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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pardon This Intermission...


Is anyone there?

It's been a while... and I am so sorry. I meant to write. I meant to tell you about all the delicious things I've been up to.

But, I haven't left you. It's just a short break. I promise I'll be back soon.

I will meet you right here. Pinky swear. See you soon!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bumper Crop

There are some weeks I struggle to find inspiration for my blog. This week was no different. I had no idea what to post this week, that is, until yesterday mid-morning when I was thinking about what to make for lunch.

With the early onset of warm weather this past spring and higher than usual temperatures this summer, the schedule for local produce has been pushed forward somewhat.

While my "crops" have not yet arrived, they are certainly on their way.

The tomatoes (black zebra) are still on the vine ripening...

and my cucumber plant is putting out loads of male blossoms and I waiting for the girls to show up any day now...

My swiss chard and haricot verts (aka French green beans) are a little farther behind as they were planted only recently.

At this point, I don't want to talk about my Nantes carrots or my tomatillos. I have my fingers crossed but hope is quickly fading. It's my first year growing these crops & everyone says they are easy to grow... however, they are either incredibly slow producers or these plants are destined for the compost heap very soon. So the verdict is still out on them!)

In fact, the only things I have been able to harvest so far this year are my herbs (mizuna-pictured below, basil, garden cress and my assortment of micro greens) and of course, my beloved alpine strawberries.

While my crops are still a couple of weeks from harvest, the farmers' markets and the supermarkets are already selling local produce. Zucchini appears to be a bumper crop this year.

There is a neighbor in my 'hood who has a very lovely square foot garden located on the side yard of his house. (I walk past his house daily to check on his garden, but I am not obsessed...) His zukes are spilling out of the box and I am quite certain they are literally growing inches each day. (Zucchini is on my "to plant" list next year!) Since we did not grow it, we bought ours (over 3lbs!) over the weekend and after dinner on Monday night, our supply was out.

Summer fresh zucchini is other worldly; its tender yet crisp when eaten raw and sweet and fragrant when lightly sauteed. This is a rather fast meal to pull together and very light but also quite satisfying.

The microgreens pictured in the photo are actually from my backyard. I have been trying to grow these with mixed success. (I hope to have a post on this item so stay tuned.)

Farfalle with Summer Zucchini and Ricotta
Serves 4

1lb farfalle pasta (bow-tie or some other kind of bite sized pasta, penne, macaroni)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, large diced (or rough chop)
1 lb zucchini (cut into by sized pieces)

1 large pinch chili powder (optional)
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp ricotta
1 large lemon - juice & zest

optional: micro green garnish (or other baby green - spinach, arugula, etc.)

1. Cook pasta accordingly to instructions in well-salted water.
2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat olive oil. Cook onion and zucchini on medium-high heat. Resist the urge to constantly stir the vegetables to allow the zucchini and onions to slightly caramelize.
3. Add chili powder, if using.
4. Drain pasta, reserving at least a cup of pasta water.
5. Add pasta to the large saucepan. Remove saucepan off heat.(If your saucepan is not large enough, transfer to a large bowl instead.)
6. Toss with butter and lemon juice. Mix well. Adding small amounts of the pasta water to loosen pasta as needed.
7. Serve pasta with a dollop of ricotta. Top with microgreens and dust with lemon zest.
...Read more

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Basil Lavender Lemonade

When I was planning the menu at our wedding several years ago, I had considered serving a basil lemonade (spiked with vodka) as part of the cocktail hour, but I had reconsidered because I thought it might be too out there, too unusual for too many of my guests. I would not have had the time to coax friends and families into trying something different so we opted for the standard open bar with an assortment of bottled booze and mixed bevvies.

Since I am still on maternity leave and my son is now enjoying the splendid beauty of regular afternoon naps, I decided to make a pitcher of lemonade to accompany my afternoon of lounging on my back porch reading The Lovely Bones. (On another topic - Have you read it? It may be hot outside, but I feel nothing but chills when Susie talks about Mr. Harvey. It's gripping. Haven't seen the movie, but I think casting Stanley Tucci was a stroke of genius. He is Mr. Harvey.)

An abundance of basil and lavender in my garden this year made sense as a flavour accent to summer's perfect refreshment.

In fact, I may have said this before but lavender is one of my favourite summer time scents... It reminds me of Provence and of a wondrous lavender garden I stumbled upon outside of Kobe, Japan many years ago. Its scent is distinctive and unmistakable. Lavender's mild floral notes acts as a nice counterpoint to the fresh aroma of sun kissed basil and the juicy tartness of the lemon.

