Recipe Share with Alexa Clark
Recipe Share is a regular feature on Recipes.ca where we profile culinary experts or public figures in Canada who have a passion for cooking. Each individual answers a set of questions and shares one of their favourite recipes with our community. This week we are thrilled to get to know Alexa Clark.
Alexa Clark is the Founder and Publisher of the CheapEats Restaurant Guides Series, co-founder of HoHoTO, and founder & host of the Secret Pickle Supper Club. Alexa grew up on an organic farm and in restaurant kitchens and after over 15 years in high tech and new media consulting, she now works at the intersection of food and social. She’s a social entrepreneur, author, professional foodie, reform geek, photographer, blogger, and social instigator currently based out of Toronto, ON.
What did you have for breakfast today? Toasted BLT on 12-grain bread and a big coffee.
Your specialty dish: I’m a roaster. I love roasting big chunks of meat and since I’m in charge of cooking for the holiday meals, that’s probably a good thing.
Something you can’t cook: Scrambled eggs. Cooking simple things can sometimes be the hardest, and since I spent years unable to eat eggs I never got the feel for scrambled eggs. I get complaints that I overcook them and sometimes over-season them. I make a mean frittata though. Never get complaints when I make a frittata.
What's your can’t-live-without kitchen tool/appliance: I have something I call my “kitchen fork” which is an extra-extra large fork about 10” tip to tail, and it’s fantastic for mixing, blending, beating, cooking. It fits nicely into my hand and the handle doesn’t dig into my palm if I have to put a little extra umph into the mixing. I found it in the early 80s at Zellers in a box of assorted cutlery available by the piece, and I’ve never seen another anywhere.
What's your secret ingredient? Paprika! Though I’m not sure how “secret” it is. Maybe paprika is my favourite ingredient and superior soy sauce is my secret ingredient. I use it in lieu of salt on meat, in sauces, in marinades and braising liquids. It adds a depth of flavour salt just doesn’t. (I use paprika in most of those things too.)
Who taught you to cook? Wow, that’s a hard one. My father, who is a professional cook, taught me restaurant line cooking, bread making and camp cooking. He also taught me how to raise meat humanely and how to grow, harvest and forage for ingredients, which I think are very important in the food you produce. My mother, who is an artist, taught me about the delicate interplays of texture, fragrance and flavour. (Which she is still way better at than I am) My step-mother, who was an entrepreneur, taught me the alchemy of cooking and how to walk into an empty kitchen and create a meal for 4. So I guess the short answer is: my parents.
This might not be a fair question but can you reveal your favourite restaurant? I don’t really have one favourite, that’s part of why I started CheapEats because my favourites and preferences change depending on the day, my mood, my companions... I know, I’m not answering the question. Sorry. Okay, let’s try this. I like La Carnita in Toronto, Sidedoor in Ottawa, Saint John Ale House in Saint John, Harper’s in Kingston, and many many more.
How do you unwind? Sit by the water and watch the waves. If that’s not possible, I take my camera for a walk.
What would you choose for your last meal on earth? Something light since I have no idea how long I might have to “live” with it if there is an afterlife. Seriously! Imagine if your last meal was packed with garlic and the afterlife left you with heavy garlic on your breath, forever! That would mean no kissing in the afterlife and that would suck!
What's your favourite beverage? Wine, red wine!
What's the best best advice you ever received? “Tomorrow is another day.” No matter how hard today is, tomorrow is a fresh start, a new burst of energy, inspiration, and opportunity. That and “hire an accountant!”
What's your philosophy in the kitchen? Play!
Your guilty pleasure? Mid-day naps.
What's your comfort food? Potatoes - I grew up eating rice and so mashed potatoes were a special treat on holidays. Riced potatoes were even a bigger treat! But I like them boiled, mashed, riced, baked, fried, hashed, as long as they are cooked and not green, I’m very happy!
And your least favourite food? PARSNIPS! They are the work of the devil!
What's your favourite cookbook? My current favourite, and it’s seasonally appropriate, is Sarah Hood’s We Sure Can! published by Arsenal Pulp Press. Sarah is a friend and I was waiting in anticipation for this to come out. She has done a great job of pulling together a wide range of recipes from traditional to trendy and rounding it off with lots of great information from basics to history.
Who's your favourite food writer or blogger? Wow, I really can’t pick just one. Can I say the writers who work on CheapEats? There are 15-20 great food writers who work on CheapEats in each of our cities and they are definitely my favourite writers!
Tell us about the best meal you ever had: I was a teenager, my father had just returned from Grand Manan where he had been invited out for 3 days on a professional fishing boat. He came home with a lot of Pollock and decided to do a fish fry for our annual summer party. He bought beef fat from the butcher in the market and spent 2 days rendering it down. We all helped hand-cut chips from fresh organic potatoes from our friends’ farm in Sussex. Dad made the fish batter using his home brewed lager and then he fried the fish and the french fries in the beef fat over a hard wood fire just at the edge of the woods. Our friends brought salads, home made breads, the raspberry canes were dripping with ripe red raspberries, and and we had a big cauldron over the fire for boiling corn. It was an incredible meal and one I will never forget.
What's your greatest culinary achievement? I mastered my grandmother’s shortbread recipe, that was an achievement. It’s not a complicated recipe, but as with most simple things it’s the nuances and details that make the difference. The temperature of the butter, the right amount of salt, not over working the dough, knowing how long to age them so they are perfect when served. Since I’m not really a baker, getting my mother’s nod of approval on my shortbreads was a big win! Then I started making them with herbs and exotic spices.
What’s next on your must-try list? I’m working on Mexican cuisine. Again, it can be simple, but done right there is a complexity of flavour which is hard to achieve. I’d love to be able to make a good mole from scratch. That would be an achievement!
If you could have anyone cook for you who would you choose and why? Tom Colicchio because I have a bit of a chef’s crush on him from Top Chef and I get the impression his tastes are similar to mine… but if I remember he said something positive about parsnip once. Perhaps I’ll have to rethink this.
Tell us about the recipe you are sharing with us today: I'm sharing my recipe for fresh spring rolls. While it looks like it’s a straight fresh or summer roll, it is actually an evolution of a crab & apple slaw that I was preparing for a friend’s Russian Xmas party. I wanted to find a way to prepare it in advance rather than spooning it into pastry cups at the party and so this wrap was born out of ingredients I had handy. The dip seems like it’s missing something, but it’s not. Make it as is, let it sit 15 minutes for the flavours to blend and then try it. You’ll find it works especially well with this wrap, but also as in other places you’d use nuoc cham. It looks elaborate, but it's just a little fussy the first time.. but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share a bit about your life with us Alexa! We're dying to try those fresh Spring Rolls already.