ingredients for the recipes to be made later in the day.

The Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

Chef McCourt handed each group $15 to buy fresh produce to enhance the recipes (note the main ingredients – fish, meat, cream, butter, etc., were all provided by the Culinary Institute and included in the boot camp fee).   Heading along historic Water Street and passing over the Hillsborough Bridge to Stratford, our first stop took us to Balderston’s Farm Market.

Balderston’s Farm Market, Stratford, PEI

Participants deliberated over what fresh produce to buy and, once selections were made, everyone was back on the bus and on the way back across the Bridge to the Riverview Country Market which sells both fresh produce and meats.  More purchases were made.

Riverview Country Market, Charlottetown, PEI

The last stop was at the Liquid Gold Tasting Bar and All Things Olive shop on lower Queen Street where everyone enjoyed tasting the many different kinds of imported quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  Yes, more purchases!

Liquid Gold Tasting Bar and All Things Olive, Charlottetown, PEI

Back at the Culinary Institute, participants were outfitted in their official Culinary Boot Camp chef jackets and hats and then it was downstairs to the large kitchen facility.  Each group assembled and started making their assigned recipes.

Getting Outfitted with Chef Jackets

Participating in this kind of culinary activity gives participants the opportunity to see and work inside a huge, industrial-sized kitchen.  And, I think some of my Paderno stock pots and pans are huge – un-huh – the Culinary Institute has pots so large that they are on floor stands – they make my pots look like little measuring cups!  There was one frying pan that I declare was at least three times the size of my largest one!  I wondered if I’d need a hydraulic lift to move it!

The Teaching Kitchen at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

The day was long but passed by very quickly because it was so busy.  Each group was intent on their work.  This is very much a hands-on culinary event.  Don’t expect to sit back, relax, and be entertained by watching someone demonstrate how something is done.  Ah, no.  You work in these boot camps!  It’s learning by doing.  That said, there were times throughout the day that Chef McCourt did gather all participants around for specific demonstrations – for example, he showed how to butcher a 30-pound halibut and how filleting is done and steaks cut.  Both Chef McCourt and his assistant, Colleen Neilly, were very accommodating and answered any questions participants had and were very willing to show participants how to do things.

Chef Jeff McCourt Demonstrates How to Butcher a Halibut and Cut it into Steaks and Fillets

The basic recipes were provided but participants had the creative flexibility as to how they wanted to “dress them up”.  For example, our group opted to prepare the halibut with a Cajun blackened spice rub and plate it over grilled yellow tomatoes and red peppers (bought at Balderston’s earlier in the morning), served alongside herb-roasted beets and chopped Chorizo sausage (purchased at Riverview Country Market).  The recipes our group made were Potato and Lobster Cakes, Broiled Oysters (yes, I had my first oyster – but not raw!), Pan-fried Halibut, and Vienna Truffle Tortes (that we dressed with blueberries from Balderston’s).

Potato and Lobster Cakes – One of the Recipes Made During “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

I found it particularly interesting to visit the other groups around the kitchen and to watch how they chose to prepare their assigned dishes.  At the end of the day, we had to plate and present our dishes and spread them out altogether in buffet style.  It was simply astonishing and amazing to see the superb quality of the finished products that looked (and tasted) so professionally prepared.

Vienna Truffle Tortes with Fresh PEI Wild Blueberries
Broiled Oysters with Mignonette – One of the Recipes Participants Make During the “Local Flavours” Boot Camp at The Culinary Institute of Canada

Then, it was time to sample the fruits of our labour.  After filling our plates, it was upstairs to the Lucy Maud Dining Room to enjoy our meal in style.  The Lucy Maud Dining Room is the Culinary Institute’s teaching restaurant and it has one of the most commanding water views as it is situated just at the entrance to the Charlottetown Harbour.

This was simply a fabulous day and experience.  For the foodie and at-home chef, this is a rare opportunity to work alongside a professional chef in a large, fully-equipped kitchen (yes, their walk-in refrigerators are as large as my walk-in clothes closet!) and learn food preparation techniques from the professionals.  At the end of the boot camp, participants walk away with a monogrammed boot camp chef’s jacket to keep, a booklet of recipes that were prepared during the day, great memories of a busy yet fun day, and inspiration and motivation to try new ways of preparing ordinary local foods.

A Sampling of Dishes Made During “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

So, whether it’s a treat for yourself, a gift for those hard-to-buy-for folks who happen to be foodies (I’m thinking what a great wedding present one of these camps would be for newlyweds), an innovative team-building activity for your work group, or an activity to do with a group of friends or family members, a one-half or full day at the Culinary Institute’s boot camps is a great food activity and a sure way to have a memorable time.  Oh, and the extraordinary buffet meal as the finale is pretty darn good, too!

Wonderful Dishes Made with Fresh PEI Products During “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

Still can’t get over the fact that we accomplished all this in one day!

The Finale Buffet at the end of the day at the “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

What a feast!

 

“Local Flavours” Finale Buffet – Culinary Boot Camp

 

And, it all tasted so incredibly good!

“The Fruits of the Labour” – Buffet at the conclusion of the “Local Flavours” Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada

For more information about the Culinary Institute of Canada’s boot camps, visit their website at https://www.hollandcollege.com/bootcamps/bootcamps/culinary/full-day-camps.

To whet your appetite, below is a sample of the kind of recipes participants experience cooking in one of these boot camps – this one from the “Local Flavours” boot camp.  Shared here, with the kind permission of the Culinary Institute of Canada’s Boot Camps, is the recipe for Chef Jeff’s Seafood Chowder.  This is a dandy chowder that has won awards at the PEI Shellfish Festival (and Lindsay tells me, more than once it has won!).  This makes a very large pot of chowder but the recipe is easily halved or quartered as I did when I made it at home.  The wonderful thing about seafood chowder is that it can be served as an appetizer in a smaller portion or, with a larger serving, as a main meal because most chowders are quite filling – and this one certainly is!  The other great thing about seafood chowder is that, so long as you make up your quantity, you can use any selection of seafood you like and leave out any you do not care for.  When I made the recipe at home, I didn’t have any Vermouth so I substituted Chardonnay which worked out fine.  The other thing I would caution is to start “gently” with the Tabasco Sauce using only a few drops of it, then taste it and add more (if necessary) to your liking as, using too much of this hot sauce can quickly spoil a chowder beyond repair.

Jeff’s PEI Seafood Chowder

Jeff's PEI Seafood Chowder

By Barbara99 Published: September 16, 2012

  • Yield: 12 Servings
  • Prep: 30-45 mins
  • Cook: 30-45 mins
  • Ready In: 60 mins

A smooth, creamy,and tasty seafood chowder filled with a variety of seafood.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Making the Seafood ChowderIn a hot pot, add the butter and onions. Sweat mixture until translucent. Add garlic and continue to saute until golden brown.
  2. Add the potato, Vermouth, milk, and cream. Cook over medium heat, careful not to scorch the bottom, for approximately 20 minutes until the potato is cooked.
  3. Puree the chowder base in a blender and season with salt and pepper. Return mixture to pot.
  4. Succulent Lobster and PEI Mussels Make For a Tasty Seafood ChowderUse desired seafood and retain all juice from its cooking process. Add to the chowder base.
  5. Jeff's PEI Seafood ChowderAdd the diced, cooked potato for texture and season again. Serve and garnish with chopped chives.

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