Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Strawberry fields forever

The Wimbledon tennis tournament started, and you know what that means!?! It's time for strawberries and cream! Yes, the English are funny that way: each sporting event is closely associated with some tradition or other (Royal Ascot and pretty hats, football and hooligans...), and it so happens that Wimbledon has strawberries and cream. And who can complain about that?

There is something inherently divine about strawbs and cream: the richness of the cream (not whipped, though you can go that way if you prefer) is perfectly balanced by the sweet tartness of perfectly ripe berries. If you are counting calories, then you can used evaporated milk (unsweetened, condensed milk), it doesn't quite have the same flavour, but the texture is similar, there is less fat, and it is less expensive than cream. Whatever you do, do not attempt with imported rocks trying to pass off as strawberries.

You might have noticed that the strawberry season has lengthened somewhat over the years. When I was a kid, we could only gorge ourselves on strawberries from mid-June to mid-July. When we were fed up, my mother made jam for the winter from the berries we had picked ourselves. Quebec and Ontario strawberries are now available from late May to September, and sometimes October if autumn is mild.

No, the strawberries are not genetically modified, at least not in the sense you are thinking. They're new varieties, some are hybrids, others are rediscovered older cultivars, all produce fruits at different periods of the summer, so it appears as though there is one continuous season. When I lived in Europe, each variety was named, and everyone celebrated their local berry, here however, unless you are buying directly from the farmer, you are not likely to find out the strawberry's real name. 'Tis a bit of a pity since each variety does taste slightly different from the next, though I suppose it's not the end of the world since they are all very tasty when fully ripe.

You're not likely to find giant golf balls amongst the locally produced berries -whether local for you is Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, New York or even California (a big exporter of strawberry shaped golf balls)- because your local berry will be grown under 'normal' conditions, namely out in the open at the mercy of Mother Nature. Those golf balls found in PET packs are pumped with water and fertilisers so that they swell up to gargantuan proportions, but they are picked unripe in order to support the wear and tear of transportation. Rarely very tasty, it makes me wonder why anyone bothers buying them. Seriously. I don't even understand why we use them in restaurants: there are other ways to garnish a dessert, and there are other fruits available the rest of the year, so why eat strawberries that don't taste like strawberries?

At this period in the season, you will want to enjoy your strawberries as is. Or just barely garnished with some cream, ice cream, crumbled shortbread... aaahhh, the list is endless! Anyway, you get the point. But, you might remember that rhubarb is still in season for a little while yet, so you'll want to have some rhubarb compote and strawberries! My mother used to cook the strawberries with the rhubarb, but I find it much better when you cook the rhubarb on its own, and smother the berries once the compote has cooled down. Or better yet, help yourself to some luscious vanilla ice cream, cover with halved strawberries, sprinkle some crushed shortbread cookies or crumble mix, and smother with warm rhubarb...........

If plain strawberries start to sound blah, you have a plethora of more complex treats to feast on: strawberry shortcakes; summer pudding; Eton Mess; tarts....

Strawberry Shortcake
This recipe is adapted from the May 1990 issue of HomeMaker's. It is the best shortcake recipe I've yet to make.
Serves 6

Strawberries, as many as you like
2c/260g all-purpose flour
2Tbs/30g sugar
4tsp/20g baking powder
¼c +2Tbs/125g cold butter
1 lemon zest
²/³c /165g milk
Whipped cream (the real stuff, please)

-Hull and cut strawberries in half. Set aside. The strawberries should render some juice on their own, but you can always sprinkle with some sugar if you want to speed the process.
-Sift together flour, sugar, and baking powder.
-Cut in butter until the mix resembles coarse meal.
-Rapidly fold in all the milk until you obtain a soft, slightly sticky dough. If it is too soft to handle, let dough rest in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes.
-Turn out the dough on a floured surface, and roll out to ¾" (2cm) thickness. Cut out with a glass or large, round cookie cutter.
-Preheat oven to 425'F (220'C). Place rounds on an ungreased sheet, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until light golden.
-Let cool slightly before splitting in two. Spoon strawberries over bottom halves. Top with whipped cream, and place the remaining biscuit halves on top.
Serve immediately.