Of course, then there is basil. I can't get enough of it. In the summer when our basil is growing faster than we can eat it, we throw it on top of our salads (regular and caprese), sandwiches, pasta, eggs.... It's such a versatile and easy to grow herb. Even if you start it from seed.

To avoid doing time in the kitchen these days, I decided to make a "sun tea." I figure with the heat on the sun pressing itself upon us, I may as well harness its energy for some good...(aside from my ever blossoming container garden - updates to come in the upcoming weeks!)

Sun tea is a gentle way to infuse your summer fresh herbs into a highly delicious, drink-able form. Of course, it means taking the slow road because this brewing method requires alot of time - about six hours worth. But it's rather simple. Throw the lavender in a jar. Add some water. Set the jar out in the sun and set aside while the sun's warm rays gently brew your tea. Strain and add to the lemonade. (The detailed instructions are below)

Oh and if the cucumber garnish seems unusual to you. Please. Trust me. It's excellent.

Basil Lavender Lemonade

2 tbsp dried lavender flowers
half liter water

1 c white sugar
1 c water
1 c lemon juice
handful basil (approximately 1 cup of loose leaves)

1 lemon
1 seedless cucumber (approximately 4 inches worth)

sprigs of basil for garnish
Makes approximately 3 1/2 liters.

1. Fill a half liter jar (or larger) with approximately half liter of water and lavender. Set out in the warm sun for at least 6 hours. (If not making sun tea, use hot water and seep for twenty minutes.) Strain lavender flowers from liquid. Do not press additional liquid from flowers as you may release bitter flavour from the tea.
2. Meanwhile, make a simple syrup by adding equal parts sugar and water. Once the sugar crystals have dissolved, add basil. Stir. Allow syrup to cool to room temperature. Strain out basil leaves and add lavender liquid.
3. Slice lemon cross-wise and cucumbers into medium thick discs. Add lemon juice to a large pitcher, then add cooled simple syrup.
4. Stir well. Pour into glasses, adding a couple of lemon & cucumber slices. Garnish with a sprig of basil. Enjoy. (With or without a splash of vodka.)

...Read more

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Have You Tried Swiss Chard?

Note: I have been experiencing some problems with my email and my spam filter. I always read and respond to your emails so if you have sent me a note and I haven't responded, kindly send it again. Your comments and feedback are always appreciated. Thanks everyone for your support.

Last week, I added rainbow swiss chard to my growing container garden. It won't be ready for at least another 2 months, I think. So in the meantime, I will have to rely on Ontario farmers for my swiss chard fix.

I know that you've seen this beauty in the supermarket. It's one of those greens that sit by the cabbages, collards and kale aka the healthy and under appreciated vegetable aisle at the supermarket. You walk past it week after week without a second glance. But maybe this week it will be different?

Swiss chard is always a deep rich green leaf though its stem may come in an assortment of colours from creamy whites to golden saffron to ruby reds. The flavour is intensely earthy kind of like beet greens or spinach. It's fantastic alongside grilled meat. (I like it with hot Italian turkey sausage.)

When purchasing swiss chard choose a bunch that has ruffled leaves that holdes its shape and slender but firm stems.

Oh, and did I mention it's delicious? Next time, you're at the supermarket or at the farmer's market... check it out by trying this recipe from Marcus Sammuelson's cookbook, The Soul of A New Cuisine. (I am working my way through his cookbook, and it's superb!)

This recipe is a great way to acquaint yourself with this fine, invigorating vegetable.

Creamed Swiss Chard
Adapted from Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Sammuelson

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion - roughly chopped
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 c shredded cabbage
1 pinch turmeric
1 c cream
1/2 c water
1 bunch swiss chard
1/2 c buttermilk
dusting of nutmeg
2 tsp salt (or to taste)

1. Heat oil in a large deep fry pan
2. Add onion & ginger until onion softens and ginger is fragrant
3. Add cabbage and turmeric. Stir and cook until cabbage softens.
4. Add cream and water and cook on medium heat for about ten minutes.
5. Meanwhile, trim and roughly chop swiss chard into bite sized pieces.
6. Toss swiss chard into pan and cook until chard is reduced. (Like spinach, it cooks down substantially)
7. Turn off heat and stir in buttermilk, dusting of nutmeg and salt. Adjust seasonings as required.
...Read more

Monday, June 28, 2010

Remain Calm & Have a Coconut Bar

Originally this week's post was going to be about turning on your oven in the summer. (ie. Who wants to do that?) But the day I made these gooey bars, Toronto experienced an "earthquake." It originated about a five hours drive from here so what we felt was less intense, but for those who never experienced one before, it sends you off kilter abit.

