Well this is the first recipe/blog dealy I am working on. The idea of doing a blog isn’t an original one but it is a new venture for me. I enjoy talking with customers and the whole social interactions that come with owning an open kitchen but communication in this manner is novel. I am excited to share some of the great stories and thoughts from my over 25 years of working at various capacities in the food service industry. I will do my best to make sure the recipes scale out to the home cook but most of these recipes have been developed to do fairly large quantities. As with anything I do, I look forward to your feedback. Let me know what you like and dislike. Email in with recipes or things you would like to see, and I will see what I can do. Let’s get it going I suppose.
The food we serve at Bench kitchen is what we call cold climate cuisine. I have done my best to keep the focus of the menu to remain local and Niagara produce-centric. When the season affords us the luxury – almost every item can be brought in from the local farms and vendors found in the Niagara region. It has not always been easy to bend and not break on this philosophy. We serve sourdough and in and around 2017, almost weekly we had to respond to the question “Why don’t you serve avocado on sourdough toast?” “What about a turkey club with avocado?” Here is thing: I love avocado toast. I love avocado in general. However, avocado can’t be grown in this area so I put my foot down that we will never serve that. Although I feel that it is somehow ok to stray from this idea: the occasional Jerk Pork loin sandwich with a pineapple salsa; or that one of our signature soups is a vegan tomato coconut soup; Neither item is permanent and both items will come and go as the weekly features and soups always change. The second I put that much requested avo on toast on the menu I am certain it will never leave, and I will have strayed from one of the businesses core values – keep it local. But perhaps the bigger issue is that I am also extremely stubborn and once I have decided no avo we won’t have avo – even if would sell like crazy. Does that make me a poor businessman? Maybe? So..with all the talk about keeping the menu local and sticking to core values – enter lemons.
Lemon zest is used in our sweet and savoury preparations (apple crumble filling above and lemon ricotta spread below)
The lemon honey vinaigrette that dresses our quinoa salad has been on the menu since day one. Lemons to me don’t count in the whole keep it local philosophy. Nothing replaces a lemon. Only lemons are lemons and a good kitchen needs them to cook properly. Unlike an avocado that can either be there or not – lemons are a critical part of the pantry. How could we ever make the lemon curd for those amazing lemon brulee tarts without lemon? How could we make a proper aioli without freshly squeezed lemon juice? Finally, how could we beat the hot summer days with a cold glass of lemon iced tea without lemon? I have tried using verjus and other acids, but they just don’t have that bite or brightness lemon gives.
Making the lemon curd (above) for the amazing lemon brulee mini tarts (below)
Lemon Honey Vinaigrette
- 70 g Lemon Juice, Freshly Squeezed
- 20 g Honey (We recommend Rosewood Estates Wildflower Unpasteurized Honey)
- 110 g Vegetable Oil (Something light-flavoured, such as Sunflower or Canola
- 3 g Sea Salt
- Combine all ingredients in a blender.
- Blend until smooth.There isn’t an emulsifying ingredient, like mustard, in this recipe so the vinaigrette with eventually split. Give it a good shake each time before you use it.
This vinaigrette is so simple yet so perfect. It has the perfect balance of acid, sweet and salty. It works so well and is so popular that, even though lemons are not grown in Niagara, it will never leave the menu. Over the years, many people have asked for this recipe and I have given it out without a second thought. Four ingredients and a good reamer is all you need – good honey (we use Rosewood estates honey which is the absolute best around), a clean oil, sea salt, lemon juice. You will not get anything good out of using the bottled lemon juice – hand squeezed is worth the extra effort.
FURTHERING THE SPEC :
Making a Quinoa Salad like we do at the shop at home is easy. In this recipe I will just be writing seasonal vegetables. This could be perfectly poached asparagus in the spring; corn seasoned with our Grimsby Smoke Rub and charred on the BBQ in the summer; or as simple as roasted sweet potato with salt and pepper in the oven in the winter. Use can use baby kale, arugula, spinach or really whatever hardy greens you have in the fridge. The basic skeleton of the recipe is here but let your creative side (or pantry restrictions) guide to your end product. Recipe follows pictures. Hey, thanks for sticking around this far!
Bench Kitchen Quinoa Salad
40 g Raw Quinoa
25 g Lemon Honey Vinaigrette
10 g Celery – Fine Diced
20 g Red Onion – Finely Diced and Roasted in
8 g Red Pepper – Finely Diced
5 g Hardy Greens (kale, arugula, spinach…) – Chiffonade
100 g Seasonal Vegetable Cooked, Cooled and Ready to Go
7 g Sea Salty
Cook Quinoa according to package. Or…we find that adding the quinoa to salted boiling water and cooking for 19 minutes works best. Transfer to a baking sheet and let it cool. Do NOT run it under water to cool it down.
Combine all the ingredients and adjust seasoning.
TIP: to get the best out of your roasted onion – dice it, lightly toss it in oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven on a baking tray at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes (make sure you get in there and stir the pan once or twice while it cooks)
TIP: it may need an additional squeeze of lemon juice depending on how tart the lemons you are working with or how bright you prefer.