By the time you tire of all those strawberries -if that is ever possible- you will have a whole slew of other berries to choose from: unripe gooseberries for jam will be hitting the market in July; raspberries will make an appearance by mid-July; highbush blueberries (the big ones) should show up in late July; then you'll have the ripe gooseberries (good for eating out of hand, but not so much for jams and jellies) and the multi-coloured currants. And by August, you will have the crème de la crème: lowbush blueberries, aka wild blueberries!

Bon app'!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Birds

Just a quick word about urban chickens....

If you live in a city that allows chickens in a residential area, and you want to keep some, but don't have much green space, check out this idea on ikea hacker. (If you don't know this blog, but have a glut of Ikea stuff you don't know what to do with, you might find some nifty ideas.)

Obviously, chickens would be happiest with some access to some fresh greens, but this homemade coop sure does look comfy, and you could always give the birds the trimmings from your locally grown and purchased produce. In any case, these balcony birds look happier than battery birds!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Creepy crawlies can be tasty!

Well, I suppose a lobster isn't really a 'creepy crawly', but it sure does look like one!


I don't really know what to say about lobsters. I don't know that there is much to say about them really that you don't already know.

Lobsters are tasty. Like a lot of seafood, these crustaceans are a mouthful of flavour that you cannot find in land-based flesh: it's sweet; it's salty; it can have a touch of iodine (like oysters), though only if it comes from salty ocean floors (crawlers from Gaspésie and the Magdalen Islands tend to be less iodine-y.)

Lobsters are plentiful enough. And as long as you only eat them in season, you are not endangering the species. Seasons vary from region to region: in the Atlantic provinces, lobsters are caught from late April to late October; early May to late July in Quebec. Maine claims not to have a season, and there are worries that lobsters are over-fished off the New England coast.

Lobsters seem to have always been plentiful: in the 19th century, they were said to be food for the poor, and children were quite embarrassed to find lobster sandwiches in their lunch pail. To think that nowadays, a restaurant lobster dinner can set you back as much as 100$!!!

Though lobsters on the eastern side of the Atlantic have healthy populations, you should avoid eating them off-season for the simple reason that it corresponds to their growth season: the cooked lobster will have little meat. And whatever you do, stop eating at seafood chain restaurants: they often use spiny lobsters from South America, a severely over-fished species.

Lobsters grow slowly. A 1¼lb lobster -the size most often served as an individual portion in restaurants- is somewhere between 10 and 12 years old. A 1¾pounder (which is, btw, the perfect size for a nice meal, all you need is some salad and bread) is somewhere around 15 years old. A teenager.

Lobsters are fetching lower prices this year than they were last year: two 1¾ pounders will set you back about 40$ in Montreal (last year, I paid the same for two 1½pounders.) Though much more pricey than actually picking them up dockside (60$ for four 1¾lbs specimens in Gaspésie), it is still more affordable than eating them at a restaurant. And you have control over the cooking.

I know, I know, many of you would rather never eat a lobster than have to cook one yourself Because they have to be alive when thrown into the pot of boiling water, or dispatched only shortly beforehand. But you don't know what you are missing: I have yet to eat or work in a restaurant that did not overcook lobsters. Fishmongers will cook lobsters for you, but if you choose to go that route, then ask them to cook them fresh, and to shave off a couple of minutes.
Overcooked lobsters are very chewy, bordering on gummy. And they tend to get stuck in your teeth.

Tips on boiling lobsters

-Keep the lobsters in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. The lobsters become sedated in cold temperatures, and you won't have them staring at you while you prepare their death.

-Use the largest pot you have: the lobster needs to fit comfortably and keep the boiling water inside. If you have a pasta pot with a fitted inner colander, use that, otherwise you will need really long tongs to take the lobster out. When you fill the pot with water, keep in mind the space your lobster will take, you don't want to flood your kitchen!

-It is best to cook lobsters individually because a)not all lobsters are the same size and thus have different cooking times, b)male and female lobsters require different cooking time, and c) if your pot is big enough to fit more than one lobster, it will take forever to come up to the boil (and use more electricity.) Make sure you bring back the water to a rumbling boil before throwing in the next lobster.

