Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Give a Little Love

The holidays are always a good excuse for baking, and it's one of many things that make this time of the year so enjoyable. Honestly, given the choice, which would you prefer: a three-hour marathon session of crowd-fighting at the mall/on the high street, or three hours of baking on your own, or with your kids (or your neighbours'/friends') and loved ones? I would definitely go the for the latter. The shopping just knocks me out and renders me useless for the rest of the week-end, whereas the baking leaves me wanting more! Although I am a little short on time this year, my holiday baking usually stretches over days, and what better way to wile away the time when the rambunctious nieces and nephew descend upon you?

Personal favourites at this time of the year are gingerbread cookies and fruit cakes. I know that fruit cakes have a bad rap, but, oh my! given the right recipe, these cakes are to die for! Seeing as I won't be baking any fruit cakes this year, I will save that recipe for another time. As for my preferred gingerbread cookie recipe, I've been using Martha Stewart's for nearly twenty years, and it's a good thing. This year I'll be veering away from tradition, and baking a few chocolate cakes...

Although I've already mentioned my dislike of chocolate, I realise that I am more the exception than the rule. Most of my friends are fans, and so why deny them the pleasure? The following recipe will have many a choco-holic falling head over heels for it, and it might even knock the socks off of a fervent choco-phobic!

I have to admit that I have a soft spot for this chocolate cake: this recipe is the first one I ever created myself from scratch. Back when I was teaching in Japan, a close friend of mine requested a chocolate cake. I obviously didn't have a recipe with me, so I had to concoct one by mixing and matching all the cake recipes I had with me. There were a few trials and errors, and it was quite an adventure: the first few times I made this tort, I used a stove-top oven, an object very much like a cooking implement one might bring on a camping trip! It has since been modified to be completely gluten-free, and it all the better for it.

Kids will most likely enjoy the chocolatey-ness, but there is something very grown-up about this tort. Use the best quality chocolate you can find, with a percentage between 56 and 75, depending on how much of a chocolate hit you want. 

Gâteau au Chocolat
Serves 6 to 8

250g/ 8.75oz  chocolate
112g/ ¼lb butter
100g/ 3/8 cup sugar
4 large eggs
icing sugar for dusting

Pre-heat oven to 175°C/ 345°F.
Butter and line with baking parchment a 15cm/6" mould. Set aside.
Over a hot water bath, melt the butter and the chocolate.
Beat sugar and eggs until pale yellow and frothy.
Slowly pour melted chocolate into egg mix, all the while whisking vigorously.
Pour batter into the buttered and lined mould.
Bake for about 45minutes.
Set aside until cool enough to chill in the refrigerator.

Dust with icing sugar, and serve fridge cold with a dollop of sour cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a drizzle of brandied custard. If icing sugar is too plain for your liking, top the tort with some caramel popcorn! That'll get it in the festive mood! To obtain pristine slices, use a sharp knife dipped in scalding-hot water and wiped clean between each slice. Although a 15cm/ 6" cake normally serves 4 to 6 portions, this tort is so dense, it will easily satisfy 8 people, or more.

Indulge yourself.

Bon app'!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Weather Outside is Frightful...


November is all a blur and whirlwind. While Americans were getting ready for Thanksgiving, and Canadians were gearing up for the Grey Cup, London was in the throws of Christmas. Yes, you heard right: I, myself, always thought the winter holiday was the preserve of December, but Britons start decking the halls in October, and restaurants all across the country hunker down for the assault of Christmas parties.

Hence the radio silence. Nevertheless, all is not lost; what is at its best in November is still around in December, and there is much to enjoy, despite the rain, snow and sleet.

Cabbage and Co.
The tender, flying saucer-like cabbages of summer are long gone, but the winter keepers are really the more versatile vegetables. Cabbage has always stuck around the winter scenery, pale, bland and not without its after-effects... However, cabbage is well deserving of a make-over, because it is a super healthy green with lots of cancer-fighting potential. For extra oomph in your plate, you can go for purple cabbage, but it is not a great keeper, so isn't always available throughout the winter. For real colour and pizzazz well into February, choose savoy cabbages and kale. Both have gorgeously dark green outer leaves that keep their colour and flavour even after a long and slow braise.

