Thursday, September 29, 2011

Indian Summer


It feels like summer in London. The mercury is expected to reach 29°C (84°F) this week-end, just to make up for the absentee summer they’ve had over here. My sources say that Indian Summer is early in Eastern Canada as well, so there you go: just as we thought that it was all coming to an end, we get a pleasant surprise. Those late-ripening tomatoes can stay on the vines just a little bit longer.


Last night’s dinner was a simple affair. I am gradually discovering the beauty of a minimal kitchen. A good chef’s knife, a cutting board (to preserve your kitchen counters and your blade), a frying pan and a fork are all you need to whip up a lovely slaw and mushroom toast.


I put an emphasis on ‘good’ knife: if you do not already have one, you need to invest in as good a knife as you can afford. It’ll make chopping a breeze, and it won’t strain your wrist. Just remember that, despite having a sharp edge, knives from the store need to be properly sharpened before you start using them. Good knife sharpeners are becoming increasingly rare, so ask around to find one near yourself.

Although plastic cutting boards are cheap and readily available, I prefer wood or bamboo boards, as they are less damaging to blades and last practically a life time. Ideally, the board should be large enough to allow you to get a lot of prep work done, yet small enough to fit in your sink to wash. And yes, you can wash a wooden board; you can even give it a good scrub with a soapy brush. Just don’t let it soak in water.


I’m trying to stay away from non-stick cookware, but find it really difficult as they are everywhere. If you are also on the market for new cookware, try to avoid Teflon as it off-gasses at high temperatures. The fumes are highly toxic and persistent in the environment. If not buying non-stick isn't an option, be on the look-out for products that are free of PFOAs: several kitchenware companies are voluntarily phasing out these scary chemicals. If, on the other hand, you are attached to your non-stick ware, just be advised that they should never be used at high temperatures: that means no stir-fries (I am always puzzled when I see non-stick woks), and no char-grilling. High temperatures -anything higher than medium-high- trigger the off-gassing of PFOAs, and actually damage the non-stick finish.


With a good knife and a nice cutting board, you can julienne root vegetables, a red pepper, and a knob of ginger to add pizzazz to this beet slaw. The ginger was a last minute addition, and it takes the earthy slaw to a whole new level. Next time, I might try adding some candied ginger for extra zip and a touch of sweetness. A fork and a bowl will suffice to make the dressing. That same fork can be used to stir-fry slivers of garlic and a handful of mushrooms in some brown butter. Throw some sliced bread in the toaster (or in the frying pan), slather on some mustard, top with the mushrooms and a sprinkle of herbs.

Dinner.



Bon app’!



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Other Side

I'm almost settled in... The thing with modern overseas moves is that your stuff doesn't arrive at the same time as you. Gone are the days when your entire household could fit in the cargo hold of a steamer ship, and alight to port when you do.

So I am without my pots and pans, and most important for me and this blog, my ridiculously large collection of dishware. My Sweetheart's kitchen is quite spartan, so cooking is already quite an adventure in itself, but producing food for a blog might prove to be an endeavour beyond my capacities. In any case, it might give me a better idea of what a beginner must surmount to conquer the kitchen. I'm warily looking forward to the experience.


Bon app'! Whichever coast you are on.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Roasted

 

I haven't put up much of the summer harvest this year. It seemed a little futile given that I already had too much to pack as it was... But I cannot resist roasted cherry tomatoes, and the jar would be long gone by the time the cartons were shipped off and I was on my way to another continent. Worse comes to worst, I could have eaten them on the plane!


Roasted cherry tomatoes are a sublime method of preserving these little nuggets of summer. Vine-ripened cherry tomatoes are already bursting with flavour, but the roasting just concentrates them even further. A cross between fresh-picked and sun-dried, these tomatoes are sure to win over even had-core tomato haters (I know! Hard to believe such people exist, but my brother is one such creature.) Best of all, if the tomatoes are kept submerged in oil, they (technically) keep for a really long time.

Although any size tomato can be roasted, they should be dead-ripe and cut down to about the same size as a half cherry tomato.  It will shorten the time in the oven, allowing you to savour them all the more quickly. You can also add any flavouring you want. My personal favourites are thyme, oregano, cumin and garlic. I occasionally add basil when I am faced with a glut.


Roasting tomatoes is easy peasy, and the resulting food is so lovely it will turn even a simple meal into marvellous fare. There is no recipe here, just a few guidelines. Once the tomatoes are cut up, set them on a bed of whatever herbs and spices you choose, along with a generous amount of slivered cloves of garlic. Lay out the tomatoes so that the cut side is facing up; season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with a good amount of oil. Olive oil is packed with flavour, but regular vegetable oil will remain liquid in the refrigerator, so use half and half to get the best of both. Make sure that every thing other than the tomatoes are kept under oil to prevent any scorching. The pop in a warm oven (150°C/300°F) for about an hour.


When the tomatoes are wrinkly, but not crispy-dry, they are ready. Let them cool before putting them away in a jar. As long as the tomatoes are completely covered in oil, they should keep for about a month or more. Should you want to keep them for longer, you should add about a teaspoon of vinegar (the tastier, the better) to each 500mL/1 pint jar, before processing them for 15 minutes in a hot water bath. Or you can freeze them indefinitely.

