Meet Karen Anderson, writer, cookbook author, culinary traveler, founder of Alberta Food Tours.

Most know Karen Anderson as the founder and CEO of Alberta Food Tours, however Karen is also a food journalist and writer who has won awards for cookbooks A Spicy Touch – Favourites from Noorbanu Nimji’s Kitchen with the late Noorbanu Nimji, and Food Artisans of Alberta.

In this instalment of In My Kitchen we get to know more about Karen’s guilty pleasures and a few of her favourite things.

Photo by Dana Pugh

What is your favourite meal to make for company?

Bowls! I like to pick a theme – Thai, Mexican or pan-Canadian. Then I make all the elements. I’ll make a starch like quinoa, barley, brown rice, noodles, or roasted sweet potatoes or squash. Then, I’ll prepare complimentary vegetables and grill some tofu, beef, chicken, fish and/or shrimp according to the theme. There’s always lots of fresh or steamed chopped vegetables. Finally, sauces, dips and toppings are at the end of the line. I place everything along the counter and let everyone build their own bowl. They can get up and return for additions as needed. It’s all very casual and pretty darn healthy too.

What do you love about your kitchen?

I love my huge walk-in pantry and how welcoming my kitchen is. I live in an inner-city infill so the whole kitchen is long and narrow and it really is the heart of the home. There’s room for five bar stools so people can visit with me when I’m cooking. Having a kitchen full of family and friends, that’s what it’s all about for me.

What would you change about it?

I would somehow add a south facing window so I had sunlight all day long. In my upcoming cookbook, Eat Alberta First, we had to carry all the food up to the third floor loft to catch the light we needed. With 90 recipes, that was a lot of stairs.

What is your guilty pleasure food?

Squares, aka “dainties.” I remember my mom hosting bridal and baby showers and making a big pan of squares. My brother and sisters and I got to eat the uneven bits and edges. I get weak at the knees when I find a bakery that sells really good squares. I like matrimonial squares (date squares) so much I can’t keep them in my house without eating them all. When I really want them I go to Primal Grounds and order one of their huge ones and sit and eat it ALL by myself. Margaret Nemeth makes the best I’ve ever had and I’ve had A LOT.

What ingredient could you never do without?

Gull Valley tomatoes. They’re always on my counter (never, ever in the refrigerator, that kills their flavour). I grew up snacking on tomatoes straight from my dad’s garden when we were so busy playing outside we couldn’t spare a moment to go inside for something more. They were sweet and warm from the sun and their juices burst in our mouths and down whatever we were wearing. Mom always knew by the look of our clothes when we raided Dad’s tomatoes but it didn’t matter because he always got carried away and grew bushels of them. My go-to recipe for them is to cook pasta, drain it and stir in chopped tomatoes, basil, gorgonzola and pine nuts. I call it Summertime Anytime Pasta and it’s my fast food.

What’s your favourite thing to cook or bake during the holidays?

I lived in Boston for a few years and my best friend there was Italian. She taught me how to make biscotti and I’ve made them every year since as gifts for friends and family.

What’s the best way to deal with turkey leftovers?

To quote Bridget Jones, “Mmmm, turkey curry! My favourite!” This recipe comes from the Cardamom Hills of Kerala. And ever since my friend chef Jerry Matthews of Spice Village in Periyar shared the recipe with me, it’s become our post-turkey dinner standard.

What’s the secret to putting together a great gift box?

To me, it’s got to be filled with the produce of food artisans of Alberta. We’ve got an ocean of talented people here who are so worthy of our support. The quality they produce is outstanding. Our Alberta Cares Packages are a dream to create each year. Nothing makes me happier than to connect consumers with these products and grow our economy from within.

What’s something you wish everybody knew about Calgary’s culinary offerings?

It’s true we have the world’s best beef. It’s beyond belief. But, let’s start sharing that bison, canola, honey, Red Fife wheat, root vegetables and Saskatoon berries are also Alberta’s signature foods and so there’s a whole lot more on our table than people realize. All of these foods are grown in nutrient-dense soil within an hour’s drive of Calgary so when we eat local, we are eating the highest quality food there is. At a time when soil is facing extinction in many parts of the world, that’s truly something to celebrate.

karen anderson