Root Vegetables
I consider the humble root the unsung hero of the winter table. We often relegate them to the rank of second fiddle, but they are the backbone of so many heart-warming comfort dishes: turnips, carrots, and daikon are indispensable in a hot pot, whether you serve it with meat or just stick to vegetables. Mashed potatoes are a favourite side dish, but if you look at what is happening in the catering world, chefs all around the world are mashing more than just spuds: celeriac, rutabaga/swedes, and parsnips are current stars on all the best tables.

And we mustn't forget about beets! Their iron content is vital to keep yourself energised during the dreary months, and the colour can only brighten your day.

Even though out of season imported fruits and vegetables were very much a reality when I was growing up, the sight of massive cardboard boxes of Sunkist navel oranges and wooden crates of clementines from Morocco still conjure up the spirit of Christmas for me. Soon, we will be seeing blood oranges, Meyer lemons and key limes.

Mulled Wine
The first chill in November brought back memories of hot mugs of wine, but it still seemed a little too early to be breaking out the bottles of red and the mulling spices... Well, I guess I was wrong: my friends posted pictures of Montreal snowcapes, and all that comes to mind is the pleasure of walking in to the warm wafts of spiced wine after a vigorous session of snow-shovelling.

Traditional mulling spices are cinnamon (use sticks, not powder), star anise, clove, nutmeg or mace, and some citrus zest, but anything goes really. Any wine will do, though I would avoid an overly tannic red or a flat white. Add sugar to taste, and bring up to a gentle simmer.

If wine is not to your liking, you can always mull beer -a stout or a lager seem most appropriate- cider or even sake. To be enjoyed while curled up on the couch, preferable near a roaring fire.

Bon app'!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thanks Giving

Being in the UK, some of the North American 'high holidays' such as Thanksgiving tend to slip my mind in the hustle and bustle. While most shops in London already have their Christmas displays up (!!!), Canadians will be recovering from last week's feast, and are probably gearing up for Halloween. American Thanksgiving is still to come, so if you are expecting guests who do not eat turkey and stuffing, the following might be an option worth considering.

And what better way to celebrate the year's harvest by roasting some squash, and eating them in a heart-warming risotto. Squashes cook relatively quickly, so while roasting is not absolutely necessary, it concentrates the sugars and add interest to the flavour, especially if you are using pumpkins. Although, you can cook raw chunks of squash with the onion, please do not use canned pumpkin for this recipe, the flavour and colour will not suit the risotto.

Roasted Squash Risotto
Serves 2

1 baby pumpkin, or acorn squash
3-5 sage leaves
a few sprigs of thyme
1 branch rosemary
1 large garlic clove
200g risotto rice (or follow the package for portion size)
1 small onion
almonds or pumpkin seeds
salt and pepper
Olive oil
3 Tbs butter
Parmesan, pecorino, or any other hard cheese, optional

Quarter the squash, remove seeds, and peel. Cut each quarter into three to four wedges.
Place the wedges in a baking dish with the garlic clove, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and strew with the herbs, reserving 2 sage leaves for later.
Turn oven on to 180°C/350°F, and bake the squash wedges for about 30-45 minutes, or until the vegetable are just barely fork tender.
Toast the almonds or pumpkin seeds in the oven, if there is enough room, but keep a close eye on them, as they can burn quickly. When golden brown, remove from the oven ,and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, finely chop the onion, and fry in the butter over medium heat.
Cut the remaining sage leaves into thin slivers, add to the onion, and season.
When the onions are translucent, add the rice to the pot, and stir until well coated with the butter.
Add water, one glassful at a time, stirring vigorously. Allow the rice to absorb most of the water before adding more.
Bite into a grain of rice from time to time: it is nearly ready when the grain is soft on the outside with a chalky centre.
Stir the roasted squash into the rice; it will break up into small chunk, even dissolving into the stock. If you want to keep morsels to bite into, set aside a few wedges to use as garnish.
Continue adding water by the half glassful, stirring until the rice is cooked to your liking.
Adjust seasoning.
Serve by sprinkling with the toasted nuts and a grating of cheese.

Bon app'!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Today is World Food Day...

For the big picture on the effects of industrial agriculture follow the link to the Worldwatch Institute's blog.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Just to show how horrible a summer it was in the UK: these are the first ripe tomatoes from my plants. In October! 

Just as I am beginning to put away the balcony garden...

Happy gardening and bon app'!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Few of my Favourite Things

Fall Colours
For a real autumn show, one has to go outside of London, but when one does get a glimpse of bright colours, it is pure joy! (The above was taken in Montreal, four years ago.)