Roasted tomatoes are lovely poured over hot pasta, roasted meats or pan-fried fish. You can also blitz them in a blender to make a pesto to spread on toast. When all the tomatoes have disappeared, you will likely have some flavoured oil left-over: this oil is scrumptious drizzled into a salad dressing or even used as a cooking oil.





Bon app'!



Monday, September 12, 2011

The Market's Come to Town

Congratulations to the fine folks of Fort Albany! As of this year, they now have a regular summer farmers' market. The market more or less resembles the CSA model found in the rest of Canada, where fresh produce is delivered from farms in Thunder Bay to a drop-off point in Fort Albany. The fresh produce is less expensive than the food available through the Government of Canada's Food Mail Program.

When one hears of the high cost of food in Canada's North, and of how difficult it is to provide healthy food for children, this market is great news. In fact, the people of Fort Albany have been working hard at becoming more self-reliant for food: the community set up a school nutrition program close to twenty years ago -way ahead of the Ontario government- providing a full breakfast and healthy snacks to elementary and high-school students. Last year, a community greenhouse was built, and this year, the people of Fort Albany planted their first seeds; they're even talking about setting up a community composting program to supply the greenhouse. 

Ideas for ensuring food security in this northern town are flourishing: food activists have mentioned work shops on poultry husbandry and gardening in northern climes, while local elders want to bring back traditions for self-reliance. It warms my heart to hear about people taking their food sovereignty into their hands, especially after reading about a resident in Whitehorse getting slapped with a fine for keeping chicken. Here's to hoping that the urban chicken flock keeps growing in Canada.



Bon app'!



Monday, September 5, 2011

A Peaceable Kingdom


Every gardener likes to believe that their garden is their own kingdom to do with as they wish. And, in many ways, it is. A gardener can plant just about any thing that suits his or her whim -as long as it is adapted to the garden's climate and conditions; any 'weed' or unliked plant is heartlessly dispatched, fought off, and generally not tolerated; insect pests and other pesky animals are combated by any means possible. In short, a gardener can be a despot in the garden.


There are, however, some gardeners who prefer to take a more 'Mother Earth' approach, nurturing the land that feeds them, accepting and welcoming any guest who wanders into the garden. Drastic measures to fight off destructive invasions are only used as last ditch solutions. While it is not my place to judge how everyone else chooses to maintain their garden, I do firmly believe that every creature and plant -no matter how disagreeable- has its place in the world.


We humans are not always very good at sharing our habitat. We will preen over our pets, but 'pests' are another story altogether. Nevertheless, if we think about it, those other creatures were here before us, and they've let us move in on their territory. They've learned to live amongst us, and have even adapted to living with us.


Take the urban raccoon and skunk for instance. The few studies conducted on these urban critters has found that they average longer lifespans and are generally sharper than their rural counterparts. Their roaming territory is much smaller than that of their country cousins, often delineated by large thorough fares. While they do indeed enjoy snarfling through our trash for food, their diet still comprises mainly of large insects and vegetation. In Montreal, where suburban lawns have been decimated by the white grub for the past decade, both the raccoon and the skunk are an effective (though messy) method of controlling the pest.


As for the groundhogs, the squirrels, the mice, and the voles, they too have their place in the urban landscape. Squirrels like to hoard away seeds and nuts, most of which they never find again; those very seeds and nuts go on to grow into plants and trees that rejuvenate urban forests and woods (what little of them is left.) Groundhogs, mice, and voles dig underground tunnels -that can, admittedly, cause some havoc in gardens; however, these tunnels often become the refuge of wild solitary bees, who build their nests there. The bees that emerge from there are the first pollinators to appear in the spring, buzzing about the earliest flowers.


Urban animals do make a nuisance of themselves at times: stealing the first, perfectly ripe cherry; taking one bite from the reddest tomato... Wouldn't you know it, they like tasty foods too! It's annoying, I know: I've pumped my fist anger more than once. If you are tempted to trap and to relocate your local pest, please don't. Most SPCAs and Humane Societies no longer advocate the relocation of urban critters. Especially not this late in the season. The displaced animal will be away from its community and its winter stores: you will basically abandon it to starvation and predators. Also, you open up space for other critters to move in, so you will be nowhere ahead.


The only way to control their population is to limit their access to food. Make sure your garbage and compost bins are tightly covered. If you have a garden, fence in or cover your crops; however, if the creature is wily enough to figure out your defences, admit defeat for now, and try a little harder next time!


I'm going to miss those creatures. In a few weeks, I will be moving across the pond. There will other animals, different plants to eat. The growing season is a little off, but longer. I'm not sure I will have a garden. I'm not even sure if I will have time to write. I hope I will. In any case, it's been a fun two year and a half.



Thank you.



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Good Haul


Back in May, I wrote about growing your own crop of potatoes. I had thought about posting regular updates on how my spuds were doing, but potatoes aren't particularly photogenic, so I put it off. Until now.


