Screen Shot 2020-03-04 at 8.01.15 AM

February 27th, 2020

What’s In Your Kitchen? Our Development Chef Becky Makes Everything Herself!

What you might not know about Farm Boy HQ is that along with our larger production kitchens, we also have an on site test kitchen, with a small team of busy chefs getting creative with new launches and dreaming up combinations for soups, salad dressing, marinades, cakes, and more. It’s true! Sometimes things smell so good that the rest of us *just happen to* wander over and see if they need a few extra taste testers.

As you might imagine, the Farm Boy Test Kitchen chefs love to cook at home as much as they love developing recipes for our stores. In our test kitchen column, we’re exploring the go-to ingredients that our in-house chef team use in their own kitchens. The items they can’t live without! Their secret weapons! Their pantry staples – and – how they use them every day. We tried to limit them to 5 items, but you know how chefs are…


IMG_4200-Edit-min

Becky’s Kitchen Essentials

“I like to know exactly what’s in my food.”

  • Homemade Preserved Foods – right now I have salted lemons, dill pickles, plum sauce, relish, sauerkraut and crab apple jelly to name a few. 
  • Different Flours –Canadian if I can find them. I always like to have a few varieties on hand – All Purpose, Cake, Semolina, Red Fife and Whole Wheat. It’s really since starting baking bread, that’s become my new hobby. I recently got a local red fife flour. It’s so fresh. Just anything freshly milled makes a huge difference. And then I make my own blends. Like to make a pizza dough, I mix flours to play around with the different elasticities and the different hydrations of the dough. 
  • Oils – at least 3 different olive oils are a must. I might want to do something different with each one! I have a bad habit of picking up a different olive oil anywhere I go. We just came out with 3 of our own Extra Virgin Olive Oils from Greece, Spain, and Portugal. Those are really good. I like to have a general cooking one, something a little sharper for either finishing things with or as a bread dipper with balsamic. 
  • Vinegars – white wine vinegar. I use it for dressings, marinades, a lot of stir fry sauces.  I just blend it with a little olive oil, a dijon mustard, and if it’s summer, I have herbs somewhere. And that just goes on everything. 
  • Sea Salt – the bigger the flakes the better. I put it on everything. Salad, vegetables, roasted vegetables, salsas, on my own sourdough bread with butter and then the sea salt on top. 
  • Cabbage – there is always a cabbage of some variety occupying space in the veggie crisper! We cook them every way and with most meals. Summers tend to be slaws and now in the winter we often roast it with sesame and soy sauce.

 

IMG_4179-min

Becky, look at all these treasures! Tell me all about them. 

 We have ¾ of an acre, and when we bought our house, I immediately started planting everything we could eat. I grew up with a big garden, my parents grew up with gardens, they’re from a super small town, so we’ve always had a canning cupboard and a potato bin! 

I have a plum tree, and just silly amounts of plums. Black plums grow really well here. Typically they’re grafted onto a different plant’s rootstock, so they winter well. My husband’s grandpa gave us the tree when we moved in and it’s a shoot off of his plum tree. There’s always a family connection. 

Last year was the first year we got a crop off it, but we got almost a whole bushel of plums. I did roasted plums, I made crisps, I did ice cream, but I had so many left over, I made plum sauce. And it’s the same as making jam in terms of…when there’s enough sugar in it you can can it and it stays good. This one’s very gingery. 

This one is crabapples. The same grandpa has a crabapple tree so I started making crabapple jelly a few years ago. 

I tried to grow cucumbers to do my own pickles, but I cannot grow enough cucumbers, and Rideau Pines farm is close to us, so I buy the cucumbers and pickle dozens of jars. This is what everyone leaves my house with.

This is a relish. My husband’s grandmother’s from Cape Breton and this is her family recipe, and we always call it “fish relish” and everyone gets confused and thinks it’s made with fish, but it’s just what we eat with fish. It’s one of those things where I married into the family so I got the recipe. 

That doesn’t happen for everyone!

No, no it doesn’t! She also has a chocolate chip cookie recipe that I don’t have but I’ve been told mine are almost as good. You can never top grandma’s cookies. They make amazing ice cream sandwiches. 

Tell me about these preserved lemons. What do you put them on?

Well lemons are really good right now, and they aren’t always. And so I like having really good lemons ready and preserved in my fridge at all times. The salt breaks down the pectin in the skin and the flesh gets a little gooey. So you can use them with the skin, or you can pull them apart. See how juicy and glossy the brine is? That’s all the pectin from the skin and seeds. 

I use these in salad dressings. I chop them up really tiny and blend them in. Also hummus is so good with that fresh lemony flavour. Or yogurt with honey. 