Pumpkins and Squashes
Nothing says autumn more than displays of pumpkins and winter squashes. Thanksgiving, Halloween, pumpkin pie, roasted acorn squash...

Cabbages and Kales
Leafy greens are the epitome of healthful eating: chock full of vitamins and minerals, cabbages of all kinds will provide you with a buffer from cold and flu season. The outer leaves of cabbages are often discarded, however, if they are free of blemishes and diseases, they can be eaten just like kale.

Root Vegetables
Nothing like the stick-to-your-ribs goodness of hearty root vegetables to stave off the chill. Perfect in soups, stews, and on their own. All matter of roots are both heart-warming and filling.

Warm sweaters and Knitting
Conjures images of grandma's warm embrace and cuddly soft kittens. Need I say more?

Bon app'!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hanging on to Summer

It's official: Autumn is here. For those of you lucky enough to have had an actual summer, the cool, wet weather of Fall might be a welcome respite from the heat, but on this side of the Atlantic, it's just more of the same... Summer never really made it to our shores, and Autumn just made himself at home. Luckily, food is always a good medium for a vicarious experience, and nothing says summer more than tomatoes, eggplants, and zucchini.

If you like ratatouille, than you will enjoy the following recipe for caponata. Generally thought of as a Sicilian eggplant stew, it can easily be mistaken for an Italian version of ratatouille (just don't say that to a Sicilan!), but there are just enough differences to convince you to try out this recipe. While I am sure there are as many versions of caponata as there are Sicilian grandmothers, I like to think of caponata as the zippy cousin of ratatouille. I also like to under-cook a lot of its components for added texture and crunch.

Serves 4 as a generous side dish, or 2-3 as a vegetarian main dish

2 large or 3 medium eggplants
1 red pepper
1 yellow or orange pepper
2 zucchini
1 clove garlic
1 medium onion, red or white
1 medium carrot, peeled
2 sticks of celery
1 generous handful of cherry tomatoes
90g/ ¼ cup pine nuts, or pumpkin seeds (or a combination of both)
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to taste
125ml/ ½cup red wine vinegar
180ml/ 6Tbs tomato paste
125ml/ ½cup olive oil
sugar, optional

Top the eggplants, and chop into 2cm/1" cubes, set aside.
Finely dice the onion, and set aside.
Over medium heat, warm the olive oil in a large saucepan.
Gently fry the nuts in the oil until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside on some paper towels.
Turn the heat up to medium high, and throw in the eggplants. Toss them every now and then so that every cube gets toasty brown.
Add the onion, a crushed clove of garlic, the bay leaves and the thyme.
Meanwhile, finely dice the carrot and the celery. Add to the pot when the onions are translucent and the eggplants have collapsed.
Chop the peppers into large-ish chunks, add to the other vegetables, and let them cook for about 5minutes.
Add the tomato paste and about half the vinegar. Let simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Chop the zucchini into chunks, and cut in half the cherry tomatoes. Add to the pot, and let simmer until just warmed through.
Adjust the seasoning: the stew should be salty-sweet with a noticeable tartness. You may need to add some sugar to enhance the sweetness. 
Stir in the nuts.
Let it cool down before serving.

Caponata is traditionally served lukewarm or even at room temperature, as a side dish, but can also be the star of the meal if you serve it alongside some crusty bread. It is also a lovely accompaniment for a tartine of goat cheese. It will keep for several days in the refrigerator, just leave it out for an hour before serving. Although you can probably freeze or can caponata, you will lose the crunch, so I would advise against any long-term preservation.

Bon app'!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Last Hurrah

Although I haven't been giving my garden the attention it deserves, it has continued to grow with wild abandon. The lettuces are now all passed their prime, the coriander has gone to seed -which is not a bad thing, as green coriander is in a flavour register of its own. Whatever strawberries that persist on appearing on the plants get snatched up by a wile squirrel, and a few herbs have decided to depart from this world. 

Yet, the runner beans are finally setting pods after having set flowers over a month ago.

The tomatoes are doing well, though I have momentary doubts that they will actually ripen before the arrival of frost... Ah well, if I end up with a harvest of green tomatoes, I can always churn out a batch of green tomato ketchup.In any case, for those of you who do have a few ripe tomatoes on hand, whether from the shop or the garden, this tart could be a quick and simple meal to enjoy tonight.

