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Feast Alfresco

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Winter. It’s that time of year when we often find ourselves hibernating indoors, cozying up beside a warm fireplace while trying to find motivation to venture out into the cold. A winter picnic is the perfect reason to emerge from that cozy spot! With a little planning, an afternoon retreat to dine with loved ones alfresco can be a wonderful way to spend a refreshingly crisp winter day!

Often picnics are thought of as a cooler full of cold drinks and food spread out under the summer sun on a hot day. But picnics can also be mugs of hot chocolate or warm soup enjoyed wrapped in a warm blanket amid the still solitude of a snowy day. Whether it’s a quiet and cozy meal for two or a family fuel-up, food always tastes better outdoors in the brisk, clean air! 

Winter picnics are exciting but rarely spontaneous. Intentional packing and meal planning for warmth and weather is essential. To make the most of your day and to lighten your workload, pack the picnic necessities and prepare most of your food items at least a day ahead. Try out these prep-forward and picnic-worthy hot and cold recipes that may be the perfect fit for your next winter picnic basket!

Remember, winter brings wide-open picnic tables and empty parks and beaches. Take advantage: you have a front row seat, so find your perfect spot and enjoy!

01

Chai-Spiced Hot Apple Cider

Creamy Mushroom and Leek Soup

Full flavoured yet easy to make, this simple but refined soup is cozy and rich in earthy mushroom flavours and cashew creaminess. It’s a plant-based spinoff of an age-old family favourite that is sure to please! 

Pear, Fennel, and Arugula Salad with Citrus Dressing and Blue Cheese

Each salad component is unique and distinct in flavour—from fennel’s hint of licorice to tart and fruity pear, peppery arugula, and smooth, salty blue cheese—it’s all brought together with a sweet and tangy citrus dressing. Elegant in appearance yet simple to create, this light and fresh salad is great for any occasion or as a perfect side for a winter picnic. Try adding chopped walnuts or pecans for another layer of crunch!

Grilled Garlic and Rosemary Chicken Lollipops

With very little effort, chicken drumsticks are transformed into a fun and flavour-filled tasty treat! Enjoyed hot or cold, these meaty lollipops pack well and are fantastic on their own or will complement just about any side dish.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad Wraps

Roasted sweet potatoes and zesty Dijon mustard transform a classic picnic salad concept into a new and fresh menu item for your basket. 

Oat and Walnut Ganache Bars

Decadent and rich, this picnic-packable bar will satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. A hearty mixture of oats and nuts is bound together with sweet dates and maple syrup, creating a tasty base that’s topped with a luscious layer of decadent, rich, and dreamy chocolate.

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Truth Teller

Get J-C Poirier talking about food, and the word “honest” will be sprinkled throughout the conversation like the Diamond Crystal kosher salt the Michelin-starred chef uses in the kitchen of his Quebecois bistro, St. Lawrence, in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Honest food Poirier’s favourite food is “honest food.” As a culinarian, and one paying homage to his French-Canadian heritage, he’s all about “being honest with his food.” But unlike the opaque marketing buzzword that “honest” has become in the food world, Poirier applies it with earnestness to the cooking that inspires him and that he hopes to encourage in others, including with his recently released cookbook, Where the River Narrow s (Appetite by Random House, 2022) . “What I mean is, you’ve got to be attentive to yourself as a chef or as a cook. It comes by knowing yourself and your background, and where you come from,” Poirier says. “Being honest is offering a part of who you are. That’s how I know the difference between good cooking and great cooking.” Honest roots Poirier comes by his greatness at cooking, well, honestly. All apron strings lead back to his bon vivant mother, who was as convivial as she was creative in the kitchen of the family’s Saint-Jérôme, Quebec, home. She bought local and stretched a dollar. She also pushed boundaries with the young taste buds around the table, exposing Poirier to quinoa before it became a household grain and making her own tofu. Honest training The magic of cooking and gathering over a meal compelled Poirier to eventually enrol in culinary school. He spent a year training in classical French techniques before putting them to the test in the storied Les Remparts in Old Montreal. Poirier was drawn to the physical aspect of cooking, but like many young people forging their own path, he was eventually lured away from the place that reared him. Vancouver beckoned. After stints at Rob Feenie’s Lumière, and even in his own Italian-inspired dining rooms and eateries, a meal in Paris inspired Poirier to get back to his roots in the kitchen. In 2017, he opened St. Lawrence, a cozy 40-seat space that’s like “entering my grandma’s house.” “It’s being authentic to myself,” he says. Honest legacy Poirier retraces his professional journey and personal growth in < Where the River Narrows > using recipes that channel timeless and foundational French and Quebecois cooking techniques, and a more relaxed Poirier at home. If he’s being honest, Poirier hopes the book will be a legacy to share with his two young daughters, Aïla and Florence. It also serves as a business card for a restaurant that’s earning prestigious accolades, including Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year by Vancouver Magazine . Last fall, dining authority Michelin bestowed one of its coveted stars upon St. Lawrence, too. Honest values That success can be linked to the professional values Poirier upholds in addition to raw talent. He leads by healthy example, eschewing alcohol, especially on the job, and espousing work-life balance by opening St. Lawrence only four days a week. He also offers employment benefits, including four weeks of vacation every year. His staff stay, and success follows honestly. Looking ahead, Poirier knows only that he will stay true—to himself and his craft. “I’ll just keep going forward and try to be me,” he says. “And my team? Try to be better and better every day at what we do, and the rest will come.” Key ingredients Quality over quantity is as much a mantra for J-C Poirier as honesty, especially when it comes to ingredients. That’s why he encourages home cooks to splurge on premium options. They make a significant difference to the end result, he argues, and because of their quality, you’ll need less of them, too, extending their value. Poirier’s essential top-shelf ingredients grass-fed, cultured butter organic all-purpose flour for baking; whole wheat, buckwheat, and Red Fife flours for bread making top-notch oils for a variety of purposes, including grapeseed oil for cooking, first-pressed canola oil for salad dressing, and extra-virgin olive oil for finishing dishes Diamond Crystal kosher salt for seasoning food and Maldon sea salt for a finishing touch to add texture high quality vinegars, including red wine, balsamic, and apple cider Cooking for the health of it French food doesn’t always conjure healthy eating. After all, the French eat four times as much butter and 60 percent more cheese than the average American. There are health-conscious ways to stay true to both your inner gastronome and the cuisine, however. For J-C Poirier, it’s cooking with emotion, logic, and love, and remembering the following. Less is more “I don’t need a 10 ounce piece of beef. I need maybe four or five, and a really high quality,” Poirier says. “I pay the price for it, but I just eat less.” Eat the seasons “In the summer, I will buy all the vegetables from the farm,” he explains. “When it’s asparagus season, we eat asparagus. In the winter, we eat potatoes and parsnips and sunchokes.” Cook for yourself—and from scratch “A lot of people buy processed food, and that has a higher amount of salt or sugar than if I start from scratch and control what I put in there.” Watch your fat Use high-end, pure versions of butter and cooking oils rather than refined options or those cut with other ingredients that could negatively impact health. “It’s being a little more aware, I think, of what people are buying,” Poirier says. Excerpted from < Where the River Narrows: Classic French & Nostalgic Québécois Recipes From St. Lawrence Restaurant > by Jean-Christophe Poirier. Written with Joie Alvaro Kent. Copyright © 2022 Jean- Christophe Poirier. Cover and book design by Jennifer Griffiths. Photography by Brit Gill, except page 148. Photo on page 8 by Amy Ho. Photos on pages 2, 5, and 6 courtesy of the author. Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin