Monday, May 28, 2012

Anticipation



Just in time for Jubilee week-end...



Bon app'



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Asparagus


It's that time of the year again: when my sweetheart and I eat nothing but spears of asparagus. I had gone to the shop on Saturday, thinking of all the things I would like to eat, but whatever thought I had went out the window when I saw the bunches of English asparagus. 


Are they the best asparagus in the world? I'll have to remain on the fence about that one, but local asparagus are definitely the tastiest you can have, as long as they haven't been sitting around, waiting for you to pick them up and take them home. Like so many vegetal ephemera, asparagus decline from the moment they are cut: their sweetness lessens, and they become bland over time. Asparagus, like peas and corn, are best eaten the within a few days of being harvested. The season in Britain, despite the more clement weather, is a good two weeks shorter than in Eastern Canada and the American North-East, so one has best to gorge like there is no tomorrow!

While I pondered how I would like to enjoy my first local spears of the year, I also mulled over writing  a Food Revolution Day themed post. But the only thing on my brain was hollandaise sauce: a luscious egg sauce, that is basically a warm, butter-based mayonnaise, and is absolutely gorgeous with asparagus. A scrumptious idea, but a little impractical as all I wanted to do was tear open the bunch of asparagus and eat them on the spot. Inspired by the grilled asparagus I posted last year, here is a "deconstructed" hollandaise to enjoy with asparagus (and a bit of smoked salmon, if you so wish) at brunch, for a light lunch or even dinner. 





Monday, May 21, 2012

Counting Chicks


They say you shouldn't count your chickens until they've hatched, but I can't help thinking of bowls of strawberries and cream when looking at these... Even though I know that I will have to beat the squirrels and pigeons to the bounty.



If you look closely, you can even see that one of the berries has begun to turn red!



Bon app' and happy gardening!



Friday, May 11, 2012

Join the Revolution

Whether or not you are a fan, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day is an event... no, a way of life that we should all adhere to.


The Food Revolution is all about reversing the trends of modern life in the Western World, whereby the current generation's children are certain to have a shorter life expectancy than that of their parents; where obesity has become a very real and dangerous epidemic; where the health implications are a threat to both the people and the health care systems they depend on. 


The Food Revolution is about taking real steps to a healthier future for the whole community. It's about cooking real food with real ingredients.


So on the 19th of May, take out your pots and pans and teach a friend how to cook your favourite meal. Ask your grandmother how to bake her world-famous shortbread. Host a dinner party. Or join one of the many events happening in a community near you.



Bon app'!




Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sweet Tooth


A friend recently complained about the dearth of desserts on the blog. He had assumed that, as a vegetarian, I would supplement my caloric intake with sugar. He was wrong. Clearly, he doesn't know that many vegetarians, because most of the ones in my circle are health nuts... I tend to stray from the healthful passage, but seldom veer towards the sweet side: despite growing up a sugar fiend, I mostly crave crunchy and salty foods. Sugar is for special occasions.

 
And  what could be more special than the first spears of local rhubarb? Mother's Day is just around the corner...
 


Rhubarb Polenta and Olive Oil Upside-Down Cake
Serves 8 to  12

250 ml/ 1 cup olive oil, plus extra for mould
320g/ 1½ cup sugar
220g/ 2cups  ground almonds
220g/ 1¼cup medium polenta
3 large eggs
5g/ 1 tsp baking powder
1 lemon zest
1 orange zest
500g/ 1 lb rhubarb
125g/ 8 Tbs/ 1 stick butter, optional
1 vanilla pod

Butter or oil the sides of a 20cm/8", 5cm/3" deep cake mould (not spring form), and sprinkle with polenta or almond powder. Butter or oil the bottom of the mould, and line with baking parchment. Set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 180°C/350°F. If you have a fan (convection) oven, turn off the fan or lower the oven temperature, otherwise the cake will be done before the caramel sauce is ready.
Wash and trim rhubarb, chop into large chunks.
In a mixing bowl, mix a third of the sugar, rhubarb and the vanilla pod, halved and scraped. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
In another mixing bowl, mix the olive oil, the rest of the sugar, ground almonds, polenta, eggs, baking powder, lemon and orange zest. 
Dot the bottom of the cake pan with butter: while this is optional, it will add body to the caramel sauce..
Pick out the vanilla pod from the rhubarb, and fill the cake mould with the rhubarb and all its juices.
Pour the batter over the rhubarb, and smooth top.
Bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through (the cake cake is ready when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.)
Let cool until the cake mould can be handled. Ease a knife around the cake, and flip the mould onto a plate.


This cake is lovely served warm as is, but absolutely to die for with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  You can also adjust the recipe for each season: substitute the rhubarb for cherries, gooseberries or mango in June; pineapple, raspberries or blackcurrants in July; blueberries, peaches, plums, or nectarine in August; apples, pears or quine in autumn; you get the idea. Just make sure you use a smooth olive oil, nothing too harsh: a Greek or a California black olive oil are best suited for this cake.



Bon app'!



Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wild Thing

I've had an age-old love affair with Indian food, even as a chilli-averse child. There is something so alluring about those spices, the heady aromas and exotic flavours. Even though the food we had at home was considered alien by most of my school friends, foods from the Indian sub-continent was a world apart: it is seductive with its completely foreign taste sensation. That love of spices has stuck to me throughout the years.


I've been meaning to post this recipe for so long that I had begun to think it was done and dusted. Unfortunately, when I tried to link back to the recipe in this post, I couldn't find it... Oops, my bad. The following recipe is my own version of a long-time favourite, and has absolutely no basis on tradition, so if there are any purist out there, please do not be appalled if you notice any unconventional ingredients. The recipe is for bajis: also known as pakora when a vegetable other than onions are used, these little Indian fritter are a delightful introduction to spices and neophytes of Indian foods. Well, it's not rocket science really, dip veggies in batter and deep-fry it: who can resist? As much as I love deep-fried foods, frying can be a hassle at home, so I usually pan-fry my 'bajis', resulting in a kind of bite-sized pancake.