The harvest tart is a bit of a fridge cleaner-outer; it is also a very handy recipe for those who are perplexed by their CSA baskets. The following is more a guideline than a recipe, so here are a few pictures to inspire you.

Start with a sheet of puff pastry. Prick it all over with a fork to prevent the pastry from puffing up too much in the oven, leaving a little border. Layer sliced tomatoes, olives and thin slivers of onions. Season with salt and pepper, then pop in a hot oven (200°C/450°F) until the edges of the pastry are puffed up and golden, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make a quick salad with whatever you happen to have on hand. Thin ribbons of zucchini can be made with a vegetable peeler; sugar snap peas and runner beans can be sliced on the diagonal; green onions are a zippy addition. If you can get a hold of fresh corn on the cob, just cut them off the cob, and add to the salad. Kohlrabi can add lots of crunch and colour, and fennel is a boost of flavour. For extra colour, toss in a few more tomatoes and olives. Add a few torn leaves of basil and roquette, season with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Pile the colourful vegetables on top of the hot tart. Pop back into the oven for another five or six minutes, just to wilt the tougher greens a little and warm them through.

You can serve the tarts straight from the oven , or top with torn shreds of mozzarella, or any other cheese -a creamy goat's cheese would be lovely. As a starter on its own, or a main with a side salad.

Bon app'!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Nippy Nights and Autumn's Approach

It kind of creeps up on you, sneaking in from behind, startling you when you least want it to. The signs are blatantly obvious, but you don't want to acknowledge them. Fall, with all its implications, is just around the corner. You will still insist on wearing your shortest shorts and barest top at the mere hint of warmth, but as soon as the Sun hides behind a cloud or the rooftops, out comes the sweater and jeans. The light definitely slants at a different angle, its heat still intense, yet less enduring. A jacket is now de rigueur when leaving for work in the morning. Windows are shut at night, because the brisk air is no longer refreshing, but downright chilly. September harbours the beginning of the end...

Yet, not all is doom and gloom at this time of the year. There will still be a few days just hot enough for a last hurrah at the beach. And with September arrives a bounty of foods that are just perfect for staving off the cold. While you may be squirrelling away hoards of tomatoes, peppers and other remnants of summer, the hearty roots and squashes are a welcoming sight. The cool nights give apples a crispness that cannot be equalled in August. And if you happen to reside near wine country, September is when the bulk of the harvest happens: drive along a 'wine route' with the windows down, and the air will be heavily laden with the scent of ripe grapes and fermentation. 
Just picture a sunny picnic in an orchard or vineyard: left-over roasted roots, a stuffed squash, a bushel of apples and a bottle of wine... What more can you want?
Bon app'!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

East of Eden

I've been swamped... by life, work, and the garden! I turned my back, and before I knew it, the tomatoes and potatoes had taken over the tiny balcony. (Yes, that jumble of greenery is composed of tomatoes, potatoes, and a few runner beans are keeping the whole lot from toppling over!)

The flowers are spilling out of their planter.

There has been little by way of actual harvest -aside the weekly salads- but I remain hopeful that the tiny tomatoes will grow big and ripe...

Bon app' and happy gardening!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Slow Burn

There's something about the month of August that feels like absolute indulgence. It might be because autumn is just around the corner -some trees have already begun to wear fall colours- and the mad dash to enjoy every last bit of warmth before the permanent chill settles in takes the form of unbridled hedonism... Or it might just be the fact that just about every food one has been craving the rest of the year is available in abundance right now. Who knows, but I tend towards the latter.

And nothing feels more luxurious than biting into a ripe tomato still warm from the sun. My own tomatoes are really late this year, and I have momentary doubts that the tiny green buds will actually swell up into anything substantial, but I remain hopeful.

While I will always remain partial to eating dead-ripe tomato in its simplest state, I will occasionally tweak with it ever so slightly. Just to enhance its gorgeous flavours. One thing I like to do when the weather permits is to roast cherry tomatoes. A long, slow roast is simply delicious, but a quick, searing roast can be rather interesting: the charred skin brings notes of smokiness, and a bitter tang to counter the sometime excessive sweetness of really ripe fruits. The technique is often used on tomatoes destined for the salsa bowl, and is also effective for tomatillos.

Any tomato can be roasted, though cherry tomatoes still attached to the vine can double as dramatic flourish on a plate. However, I do find it a tad sad when a bunch of out of season roasted tomatoes are used as a mere garnish to a grilled piece of fish or meat: only the sweetest, in-season tomato should be roasted, then, and only then, do they fully deserve centre stage on the plate. And what better way to play them up in a revised Italian classic: the Caprese salad.

Everyone knows the paring of tomato and mozzarella: a sprinkle of torn basil leaves, a splash of olive oil,  it's now old hat to most, and has been more than overdone in many restaurants. To revive this tired classic, roast cherry tomatoes on the vine in a blistering hot oven, in a dry pan over high heat, or over hot coals on the barbecue. Once you get some good char marks, turn down the heat, and let the tomatoes soften a little in the heat.

Serve still warm or at room temperature draped over the best fresh mozzarella or bocconcini you can find, drizzled with some olive oil, a pinch of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Purist will say that balsamic vinegar should never touch this salad, but I am not a purist... A few drops of balsamic vinegar or glaze will accentuate the caramel notes of the charred tomatoes, and that can only be a good thing. If you can manage to find some, try this revisited Caprese with some Burrata: this Pugliese specialty is basically a ball of fresh mozzarella filled with cream. The flavour is even milder than regular mozzarella, and virtually screams 'fresh milk'. Sprinkle with a few basil leaves (or better yet, basil flowers) if you have them, and indulge!

If you are not too keen on the idea of stuffing yourself silly with cheese, the roasted tomatoes would also be lovely in this niçoise salad

Bon app'!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Urban Honey

There is a man who keeps hives in and around London. It's nothing new, and he isn't the only one doing it. However, he's been keeping bees for ten years, and the honey they produce is lovely. The comb pictured above was produced less than a kilometre from where I live. Right smack in East London.

The London Honey Company has a shop at the Maltby Street Market, an up-and-coming offshoot of Borough Market. It's a bit of a trek (and an adventure, as the market isn't a properly defined agglomeration of stands) for honey, but it is well worth the trip.

Wherever you may live, local beekeepers are an integral part of the food chain, since their bees help to perpetuate local crops. Once you start tasting small batch honeys, you may never go back to the plastic bear filled with anonymous honey ever again (which, in some cases, isn't always real honey.)

Honey is very much a live product, like raw milk cheeses: its flavour depends on the seasons, and on what the bees ingest. The difference between buckwheat and clover is striking, not only taste-wise but visually also. Buckwheat honey is almost as black as tar, its flavour robust, almost bitter. In areas where chestnut trees thrive, the honey is also dark and bitter, which lends itself well to savoury foods such as game meats.The paler the honey, the more mild the flavour, and the range can be incredible: pine honey tastes very much like a Christmas tree; lavender or thyme honeys have a strong herbal accent, yet are floral and well suited to fruits and desserts.

Bees, whether wild or domesticated, are severely endangered by modern agriculture. By buying local honey, you not only help farmers and their crops, you are also encouraging practices that preserve the bees' habitats.Urban centres are increasingly believed to be havens for bees because of the diversity of flowering plants to be found there, whereas the agro-industry has turned the countryside into a virtual dessert.

A delectable, small-scale honey is a treat in its own right. To be enjoyed in the simplest way.

Bon app'!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Busy as a Bee

Sometimes I wish I could take holiday-time just to catch up on all the things I have on hold. Like going to the park to forage for wild herbs and fruits. Like actually cooking, and taking pictures. Just to have a proper post.

But I really need the holiday time for time-out.

Maybe, just maybe, it's time to check out for a bit and move on?

For a homebody, I am overly itchy for a move. Or maybe just a good session of hoeing in a garden.

Happy August

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Little Things

August. It's that time of the year again. When you start getting the feeling that Summer, though it seemed endless up until now, is heading towards its finale. You suddenly notice that the days are getting shorter; that the sunlight has taken a different slant; that the evenings are edged with a definite chill; that time is slipping by.

Summer has only just begun in London. Just in time for the big show. And yet... Gardens are groaning under the weight of heavy harvests, a clear sign that Nature is readying herself for the end. Farmers' markets are a boon at this time of the year. Not only are the produce at their freshest, they can be had dirt cheap, and in industrial quantities. Although I usually frown upon the mass-purchase of perishables, August is the ideal time to be squirrelling away food for the winter months.