And I will tell you that we also have bees. 

IMG_4225-min

You actually jar the honey?

Yes. Hang on [walks over to cupboard and pulls out a jar of honey]. 

You do it all!  How amazing. So it sounds like you’ve always been into from-scratch, and making things.

Yes. We grew up with a strawberry farm down the road, and we always had to make our own jam because my mom refused to buy it. So if we wanted something, we had to make it. There wasn’t another option. 

My grandmother was never idle. She always went to the farmer’s market, so in the summer we’d be shipped off to grandma’s and put to work. We were always making stuff for the farmer’s market or on Saturdays we’d go to the market. Her big thing was pies, jams, and jellies, and she would always sell out. I’d never seen so many coins!

She would drive us down the back roads to pick the chokecherries to make jelly with, and that was just a regular day for us. Now, it’s hard to find someone who even knows what a chokecherry is! Those people are kindred spirits!

So we were taught to make the most of everything around us.

Did you grow up in a big family? I get that impression…

I have 2 siblings, but my parents are from really big families. So I have something like 40 cousins. My husband comes from an even bigger family. And we talk to all of them and see them on a regular basis. 

And do all your gatherings revolve around food?

Oh yeah. A lot of potlucks. People are known for a certain dish, and if they don’t show up with that dish, they get a lot of flack for it. 

My dad and husband and all the uncles are all hunters. So we grew up that way – with venison and moose. And one of my aunts is a beef farmer, so we always have meat in brown paper wrapping. I didn’t understand the idea of buying meat from a grocery store. 

In the late fall, when we get all the game meat back from the butcher, we’ve been making sausages. I got the sausage stuffing attachment for my mixer as a gift, so we’ve made ample use of it. Breakfast sausages, we did a bacon-cheddar one with some pork to get the fattiness…so good!

So they don’t butcher everything themselves? I’m not very familiar with the process.

Usually in the small towns, the butchers will shut down their shops to service the hunters. So the guys will sit and hang out and watch and wait. 

Wow. What an interesting culture. I think so many people are so far removed from it now – but it wasn’t long ago that this was the absolute norm.

Yeah! My parents grew up on small farms, and they had to hunt, they trapped, my grandpa would tan leather in the garage. 

I once had a friend in high school ask how you could possibly fit half a cow in a freezer [laughs.]

My dad, the farm he grew up, they did a lot of fishing. And it was catfish! People don’t eat them anymore, it’s muddy and dirty, but it was just what they did. 

IMG_4222-min

So who do you cook for at home?

Well, I just came back from maternity leave, so at home there’s me, my husband, and our daughter. She’s 15 months old. I know some people have their kids eat separately but we just feed her whatever we’re having. I try to prep a lot the night before after she goes to sleep. 

It’s pretty basic cooking right now. I pulled out the old crock pot. I hate to say it, but I do a lot of stir fries. They change in theme, but definitely one-pot dishes. Or I love to turn on the oven really high, and put a whole meal in at once…roast my veggies, add something protein, and potato wedges or a starch. Hands off is phenomenal right now because that gives me time to play with the baby. 

It sounds crazy that I can only name 2 things on my go-to list right now, but there’s no time to do anything super involved. 

Oh, I get it. It’s all about getting the most out of your time! 

We also enjoy making charcuterie platters for dinner – typically on a Friday night. Whatever cheese is in the fridge, salamis, pickled things. I love the Farm Boy Rosette de Lyon, the red wine one. I love it. So that’s a go-to dinner. And then my daughter is happy to graze all night. 

She’s a good eater too?

Oh yeah. Great eater. 

Anything she won’t eat?

Umm…no! Even if it’s something tough, she’ll gum it. I’ve always fed her a version of what we’re eating, just out of ease. And hopefully she won’t be picky.

Before she started eating I said “I’m going to make all these baby foods at home for her!” And I made 3 batches of stuff and I thought, “ugh this is too much organizing! And freezing” So instead I just kept a mini food processor on the table, and whatever we ate went in there and she ate it too. 

IMG_4237-min

What’s your culinary background? What brought you to food?

I originally went to school – college level – for nutrition and food management. I wanted that background, I kind of liked the angle. And obviously I had a love of food from my upbringing. But it turned out that I loved the lab classes, where we were working with our hands. 

When I graduated, my very industrious mum and aunts set me up with a job working in my cousin’s restaurant in B.C. So I kind of landed in cooking, as most cooks do. I don’t think many people intend to start out in restaurants. And I loved it! It kind of ruins you for “normal” industries because you are being sociable and working with your hands and not sitting in a cubicle.

