My goodness, it has been five times already. Five times Pim has rallied the food blogging community together, the first time in aid of those effected by the catastrophic tsunami that hit Southeast Asia on Boxing Day 2004. In each of those five times her campaign, Menu for Hope, has grown exponentially - last year we managed to raise over $90,000 for the United Nations World Food Programme. An astounding number of dollars offered in help, to be sure, as well as an astounding testament to the generosity of our online community and the impact we are able to make when we work together.

This year, I am once again proud to be involved through a prize donation. What's this about prizes you might ask? Well, this is how Menu for Hope works - food bloggers, food producers, publishing companies and many more organizations donate prizes to be put up for raffle. Raffle tickets are then sold, at the low, low price of $10 each, for each of those prizes. These virtual tickets are then compiled, and at the end of the campaign a winner is chosen at random, with the results announced at Chez Pim. Easy peasy, no?

Further details on Menu for Hope, and answers to frequently asked questions are available on Pim's site.

I know that this past year has been a difficult one for many, and our global economic crisis has many of us feeling unsure about the future. If you are unable to participate in this year's campaign, it is wholly understandable and I only ask that you might pass the word onto anyone and everyone you believe might be interested. For those of you that feel that they can spare the money to donate, I thank you.

Now, I said something about prizes - must get back to that. In partnership with the fine folks at Whitecap Books, I am happy to be donating two bundles of cookbooks, all from Canadian authors (see below for summaries and cover images).

The first, prize code CA06, is a wonderful set of two cookbooks in celebration of all that Canada has to offer. Taste of Canada by Rose Murray is an epicurean love letter to the country, with thoughtfully-chosen recipes that reflect the scope of our cuisine. It is a beautiful book, with elegant and evocative images and an obvious affection for its subject matter. The second book is great guide to treasures from your local wine shop, The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO 2009 by Rod Phillips.

CA07 is a collection of books from authors who have all participated in the "Seven Questions With..." series from this site, and have all reached some level of celebrity in the Canadian culinary scene. Anna Olson of Canada's Food Network has brought together a fantastic collection of recipes for the home cook, full of family favourites with a modern twist; truth be told, it is a book I have kept in my kitchen since I got it. Dominique and Cindy Duby, true masters of pastry and sugar, let us in on their recipe for the perfect crème brûlée (along with 50 sweet and savoury variations) in their book of the same name. In Marty's World Famous Cookbook, Marty Curtis reveals the secrets of his famous buttertarts, and many of the favourites from his popular cottage country café.

A full list of prizes being donated by Canadian food bloggers is available at our regional host site Hooked on Heat. My thanks to the wonderful Meena for all her hard work.

So, now that I've tempted you with all this fabulous stuff, here is how to contribute:

Donation Instructions

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at Chez Pim.
2. Go to the donation site at First Giving and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02.
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

CA06: The flavours of Canada

CA07: Great recipes from famed authors

  • Courtesy of Whitecap Books and seven spoons, a three (3) cookbook prize bundle with the latest books from famous Canadian authors; In the Kitchen with Anna ($29.95 CAD) by Food Network Canada's Anna Olson , Marty's World Famous Cookbook ($29.95 CAD) by Marty Curtis of the popular Bracebridge, Ontario café that bears his name, and Crème Brûlée ($19.95 CAD) by Dominique and Cindy Duby, acclaimed pâtisiers and chocolatiers.
Permission to print cover images also courtesy of Whitecap Books.

Dominique and Cindy Duby are celebrated pâtissiers and chocolatiers, innovators and authors. Their striking desserts are legendary, as is their seemingly-boundless creativity. The husband and wife team have been the subject of critical acclaim and lauded with countless awards for their culinary achievements. With such an awe-inspiring resumé, I was nothing short of honoured when they agreed to (virtually) sit down with me for an interview via e-mail. Our conversation took place just before the release of their third cookbook, a study of crème brûlées - both sweet and savoury.

seven spoons: First off, the obvious question; why devote an entire book to crème brûlée?

DC Duby: Actually, it is our publisher who asked us to write a new series of books on single topics and this is the first one/topic. Crème brûlée is actually is really easy dessert to make for the home chefs but it also offer us, as chefs/authors, with a great challenge to be creative and expand on this topic. We believe that we offered some classics, but also a lot of new ideas, info on the creative process (flavour pairing), some of the science behind custard, et cetera. So this book is more than just basic recipes.