To comfort myself, I decided to calm my nerves by trying out a dessert I had on my "to do" list.

The inspiration for this recipe came from my Martha Stewart Cookie of the Day email. It was called Gooey Coconut Dream Bars. Wow. How can you resist that? It had me at gooey. I read the recipe and thought it was similar to alot of the bar cookie recipes I like. Pretty quick and easy. It's also a bit of a kitchen sink recipe. Have a small handful of dried cranberries? Throw them in. How about these nuts? Get them in, too!

It occurred to me that the cookie recipe turned out more squares than I wanted. Besides, I didn't have 2 cans of sugary, thick condensed milk, only the one. With some changes here and there, I present to you a bar that is reminiscent of some of my favourite desserts: butter tarts, caramel and macaroons.

Oh yes, all three flavours in one bite. Think creamy, chewy, sticky and certainly, gooey. You don't need an earthquake to make these bars, any old reason will do.

Coconut Bars

1 c graham cracker crumbs
1/4c melted butter, unsalted
1/8 tsp salt

1 c sweetened coconut flakes
1/2c semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2c Thompson raisins
300ml sweetened condensed milk (1 can)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 8 x 8 square pan by lining it with parchment paper. Leave at least a 2 inch overhang on two adjacent sides to ease of removal.
2. Mix crumbs, butter & salt together. Press evenly into the square pan, bringing at least 1/2" up the sides.
3. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
4. Meanwhile, mix together condensed milk, coconut shreds, raisins and chocolate chips.
5. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth out filling ensure that corners are filled.
6. Bake for 20-26 minutes. When the filling starts to caramelize and bubble along the edges, remove from oven. Cool.
7. With a sharp knife, cut squares. (Clean off the knife after each cut for a neat look.)

...Read more

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Smoked Salmon With Fennel Salad

Some time during the month of June, I lost track of time. As I sat down to write this recipe, I had thought June had just begun but now it looks like we're on the last lap of the month. How did that happen? Well, at least, we finally have our weather. This morning, I went to look at my tomatoes & tomatillos and it's like they have grown overnight. Nice thick stems, beautiful verdant leaves and elegant little flower buds. (I especially love the smell spritzed into the air as I squeeze the suckers off my tomato plants. It is intoxicating like catnip for gardeners.) While the forecast for this summer is hot, I still cross my fingers for good weather and hopefully it will yield a bounty of highly rewarding, home-grown heirloom vegetables for summer eating.

Which brings me to this week's recipe... Outside of maybe barbeque, there is nothing that symbolizes summer eating more than a refreshing cool, crunchy salad. In our household, this week's salad is our current favourite. (Who can say no to smoked salmon?) It pairs feathery-thin fresh fennel with rich, smooth unctuous smoked salmon. It's a beautiful salad that can be piled high in a large bowl and gobbled up or it may be served elegantly on a long platter for dinner guests. Either way, it is delicious and does not require much effort.*

*Perhaps after you read this recipe, you will disagree, but I will disclose upfront that this recipe calls for shaved fennel. Therefore, it requires the use of some sort of kitchen gadget, I know. Although, shaving fennel may seem daunting and hardly worth it, believe me, it is worth it (and probably not as bad as you think once you get into it.) The papery slices of fennel stay crisp and crunchy but allows the vinaigrette to permeate creating a kind of "quick" pickle. It's an anise and citrus flavour explosion. Perfect for a hot day. Perfect paired with smoked salmon. Trust me. Worth the effort.

Shaved Fennel Salad With Smoked Salmon
Serves 4 as a starter (or 2 as a light lunch)

1/2 large fennel bulb (reserve some fennel fronds)
150 grams smoked salmon, sliced

1 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt & pepper

1. In a large bowl, shave fennel into wispy thin slices. I use a benriner (or mandolin) but if you don't have one, slice fennel into thin pieces with a sharp knife.
2. On a large plate, lay out smoked salmon in a single layer.
3. In a medium sized jar, add Dijon, olive oil & lemon juice. Place lid on tightly and shake. Pour over fennel and toss. Add salt & pepper. Taste. Adjust seasonings as necessary then allow to fennel to marinate for at least ten minutes.
4. To serve, pile fennel high over smoked salmon. Sprinkle some of the reserved fennel fronds on top.

...Read more
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