-You do not need to salt your cooking water: you will be better able to taste the lobster's actual flavour, and you will be able to water your garden with it when it cools down (it's a great fertiliser!) If you do salt your water, it will only be good for soaking your dirty dishes, and somehow that doesn't sound very clean. Though opinions vary on this one: some people like to use sea water to intensify the iodine-iness.

-Use a timer. If your stove has one, use that. Otherwise buy one. Digital or old school wind-ups are fine. Either way timers are a must in any good kitchen.

-Bring the water to rumbling boil before plunging the lobster in. Cover with the lid, and start your timer. When you hear the water coming back to the boil, turn down heat to medium or medium high, depending on how efficient your stove is.

-When your timer rings, take the lobster out of the pot and let it rest until it is cool enough to handle. If you use the following timing, you do not need to cool your lobsters in an ice bath.

-Females tend to have meatier tails (because they are wider), but you will have to deal with the roe. If you have no use for lobster roe, buy only males as they are easier to clean out. Ask your fishmonger to show you the difference between males and females: if he doesn't know, you should buy your lobsters elsewhere. The cooking time I use does not fully cook the roe, so you can save it for a sauce or a bisque (shellfish soup) or throw it in your compost.

Cooking time:
1¼lbs (563g) male 7min female 8min
1½lbs (675g) male 9min female 10min
1¾lbs (788g) male 11min female 12min
2lbs (900g) male 15min female 17min (personally, I do not recommend this size for boiled lobsters)

You will need a heavy chef's knife to cut the lobster in two. When the lobsters are cool enough to handle, uncoil the tail and hold flat on your cutting board. Start by cutting the head in two: lobsters are beautifully designed in that they have a line marking out where you should cut. Just behind its head there is a point where its 'spinal' seam meets the head seem: stick the point of your knife there, bring the blade down. Turn it around, and cut the tail.

You should have two lobster halves. Take out the intestine: it will be black if recently caught, otherwise it will be pinkish. If you have female lobsters, the roe will be a black sack with (perhaps) bits of vibrant red, pull it out and save for later or compost (conventional or worm). The creamy green stuff (like pistachio custard) is the tomalley: some people love it (I do), others don't (my boyfriend). If you are in your 30s or older, you might have vague memories of canned lobster that didn't really taste of lobster: it was tomalley. Try it, you might like it (on toast), if not, compost.

Boiled lobster is delicious with mayonnaise, garlic butter or a mustardy vinaigrette.

Bon app'!

By the way, if you have an enclosed conventional composter (wood or plastic), you can compost the lobster shells. Just make sure you bury them deeply in the pile to keep down the smelliness. If your pile is very active (steamy and very hot) the shells will decompose within a couple of months. Unfortunately, shells in a loose compost piles will attract all sorts of wildlife, but you can always try direct composting: dig a deep hole (30cm/12") near a hungry plant, throw in the shells, mix in some fresh compost and cover with soil. Worms have no interest for lobster shells, but they do like shrimp shells!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summertime, and the living is easy...

Summer is about lightness and being; paperback novels on the beach;blockbuster movies and popcorn, and far niente... If, however, you would rather your brain not turn entirely to mush this summer, may I suggest two hard hitting documentaries out on dvd to get your grey matters churning?

The World According to Monsanto
is a French-Canadian collaboration that brings to light the ugly truth about big agri-business. While the documentary deals exclusively with Monsanto, any other agro-chemical supplier could have been the subject: BASF, Cargill, ConAgra, etc...
The current financial crisis has brought to light the fact that big capitalism does not work. Yet governments are busy trying to save failing banks and car companies, while more and more people go hungry. Meanwhile, companies like Monsanto are holding farmers hostage. The very farmers who are supposed to feed us.
Proponents of organic and sustainable agriculture have long said that GMOs and large-scale monocultures will not bring about the end of famine: wherever you stand on this issue, you cannot help but see that Monsanto is like any other multi-national corporation. Profit is all they have on the brain.

The German documentary Our Daily Bread bares visual witness to the state of modern agriculture and food production. Completely devoid of any commentary or background music, you are left to your own devices to make sense of what you are watching. It's a definite eye opener. It might not change your purchasing or eating habits, but it will make you think.
A word of warning: it is not for the faint of heart. The abattoir shots are as real as they get. No, this is not some devious plan to push you to become a vegetarian (I wouldn't dare!).
Our Daily Bread totally adheres to the old adage 'a picture says a thousand words'. My mind was churning with all kinds of issues: the environment, food sovereignty, soil conservation, Man's survival...
A word of warning, the following clip can be disturbing, so do click on play unless you are ready to change your dinner plans.