Ah yes, winter: who wants to be thinking about cold and chill, when the sun is shining, and the weather is pleasant? No one, I'm sure, yet this month is perfect for a little forethought. If you have access to a real farmers' market, then now is the time to get the canning jars out, and to make room in the freezer. Bushels of sun-ripened tomatoes can be turned into jars of tomato sauce, or can be dispatched straight into deep freeze; peppers can be roasted on the barbecue, and preserved in oil or in freezer bags; the ripest berries can be turned into jam perfect for gift-giving or frozen for smoothies and desserts later in the year...

What isn't in season in August? A few tropical fruits might be harder to find, but just about everything grown in the Northern hemisphere is at its peak in August, and one would be hard pressed not to find local produce during this month.

August is also excellent for foragers, as everything under the sun that is edible seems to pop up at this time of the year. There are wild plums, blackberries and crab apples to be picked -if you can wrest them away from the squirrels and the birds; nuts are beginning to ripen; wild mushrooms are pushing their way out of the ground; and so much more.

If you are more into picking foods off of shelves and stalls, there are cultivated plums to be had, as well as blueberries, summer apples, and cranberries. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are flourishing: farmers' markets will have a glut of the so-called Mediterranean vegetables, but the real star in August must be corn on the cob. Europeans do not really understand North American's infatuation with this vegetable-grain. While sweetcorn on the cob is available almost all year long in British supermarkets, unshucked ears of corn are only ever available from late-July to mid-September in North America. 

It's funny how North Americans have so wholeheartedly embraced the rock-hard, travel-weary, imported from across the globe, yet available at any time of the year supermarket tomato, but hold fast to in-season only corn on the cob. Despite corn and its by-products being so ubiquitous these days, fresh corn has very little to do with mass-produced foods. Taste-wise. As sweet ans mouth-watering corn on the cob can be, it tastes nothing like high-fructose corn syrup. Day-old corn tends to get a little starchy, but ask any corn-lover, and they will flat out tell you that cornstarch and xanthan gum are completely different beasts from an ear of corn.

Corn on the cob is a real treat when shucked, boiled and smothered in butter, but it is divine grilled on the barbecue and topped with sour cream, chile flakes and lime juice like they do in Mexico.

Bon app'!

Monday, July 23, 2012

How Fragile We Are

Having moved across the pond, I forget how treacherous Spring can be in North-America. While I basked in what felt like the mildest, longest, drawn-out Spring I had in a while, I vaguely registered when my Mum mentioned the sudden April chill in Canada. Only now, in July, has the full implication of those words hit me: frost in Spring can spell disastrous harvests in July

When in Montreal, peaches and apricots from Ontario are some of the many wonderful things I anticipate in July. While there are pockets in Quebec where peach and apricot trees can thrive, Ontario has a climate more conducive to the commercial production of large stone fruits. Those luscious fruits were always a high point of summer. Even more than strawberries and raspberries. I remember days at the cottage when I would gorge on peaches, nothing but peaches, and feel replenished. 

However, as Nature is often wont to show, things don't always happen as expected. This year's harvest is small. Which makes it all the more precious. If you do get your hands on a basket of peaches, I hope you get to enjoy those first bites while basking in the sun.

If you can bear the thought of doing anything other than sit outside, in a bathing suit, while peach juice dribbles down your chin, try grilling them on the barbecue, or caramelising halves in a pan with a bit of butter. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and you've got an easy, yet pretty dessert.

If you are vying for something with a bit more wow factor, grate a bit of nutmeg on top, or better yet, find some Tonka and grate that over the grilled peach and vanilla ice cream. Tonka beans were once used as a substitute for vanilla in industrial food productions, but it is a gorgeous spice in its own rights. It has vanilla-y notes, with hints of bitter almonds and nuts. It is perfect with peaches and other stone fruits.

Bon app'!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Isn't She a Thing of Beauty?

Now, if only the sun can come out long enough for its bottom to ripen...

Bon app'!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July and Fireflies

Since moving to the UK, I've been listening religiously to podcasts of some of my favourite CBC Radio shows. I am saddened to learn that one of the best radio documentary shows in the world, Dispatches, has been cancelled due to funding cuts. But I won't go into a rant about how out of touch the current Canadian government is, what with its no show at Rio +20, its omnibus bills, and irrational budgets cuts... I actually wanted to mention a mini-debate that took place on one of my absolute favourite radio shows, Q, on the locavore movement.

My stance on the debate is clear: local whenever possible, and always in season. Why would anyone want to eat a plastic strawberry in January, when they are so wonderfully delicious from June to October in Canada, and are the essence of summer itself? 