I worked out there for about 6 months and decided I wanted to go to school to learn more about cooking. And I missed home. So I came back and the pub that was in my town was looking for a cook, and my chef suggested that I do a culinary apprenticeship. I had no idea you could do that, so I did. I went to Algonquin part time, so you just do the lab classes and practical work. 

When I worked in that restaurant, I met Josh – our Farm Boy executive chef – and followed him here. And I’ve been here ever since!

So what does a day here look like for you?

I’m technically a Product Development Chef, but I’ve switched gears a little more of the organizational elements like the costing. And how we get a product from conception to being in the stores to being in the customer’s mouths. 

I work on all the fresh Salad Bar, the Hot Bar, the Pizza Station, the Grill Station, some of our stores have stir fries and rice and noodle bowls. Anytime we do that, they take months in development, which people might not know!

Are you part of the actual creation process anymore?

A little bit. I don’t get away from my desk as much these days. But I love it, I really love it. The organization is deeply rooted in me from years of working in kitchens. The “mise-en-place” is now on the computer [laughs.]

When you’re working on developing a product for stores, what do you have to keep in mind?

I don’t know if the right word is, “ease,” but straightforwardness. And making things as simple and quick to execute so we can have the best quality, and do it in all of our stores. When I first started here we had 12 stores, and now we have 31. The recipes have changed so much as we’ve opened more stores, but we have to focus on keeping the quality. Over here, there’s a lot of discussion of “how do we make this easy for employees to execute?” 

And “how can we do this across all stores?” We want to offer dishes with lots of flavour, but maybe not 36 steps to prepare them. So different from a restaurant. We want to take the restaurant concept of food and bring it into a grocery store, and make it consistent and achievable! We want someone to walk into a store in Toronto or a store in Ottawa or a store in Cornwall and get the same pizza!

You definitely are using all of your skills here! It sounds like you need to be a chef to understand how to scale up these items and what the practical obstacles would be.

Yes and we definitely don’t want to set our kitchen up for failure. And we’ve also set up the bakery now, so I work closely with the bakery manager.

Is there anything you developed in your time at Farm Boy that you’re really proud of?

 I was just talking about this! When I first started, I came up with the Sticky Toffee Pudding…

So. Good. 

It’s really good. I usually make it for most of my family events. It does well here and it’s delicious. We just brought in a line of dessert sauces. There’s a Banana Caramel Dessert Sauce, and I’m just saying…it’s extremely good on the Sticky Toffee Pudding. 

Oh wow. You are speaking my language. 

If you want someone to really love you, serve them that. 

This is truly insider information! 

Tell me what else you make at home…

I have a huge jar of sauerkraut in my fridge right now, which is something new for me. 

Was that tricky with the fermentation?

Actually no! You don’t need any fancy equipment, as long as your jars are sterile, it’s quite easy. 

I’m also starting to do kombucha again. I stopped after I had my kid [laughs] I don’t need two things to feed. But I’m starting it up again. 

My husband built me shelves for canning, or my “science experiments” as he calls them, so I have somewhere to put them all away at the end of the day. 

On maternity leave I decided to do a sourdough starter. I had fun playing around with starting it from scratch. It’s a huge learning experience. I thought I knew about baking, but every time you make it, you learn a different way of how it’s going to react. The last thing I made was sourdough bagels and they were so good, but it was so different from making a loaf of sourdough. 

What I’m getting from this is that you really love cooking. You play around and experiment at home. This isn’t a chore to you at all, and not just a job.

It might be more of a bad habit sometimes [laughs] I’m lucky too because my husband really likes to cook too, so we balance things out at home and it doesn’t feel like a chore. We both like eating everything, so that’s easy.

IMG_4250-min

Do you have a list of projects in mind? Things that are next to make or try to perfect?

Right now I’m honestly thinking about garden season. I have a  little greenhouse started and my mind is on the seeds right now!

What are you planning on planting?

It is really a question of what will grow. One thing I know is potatoes. Irish background, you’ve got to have potatoes. 

Would you say you have a food philosophy? You have lots of homemade, you talk about Canadian-made,  you seem to do basically everything from scratch…

I like to know what my food is made of. And where it came from. It’s how we grew up with the garden. Under my grandparents house was all the bins where they used to keep their food: potatoes, cabbages. There were 12 kids in the house and grocery stores weren’t nearby. Bananas were exotic. I guess that’s where all the preserving stems from because if you wanted to eat fruit in the wintertime, you’d have to keep it from the summer. 

If I can make or grow something, I’ll do that. And if I buy it, I try to buy something Canadian. I try to do that in my life in general. 

 

Thanks Becky, how incredible. I’m off to make preserved lemons and plan my garden!

 

Emily

The best foods. The best shopping experience. Making life better. This is our vision.

Farm Boy