The bottom line is that all these issues are intertwined, and we have to stop considering them as separate entities. If we want to survive as a species, we drastically have to curb the destruction of our environment. If we want to feed our ever growing populations, we have to become true stewards of the land. We might not all want to write to our governments to get a move on, we might not want (or have the means) to start an organic garden, but we can all encourage small farmers and food artisans by buying local, buying fresh.

The salad days are here!

We are 8 days away from the first day of summer! And you no longer have any excuses for not eating local produce.

Market stalls are overflowing, and even supermarkets are jumping on the bandwagon. There is an abundance of choice, and everything is delicious.

They are plentiful and cheap (I bought these 2 bunches for 2$). And the cool rainy weather we've been having has produced mild crunchers. If you prefer your radishes spicy, you might have better luck in the coming weeks, as they are announcing a mini heatwave on the East Coast. However, newer varieties tend to be quite mild.
At this point in the radish season, you are most likely to find them with their leaves still on. Make sure the leaves are bright green, and not too wilted (the hot sun will have the better of them near the end of the day, so don't be too hard on them). When you get home, cut the leaves off right away if you do not plan on munching on radishes within the next 48hours: the leaves will drain the roots of their water and nutrients leaving you with wizened and unappetising things. Do not, however, throw out the leaves! If you, like me, aren't too keen on lettuce, you can liven up the bland leaves with radish greens. Otherwise, feed them to you pet rabbits or your urban chickens.
The radishes themselves are great on their own, with a dip, or with BUTTER! I am a cook, so I cannot help it: butter is gooood. Seriously though, the French often serve their crudité platters with some not-too-soft-butter (unsalted) and a little dish of salt. Each orb, still wet from being washed, is dipped in the salt and smeared with butter before being gobbled up. Sounds a little like drinking tequila! The butter's creaminess coats the inside of your mouth and helps dampen down the radish's fire.
Or you can slice or chop them into a salad. If you like the cool contrast between the red skin and the white flesh of radishes, add them to your salad after you've tossed in the dressing as the red will bleed out.
Radishes can also be pickled: these are not your regular dill pickles, but more of an asian instant pickle. The vinegar turns them a pretty hue of pink, so it might do the job in convincing a little princess that radishes are delish!

Instant Sweet Pickles

½cup (125ml) rice wine (or any white) vinegar
½cup (112g) sugar, preferably white but can be demerara or any light coloured raw sugar
1 bunch radishes, or 2 large carrots, or ½ a daikon, or a combination of all 3

-These pickles are easiest to make if you have a mandolin, otherwise you will need to slice the radishes quite thinly and julienne the carrots and daikon with a very sharp knife.
-Stir sugar into vinegar until completely dissolved.
You might be tempted to heat this mix to melt the sugar more quickly, but I don't recommend it as it will concentrate the vinegary-ness.
-Marinate the vegetables for 5 to 10 minutes, and serve. Great as a salad for a spicy meal, or as an alternative to relish and ketchup on burgers and hot dogs.
These pickles can be kept indefinitely, however they get stinky
(the pepperiness in radishes is produced by a sulfurous compound, which in prolonged contact with vinegar, will start to smell) and lose their crunchiness over time, so it is best to eat them as you make them.

Like most vegetables that are currently in season, lettuces are loving the weather. Sweltering hot summer tends to turn lettuces bitter, and makes them bolt (go to seed). If you like iceberg lettuce -I've notice that icebergs are enjoying a comeback- now is your chance to eat locals: ices do not like summer. In Quebec, growers tend to plant loose leaf (lola rossa or oak leaf) or butterheads (boston type), as they seem to support our hot, humid summers better. On the West Coast, where the summers tend to be rainier, you will find more head lettuces (romaine and such).
I was never a fan of lettuce, but I must admit that fresh leaves can be quite delightful. And market sellers know it: there are literally tons of varieties of lettuces, most of which can only be found at a farmers' market. Supermarkets have stuck to their old standbys, among which the iceberg.
As summer moves along, some varieties will come and go, giving you the opportunity to discover new flavours. Combined with a different dressing, the possibilities are endless!