Granted, it's not a record-breaking harvest. Nevertheless, it's not a bad haul considering the parents were overly-tired supermarket buys. I'll definitely get a few meals out of these. Potatoes are an easy crop to grow, and could be a fun way to ease into the hobby. There are few requirements for success: rich, well-draining soil (I used half and half potting soil and compost); full sun (the larger potatoes were produced by the plants that got the most sun); and regular watering (the soil should remain as damp as a wrung-out sponge) is all you need to grow dinner.


Happy growing, and bon app'!



Saturday, September 3, 2011

Refresh


Growing up, watermelon slices were always served sprinkled with salt. It would enhance the melon's sweetness, and was utterly delicious. My current favourite way to eat watermelons is to sprinkle slices or chunks with chili salt. You can find jars of it in South American shops, but it's easy to make at home: just combine some finely crushed or powdered chile with salt, sprinkle away, and add a spritz of lemon or lime juice, if you want. You might even be able to get away with using chili powder.

The chili salt is also wonderful on tropical fruits such as pineapple and mangoes.


Have a nice Labour Day Week-End!



Bon app'!



Friday, September 2, 2011

Fast Food with a Conscience?



Jenna at Cold Antler Farm posted this little video... I don't normally promote brands or large corporations, but I like the spirit behind the marketing: If more fast food chains sourced their food sustainably, perhaps small farmers and ethically minded people will have a chance to survive in today's economy.



Bon app'!



Thursday, September 1, 2011

La Rentrée


C'est la rentrée. It's back to school/back to work time. The sun is making a glorious showing in the aftermath of Irene, but there is a definite chill in the air. Autumn is only a few weeks away... The trees don't seem to have noticed it, nevertheless, the lighting's quality has changed. It's sharper, crisper, one can almost hear the light slice through the air.


However, do not write off the bounties of summer just yet. The fields are still producing a lot of gorgeous food, that only need to be minimally prepped to keep you and yours tasting the sun in the coming months. A snippet of what to look for in September:


Fruits
Although we usually think of mid-summer as the most plenteous season, late summer/early autumn is actually when the offerings are truly copious. Not only are the fields and orchards reaching their apogee at this time of the year, later crops coming into fruition.
There are still lots of berries to be had well into September: Quebec strawberries are usually available until October, if the heavy frosts stay at bay, but the heat of August seems to have pushed other berries to keep producing -local raspberries, blueberries and currants are still available for a little while yet. Cranberries will also be showing up shortly.
Although the chilly weather is edging in, Quebec watermelons and cantaloupes are finally at their peak. I'm quite sure that the situation is similar across Canada and northern states in the U.S.
Peaches, plums, pluots and apricots are still going strong both from British Columbia and Ontario; Quebec plums have also arrived at the markets.
And one mustn't forget the apples and the pears: the cool nights bring crunch to apples, and fall varieties are trickling in.


Artichokes
Northern chokes are in! They look particularly lovely this year, really big and meaty.



Cabbages, Cauliflowers and Co.
Every member of the cabbage family has proven to be powerhouses of nutrition. They are available in all shapes and sizes -and colours! Look at those fluorescent-hued cauliflowers!- and there is most certainly one that will suits your taste. Kale is especially lovely at this time of the year, as the cooler weather seems to sweeten the tough greens.



Tomatoes and Family
Tomatoes need no introduction, but many are unaware that their extended family is enormous. Members include peppers (hot and mild); eggplants; potatoes; ground cherries and tomatillos; and a few that are not edible.


Corn
North Americans love their sweet corn, and with reason! There is no pleasure like that of biting into a piping hot ear of boiled or grilled corn. While we often think of July and August as the time for eating fresh corn, September is actually when it's at its best. Especially if you are a fan of old school yellow corn; while it does show up in August, yellow corn requires a longer growing season than the more modern, sugar enhanced Peaches n' Cream and white corns, so it is at its most abundant in September. It is a touch less sweet than newer corn varieties, but it still scrumptious.


Squashes
Patty pans, zucchinis, yellow squashes and cucumbers still dominate market shelves, but their winter counterparts are now squeezing in for some room. Delicata and spaghetti squashes were the first to show up, however, butternut, butter cups and acorns have been spotted, along with green hubbards.


Beans
Pod beans for pickling and shelling beans for salads... Beans are good for you!


Wild Treats
If you're into foraging, you will probably have noticed that the timing was a little off this year. Quebec chanterelles are only just coming to their peak (they usually appear in July!), while other, later varieties have also begun popping up!


Elderberries usually peak in August, but they are only just beginning to ripen, so if you like making jam, you should try to seek them out.

Root Vegetables
The list is long: onions; garlic; carrots; leeks; beets; rutabagas; turnips; parsnips; Jerusalem artichokes; potatoes... I've forgotten a few, but these old standbys will keep you going until the spring. They may seem ho-hum compared to fluorescent purple cauliflower, but they should not be snubbed. Try them roasted, mashed (the link goes to a post on potatoes, but any root can be mashed), or in a soup.



Bon app'!




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