I've got it on good authority that the warm weather in Eastern Canada and the American North-East has pushed many produce ahead in season; meanwhile, over here in the UK, things have been severely delayed by the wet, chilly spring, so I may be totally off on what to look for in July. However, you are sure to find the following sometime during the month, if they aren't already at the market.

And how! My strawberry plants have been handing them out by the nibbleful since late-May, and they are still producing berries. The strawberry season is well advanced back home, with mid-season varieties already in production. All I can say is 'Break out the berries and cream, all you tennis fans!' 

While there is no denying that strawberries smothered in whipped cream (with a drizzle of elderflower cordial), or simply drowned in heavy (or light) cream is irresistible, I have a weakness for strawberries crushed in evaporated milk. Yes, the milk in a can that is the weirdest shade of beige and tastes overly boiled. It's a nostalgia thing (and it turns out that it is also a Japanese thing): my mother would always bring a bowl of strawberries to the table, along with the sugar bowl and a tin of evaporated milk. The strawberries get crushed with a spoon, the milk is poured over them, followed by a generous spoonful of sugar. If you ate them quickly enough, you'd get the crunch of sugar crystals and the crack of the seeds resounding in your head!

Come July, most of us may begin to tire of rhubarb... Nah, I know that's not possible: however, we've probably gorged ourselves silly with strawberries by now, and will feel a little less guilty about cooking them, which is perfect since the hot sticky weather in July produces berries that do not keep as well as those that come up in June or in the later months. So you are more likely to score a good deal on a carton of strawberries, which would be scrumptious in a rhubarb and strawberry jam, cobbler, crumble, tart...

Raspberries, and Other Fruity Delights
July is all about fruits: raspberries are just in time to relieve you of the berry fatigue caused by strawberry overload. But peaches, nectarines, and Bing cherries are also close behind. If the weather is really sticky and sweltering, stick a bowl of raspberries and cherries in the freezer for a half hour. The fruits will just barely be icy, but they will be the best frozen treat ever.

Peas and Beans
There's no denying I love peas, and while I was in Montreal I longed to be back in England where the pea season goes on practically forever. Well the jokes on me, because this spring has been overly wet and cool, so the British peas are only just coming to market. Meanwhile, over in North America, the peas have been coming into being up and down the Atlantic Coast since early May. The peas grown in Quebec and Ontario are often of a variety that can withstand soaring temperatures, neverteheless, their appearance at market is fleeting, so do pounce if you see them.

Beans, unlike peas, just adore the heat. They will only sprout if the sun has sufficiently warmed the soil, and their flowers only appear when the calendar has turned to true summer. They are at their finest when the weather is warm and sunny, with a regular sprinkling of rain, which describes summer in North America to a T.

New Season Garlic
I love new garlic.While you may still be able to get your hands on garlic scapes, July is really all about new garlic -which, for some unfathomable reason, is called by the most unappealing name of 'wet garlic' in the UK. New garlic is great raw in salads, or just barely cooked. Scrape it over crunchy toasts for a hint of garlic, or eat it by the truckloads, as it is so mild no one will be bothered by your garlic breath.

It still a little too early for corn on the cob. However, if the heat persists, ears of corn will be descending on farmers markets and roadside stand by the end of the month. For a really decadent treat, barbecue the corn, then slather with some sour cream, chopped garlic, cilantro (coriander), a bit of chilli and a spritz of lime.

Bon app'!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fabulous Favas

It's summer! Though you wouldn't know it if you lived in London. My brief saunter down to the flower market this morning began and ended in sunshine, but was interrupted by a massive downpour in the middle. Luckily I had an umbrella with me, as the sky seemed ominous when I left, but I wish I had the sense to wear my wellies...

Anyway, the calendar says it's summer, even if the skies are uncooperative and the mercury has trouble staying above 20°C/ 70°F. And fava beans are one of the many vegetables that screams summer. Also known as broad beans, or fèves, fava beans sometimes get a bad reputation because of the mealy texture of the frozen stuff. However, if you buy fresh beans, they are anything but floury. Fresh favas are close in texture to baby peas, but with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel, a little like fresh almonds.