-Green Onions
Green onions are plentiful and cheap as chips. But have you noticed that when you buy imported ones at the supermarket, they don't always make it to the end of the week? It's because they are not fresh. The ones I get in my CSA baskets easily last a whole month in my fridge (why am I keeping them that long you ask? My veg drawer gets so full with the generous weekly baskets, that some things fall to the bottom and get forgotten...), and the ones currently on market stalls will likely do the same. If you have a choice, pick onions that are untrimmed: they keep better.
Ever wondered what were green onions? They're immature regular onions... or not! There are two types of onion greens: bunching onions are a type of onion that hardly ever forms a bulb, imports from southern regions are generally of this type. The other kind of greeny is just an onion that hasn't started forming its bulb. Which explains why the greenies you find at a farmer's stall often come in purple: they were thinned out from an overcrowded field.
Green onions are versatile: they can be eaten raw in a salad or as a garnish on asian dishes (and you won't get stinky breath), or they can be cooked in a stir fry, or replace regular onions in a recipe.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that onion relatives are all interchangeable, but if you choose to eat only local and in season, then you hit the jackpot with this baby: the family's availability spreads out through the year, so you can have onion-y zing all year long without ever having to buy imports!

Also known as arugula or rocket, this peppery leaf is a godsend for salad lovers! It is a rather easy herb to grow and it is not finicky at all: cool and wet, or hot and dry, roquette will grow no matter what. It will get hotter with the weather though. Arugula is in season from mid-spring until late autumn, but it is at its mildest right about now.
Used in mixed salads, it livens up any tired old leaves, but it can also be cooked like spinach or tossed into a bowl of hot pasta with Parmesan and olive oil. Bellissima!
You might have run into wild roquette: it's not a relative, though it has a similar, if somewhat spicier, tang. It can be used the same way.
If you happen to buy a bunch with the roots still attached, you can replant them! Cut the leaves 5cm (2") from the roots, and soak in a glass of water overnight. Plant the roots in a deep pot, or a shady spot of garden. Water regularly, and you should be rewarded with a new crop of leaves. If the plants bolt, do not throw them out right away: roquette flowers are pretty and tasty. If you choose not to eat them, the bees and butterflies will certainly enjoy buzzing about the flowers.

Raw spinach is great in salads. If you don't like that weird feeling you get on your teeth after eating raw spinach, stick to baby or younger bunch spinach. That raspy sensation is caused by oxalic acid with builds up in spinach leaves as they get older. I doubt, however, you will find much aged spinach right now. Unless you buy your spinach picked and washed in a bag (tsk, tsk, tsk).
Fresh spinach is dirty: you need to wash it in at least three changes of water before you see the end of the grit. But it is worth the effort: the leaves are tender and juicy, and you rarely have fibrous bits, even in the older bunches and stalks. I seriously wonder what they do to bagged spinach for it to be so stringy. Unwashed and wrapped in a plastic bag or a damp towel, spinach will keep for a week; washed, trimmed and spun dry, it keeps for about 4 days. So buy a couple of bunches, wash it on you day off, and you'll have ready to eat spinach waiting for you in your fridge. And don't buy that bagged stuff, it's vile!

Bon app'!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Toutes mes félicitaions à Mme Lucie Cadieux!!!!

It's official: North America's first ever IGP(Protected Geographical Indication) has been granted to beautiful Charlevoix's lambs.

Ms Cadieux's relentless efforts over ten years has paid off, and her lambs are now covered by a strict labelling system that will guarantee consumers on the origin of the lamb they eat.

IGP, AOC, DOP are three letter labels often found on European products. These labels indicate regional origins, but they also imply that strict protocols are followed in the production of said goods. One more label to confuse consumers, and more headaches for farmers? Well, not really. These labels guarantee that the Parmigiano Reggiano (DOP) you pay 27$-37$/kg for is not substituted with Pada Grano or some random 'parmesan'. It means that the bottle of Meursault you shell out 30$-65$ for really comes from a specific territory within Burgundy. It also means that the farmer, cheesemaker, or vigneron receives recognition for their work and efforts.