7S:Innovation seems one of your hallmarks; referencing classic pastry recipes, but reimagining them. Where do you find your inspiration?

DCD: As you mentioned, classics are the basis of our inspiration and we try to 'construct' (a constructivism approach is one of our basis for innovation) from there.

7S: What trends or ingredients are inspiring you right now?

DCD: As always, any ingredients that can expand the palette of traditional pastry making, we want to try it. We love using vegetables and/or herbs and spices in our sweets.

7S: You are known for pushing the boundaries of pastry, often employing an arsenal of scientific techniques in your repertoire. In fact, sections of your online boutique read like a chemistry textbook.How do you find a balance between technique and ingredient? What comes first in the development of a recipe?

DCD: We sell Elements which are culinary ingredients; you are right to say that they are chemicals but then you would have to call salt and sugar as chemicals as well! So we prefer that people refer to our Elements as specialty ingredients for modern cuisine, just the same way that starch (modified or not) became a new specialty ingredient used to thicken sauces instead of flour. As well as a cookbook, we want our site to be a boutique where [people can] buy products and also a site to get information We will have a lot more recipes posted in the new update next month as well as culinary videos to demo culinary techniques.

[In regards to the question of technique], we think that people sometimes seem to forget that a freezer was a very novel tool in its time. Liquid nitrogen was used by ice cream makers in the US in the early 1900, yet some people think that this a recent culinary innovation. We work with scientists all the time and they are always quick to point out that there is not that many new ideas in food science, just new ways of thinking. To answer your question, technique and ingredient are in symbiosis - if you have a great ingredient but apply a poor cooking technique (conventional or modern), the result will be mediocre and vice versa with a great technique applied on a poor quality ingredient. The design process for us is twofold; like scientists, we bring forth a hypothesis for a new dish or chocolate and first is flavour combination then it is texture.

7S: Your aesthetic is quite modern, minimalist and yet impactful. How do you approach presenting a dish or designing a confection?

DCD: We always tell chefs, why spend an already overloaded work day with making time consuming sugar or chocolate decors that most patrons will just put to the side and not eat? Time would be much better spent on the dish itself be with better ingredients, novel techniques, et cetera.

7S: Often you will hear chefs and cooks separate what they cook professionally, and what they cook in their own kitchen. What is the typical dinner (or favourite dinner) for two pastry chefs at home? What five pantry or refrigerator staples do you like to have stocked at all times?

Culinary speaking, [Dominique] trained as a 'savoury' chef first and [Cindy] only trained a sweet chef. Typically, unless we are doing research, we will not eat or make a dessert at home. But we do cook everyday and are very concerned with nutrition. We love using the pressure cooker, great meals in no time. We have three of them and two induction stoves so we can have a great healthy meal prepared in very little time.

It would be culinary death for us if we could or would only have five ingredients stocked at all times. We have lots of dry spices (garam masala, star anise, cinnamon, ancho and other chilies), Asian sauce bases like hoisin, lots of fresh herbs in our garden (parsley, basil, rosemary, sage, tarragon), and we always have a lot of vegetables from different alliums, roots like carrot, fennel, potatoes, and what ever else is available at the farmers market that we shop as at least twice a week like eggplant, savoy cabbage, parsnip. Not too much protein though except for fish.

7S: And finally, three questions in one. What is your favourite celebratory dessert?

DCD: A great carrot cake turn into a birthday cake is far better for us that a pretentious or badly executed multi-layer cake with rubbery mousses, dry biscuit bases, et cetera.

Your favourite comfort dessert?

DCD: We love chocolate and most derivatives of it. Depending on the season, we make ice cream or sorbet in our Paco Jet - fantastic. In the fall and winter, we love a pie made of pate sucrée filled with an almond cream and baked topped with pears or apples. When berries are good, a crispy puff pastry with vanilla pastry cream and fresh strawberries is great.

Your favourite guilty pleasure?

DCD: Great food with great wines.

A sincere thank you to Dominique and Cindy Duby for taking time out of this interview. My snapshot review of their new book, Crème Brûlée (Whitecap, 2008), will appear as part of my look at a selection of Canadian cookbooks from 2008 - keep an eye out for it next week.