Broad beans do have chewy inner skins: if you think peas are a hassle to shuck, wait til you try your hand at those massive beans that come to market in the summer! The British and North-Africans often eat the beans unpeeled, but I think you can can only get away with unpeeled beans if they are very young: anything under penny-size might be tender enough to eat skin and all, but when they reach quarter-size (10p), broad beans should be peeled, lest you want to develop a fervent hatred for them. Broad beans need to be shucked before cooking, but should be left in their jackets. Fresh favas are easily overcooked, so keeping them unpeeled will make it easier for you to fish them out of the pot. The tender green flesh can be revealed once they have cooled enough to handle.

Now the fun can begin... The peeled beans can be added to a pot of rice in its last twenty minutes of cooking to make a fava bean version of rice and peas, or you can smash them into a purée to slather over toasts like you would with hummus. The recipe for one may seem like an incredible amount of favas, but you mustn't forget that at least half the weight of the beans will be the pod itself. While you can substitutes any fresh bean or peas for the favas, I wouldn't use frozen broad beans unless they were of a really high quality (you wouldn't want to eat a floury purée).

Smashed Beans on Toast
Serves 1

500g/ ½ lb broad beans, more or less 250g/ ¼ lb beans
1 sprig of mint
chives, garlic scapes, or 1 small clove of garlic
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 lemon
slices of toasted bread

Shuck the beans, and set aside.
Bring a pot of water to the boil. (I usually keep the cooking water for my plants, so I never salt it, however, you can add salt if you want.)
Add the beans to the boiling water, and cook for a minute or two.
Drain the beans, and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, finely chop the mint, chives or garlic scapes; if you are using a garlic clove, grate it to avoid biting into a chunk of it, or simply scrape it across the toast's surface
Peel the cooled beans, and collect in a deep bowl.
Mash with a fork to obtain a rough purée.
Season with salt and pepper, add enough olive oil to loosen the mix, and fold in the mint and chives or garlic scapes.
Pile onto the awaiting toasts, and grate a lemon's zest overtop.
Dig in.

If you somehow end up with too little bean purée, you can stretch out the mix with a soft cheese, such as ricotta, cream cheese, quark or a fresh goat's cheese. Garlic scapes would be magical with fava beans or peas, but I haven't seen any in London; the farmers' markets across North America should have piles of them right about now. Alternatively, if you leave the garlic out, the beans can be served up as baby food.

Bon app'!

Ravishing Radishes

I do find them oh so cute. As a button. Those radishes. They look especially fancy when they sport lovely red gowns, with their white petticoats peaking through. And those green plumes at the top! French Breakfast radishes are definitely adorable, but they can be a little difficult to find, even at the farmers' market. They don't taste any different from other radishes, but their seeds tend to be more expensive, so I think growers prefer the regular, round varieties. In any case, a radish is a good thing to have in the fridge.

Or in the garden: radishes take well to container growing, and are easy to grow, even for the brown thumbed. You should let them grow to almost ping-pong ball size, but I couldn't wait. The lure of the swelling roots was too strong, and I just had to pull up a few for my home-grown salad. Also, I belatedly realised that the window box that houses the salad bar only just provides enough green stuff for two, once a week. So regular harvesting of radishes is necessary to clear up space for new seedlings, if I want a regular supply of salads.

The great thing about growing your own radishes, or buying fresh from the market, is that the greens are plump and healthy, not dried out and wilted, or worse, rotting. The greens should be eaten as soon as possible, preferably cut off the roots as soon as they enter the kitchen. Washed and spun dry, they will keep for a few days in the fridge, whilst the roots can easily keep for a week. Of course, the whole point of growing your own is to eat freshly harvested...

I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: radishes, roots and all, can be eaten cooked or raw. The greens are lovely in a mixed salad, but some might find the a wee bit too prickly for eating raw, in which case the leaves can be cooked like spinach. The roots become really mild when cooked, so if you happen to have a particularly spicy bunch, cooking will tame those fires. But this early in the season, most radishes will be mild and perfect for salads anyway.

There is no need for a recipe: a salad is a work of art unique to each maker. Radish leaves, though hairy and somewhat prickly, are mild and tender, with faint hints to its affiliation with the mustard family. The roots are usually tame if the weather is cool and wet, but can kick up a fight, if the weather is scorching and dry (most varieties are now bred to be mild, but if you have a thing for hot radishes, being stingy with the watering will help). A simple, slightly sweet dressing, like this miso dressing, best compliments radish-laden salads, however a dollop of mustard adds just enough bite (the vinaigrette in this recipe is perfect), if that is what you want. The rest is up to you.

Bon app'!

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