While IGPs and AOCs do not necessarily indicate a small production, these labels put artisans on the same footing as large producers: both must follow strictly regulated steps, and all must keep detailed accounts of every single process during production, from the use of pesticides on crops to feed and antibiotics for cattle. Since all producers must follow the same steps, you the consumer are better able to judge their worth. For example, the AOC label for Comté cheese covers the entire Franche-Comté region (16 202 km²/6 256 sq mi), yet each village (and even each farmer) produces a cheese that will differ in flavour from the next.

Hopefully, Ms Cadieux's efforts will set a precedent in North America, and more regions will seek to protect their special produce. It's time farmers get the recognition they deserve for feeding us!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two peas in a pod

As you might have guessed already, I loooooove peas. As much as, if not more than, I love asparagus.

Perhaps it's because pea season is so short in my neck of the woods. Like incredibly short: peas like cool and damp, yet sunny weather. Spring. However, spring in Montreal tends to be short, and quickly turns to hot, sweltering summer. Well not this year. Nor last year for that matter... (grumble, grumble, global warming screwing around with normal weather patterns...)

Anyhoo, peas. Peas love long, cool springs, or short and mild winters. So if you're a pea fanatic, you have to live in the UK. Which is what I did for two years. And I ate fresh peas for 6 weeks out of the year. And I was happy. Overworked (and overwrought), but happy to have fresh shelled peas for a month and a half. I ate them at home until my sweetheart grew sick of them. I ate them at work while shelling whole cases of fresh peas. And I never tired of them. They were gone before you knew it. If you do decide to move to the UK just so you can feast on peas,don't buy pre-shelled peas -unless they are frozen: they are quite vile!

Peas, like asparagus and corn, are perishable sweets. The sugars in peas quickly turn to starch after they are picked, which is why big, fat peas tend to be a little mushy. Freshly picked (within a day or two) or younger pods (those that are not super taught and plump) will be sweet and juicy: they almost burst on contact with your teeth. Some varieties of peas are soooo sweet, they can hurt your teeth!

(For those of you wondering: my peas are slowly recovering from Ms Molly's assault. They have yet to start flowering, but they are growing along nicely, and our long, wet and cool spring seems to be helping. Thank you Weather Gods. Thanks to your generous rains, and unseasonably cool temperatures, I think I might succeed in having a nice harvest of peas this year!)

I found some cute New Jersey peas (yes, I know, not local...) at Jean-Talon Market. So if I were to extrapolate from the Jersey strawbs, I'd say that New Jersey is a week or two earlier than Montreal, so we're probably two weeks away from Montérégie peas... British Colombians probably already have Okanagan peas, and Southern Ontario might be a week off. California peas have already come and gone a month ago.

Why bother with shelling peas when they are so readily available and cheap frozen? Well, with that kind of logic, why bother with any fresh foods?!?!?!! Fresh peas are luscious, lovely, succulent... and sweet! Natural sugar. If you're trying to cut down on your refined sugar intake, peas can satisfy your sweet tooth without the guilt.

One cup (145g) of plain, steamed (10 minutes) or boiled (5minutes) peas are low in calories: only 117 (whatever that means!), 1g of fat, 7g dietary fibers, and 8g of protein.

But who am I kidding? Fresh peas deserve some butter! You can either toss a pat (or a knob) of butter onto your just-out-of-the-steamer/boiler-peas, add a dash of salt, and dig in. Or you can melt the butter in a warm pan, toss in the cooked peas, add some chopped mint, salt and pepper, and serve in a platter.
The English love their peas with mint. Actually, I think the statement should be: the English love mint... with peas, with new potatoes, with lamb, with dessert...

But I digress. Peas and mint are a classic. While it took me some time to warm up to the idea of peas with mint, it is a pleasant combination. The fresh mintiness brings out the sweetness of the peas, and it is rawther delightful!

Chilled -or hot- pea soup with mint is also very lovely, but this is one recipe where I would recommend using frozen peas, as shelling enough peas for a soup can be somewhat tedious. Even for a gung-ho pea nut. (tee hee hee!)

Fresh Pea Soup (chilled for warm days, or hot on chilly days)
for 4 as a starter or 2 as a main dish

2 cups (½L) water
1 big handful fresh mint leaves
4 cups (680g) peas (if using frozen, buy 'fancy' or small sized peas)
1 small onion
salt and pepper
1 cup (250mL) or more cream

-Bring water to the boil. Throw in the mint leaves, and boil until the mint turns bright green. Strain out the leaves, and KEEP THE WATER. Refresh the mint under cold running water, or in an ice bath.
-Chop the onion, and sauté in a bit of oil until translucent. Set aside.
-Bring the water back to the boil, throw in the peas and the cooked onion. Cook until peas are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
-If serving cold, strain out the peas and onion, keeping the cooking liquor, and cool down as quickly as possible: in a bowl on ice, on plate in the freezer. The liquor should be put on ice.
When everything is nice and chilled, whizz in a blender, adding enough liquor to obtain a smooth purée. Season, add cream until a nice shade of mint green.
-If serving hot, don't bother chilling the peas.
-You can either blend the mint straight into the soup, or you can do what most English chefs do: make a mint oil for garnish. Blend the blanched mint with a ½c (125mL) neutral oil (canola, corn, vegetable or a very mild olive) until you get a green oil. Drizzle on each portion of soup, and there you have it: a fancy bowl of soup!

Whether or not you decide to try out this soup, pleeeease, pleeeease, do not look unto a pea pod with disdain! It is a little hard work to shell a mound of peas, only to end up with a handful. But please, shell some peas, if only once per season. Shell some peas à deux, in a chatty crowd, or on your own. And you will start to enjoy it, you might even look forward to the next time. It is quite meditative. In London, I would sometimes shell a handful after work (at midnight) for a late night snack. I could feel my stresses lifting from my shoulders as I popped each pod to uncover the little green pearls. I look forward to my next encounter with these gems.

Bon app'!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

It's the season for yumminess!

I'm back from my vacation, and I'm raring to go! I don't want to bore you with a slide show of my holiday pics, so here is a mishmash of them instead!

Asparagus from South Jersey spotted at Union Square Market in NYC last week.

Fresh rhubarb from the Montérégie, south of Montreal

New potatoes in NYC.
By the way, though it might seem too early: it's new potato season! Break out those potato salads recipes 'cuz here they come!
While driving across the Gaspé peninsula, we passed a couple of truckloads, and they were huge!
Even the potatoes in my garden -which were off to a very late start- are growing quite steadily...

It seemed unbelievable at the time (last week, under gray New York skies), but strawberries are here! These ones to the right (with the charming smile)were grown in South Jersey and were being handed out free at Union Square -and were they ever tasty!

And these beauties to the left were bought this very afternoon in Saint-Paul d'Abbotsford, Quebec: the very first ones of the season!

Fresh Quebec asparagus... so succulent!

This picture does not do these Jersey radishes
any justice: they were the size of golf balls!!!!

A beautiful mound of roquette (arugula) at Union Square

A vat of lovely spinach, still in NYC.

Some dahlias (which are edible if unsprayed) and gerbera daisies.

These beasts come from Sainte-Flavie in Gaspésie.
Though in hindsight it seems obvious, my honey and I were pleasantly surprised to distinguish flavour differences depending on where the lobsters were caught.
Ste-Flavie, aka the entrance to the Gaspé region, is on the north shore of the peninsula, right at the beginning of the route.
Though the St-Lawrence River appears to be a sea at this point, it is still a river, and its waters are far less salty then further down towards the Gulf. And these lovely creatures, which we brought home to cook, were indeed not so much salty as sweet. Whereas the lobsters we had in the town of Gaspé further down the St-Lawrence River (actually, right in the Gulf of St-Lawrence) were quite salty, though still very delicious... It was a vacation full of discoveries!

And these here lovely ladies are goats from La Chevrière de Monnoir in Marieville, a charming goat farm in a beautiful region of southern Quebec. Contrary to what I claimed in my last post, unripened raw milk cheeses are legal in Quebec, and these goats produce some fine specimens. However, these ladies are not seasonal workers, and their unpasteurised cheeses are available for sale year round.

While I am conscious of the fact that road trips are not the most eco-friendly way to spend a holiday, it is by far the best way to discover a region and its foods!

Bon app'!

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