The key ingredient to baji and pakora is gram, or chick pea, flour. If you do not have an Indian shop in your neighbourhood, all is not lost, as you probably have ready access to a natural health food or other store that caters to coeliacs and gluten-intolerant people: gluten-free all-purpose flours are most often composed, in part or entirely, of chick pea meal, and can be used in place of actual gram flour.


Any vegetable can be incorporated into the batter, but at this time of the year, I like to go for foraged greens. Nettles are particularly scrumptious when treated this way. If you are going to forage for your own nettles, make sure you bring along a pair of heavy duty gloves: either leather-lined work gloves or a thick pair of rubber gloves, as anything else will not protect you from the nettle's sting. If, on the other hand, you prefer someone else running the gauntlet for you, your best bet is to search for nettles at the farmers' market. 



Nettles need to be boiled for a few minutes to rid them of their sting: strip the leaves from their stalks, and drop into boiling, unsalted water (or dump the leaves straight from the plastic bag: nettles are usually sold picked through). They only need to be blanched for a little over a minute, or until the leaves and the water turn a bright green. Drain the leaves -keep the cooking water!- and leave to cool, before squeezing any excess water from the nettles. Whatever you do, do not throw out the jade cooking water: it is high in iron, and is the perfect spring tonic for anyone coming out of hibernation. At the very least, let the water cool down and use for your plants, if you do not want to drink it yourself. Once cooked, nettles are perfectly harmless, and can be used in stead of spinach. 


Nettle Bajis
Yields about two dozen bites

150g/1 cup gram flour, or gluten-free all-purpose flour
5g/1 tsp baking powder
5g/1 tsp ground coriander
5g/1 tsp cumin seeds
2g/½ tsp black mustard seeds
5g/1 tsp salt
pepper
2 eggs, beaten
water or milk

1 onion, finely sliced
Nettles, boiled, squeezed dry and chopped
6-8 button mushrooms, quartered

Whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, salt and a grind of pepper.
Gradually mix in the beaten eggs.
Add just enough water or milk to obtain the consistency of a pancake batter, about 100mL/ ¼ cup.
Fold in the chopped nettles, onion and mushrooms.
In a frying pan, heat a generous slick of oil.
Drop the battered vegetables by the teaspoonful, and let fry until the edges turn golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Flip the pancakes over, and let the other side cook for another 2 minutes.
Keep in a warm oven until the batter is used up.
Serve piping hot with raita.

Any vegetable can be mixed into the batter, and you can also substitute chopped, raw spinach for the cooked nettles. Additionally, the batter can be thinned out to the consistency of a crêpe batter and used as a tempura-like coating for vegetables.




Bon app'!



Meat: A Tutorial

Being a vegetarian, I write very little about meat. Not because I am averse to cooking it: I handle meat at work, and since neither my Sweetheart nor a good chunk of my friends are vegetarians, I also occasionally cook it at home. While I do think I am quite adept at preparing and cooking meat, I blog about the food I eat, not the food I can cook. Which means that the majority of my posts are vegetarian-friendly. 

Also, despite the great strides small farmers and talented butchers have made towards supplying the conscientious eater with sustainable and ethically raised meat, the concept of 'seasonality' -so near and dear to my heart- is still very hazy when it comes to beef, chicken and pork, the three animals most consumed in the Western world.

Well, for the meat eaters who do stop by my blog, here is an interesting pictorial, care of the fine folks at Frugal Dad:



Sunday, May 6, 2012

Food Revolution Day


Two years ago, I wrote about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution: in an effort to really spread the message of healthy eating and cooking from scratch, Jamie Oliver has now launched Food Revolution Day.

May 19 is the day when it all happens. Events all around the world are being organised to impart the importance of eating healthy and local, and coking from scratch.

Just follow the links to find an event near you.



Happy cooking and bon app'!



Apologies

I'm sorry. I've been a bad email correspondent of late. 

You see, it's taken me a long time to get internet at home, and work has been keeping me from swinging by the internet café. So I haven't been responding to any blog mail or comments.

Again, I do apologise. I finally got fed up of having to trek to the pub for internet, and now have at home access. I am slowly getting through all the mail and comments. (I will also be posting more regularly than I have been since moving to the UK.)

I will try to respond to everyone. I do appreciate all the comments, so please keep them coming: although I do not always write back, it does not mean that I haven't read them.


Sorry, and thank you.



Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy May Day!

The first of May has long been associated with celebrations of Spring: while the tradition is lost to many, or has taken on new meaning under the guise of International Workers' Day, the month of May is definitely something to celebrate. In the Northern hemisphere, May draws a clear line between Winter and Spring, as most regions see the last of crop killing frosts during the month. May is when old, wisened winter vegetables finally disappear from our store cupboards and make way for young spring crops and the first truly local fruits...

It's still early days, but here are some of the things to look forward to in May:

Radishes
I cannot hide my love of this feisty root: depending on the weather, this little nugget can either be mild and gentle as a spring breeze, or snappish and peppery as a sudden downpour. Crunchy and refreshing, both the root and the leaves should have place of honour in our salads and on our plates.

Baby Lettuce and Other Salad Greens
Young salad greens may be fragile little things in the kitchen, but in the garden they are quite hardy creatures. The seeds will sprout despite chilly conditions, and as long as the temperatures remain above 8°C/ 47°F, the little leaves will hang on for dear life. Tender as they may be under the tooth, young salad leaves are the perfect foil for fiery radishes.

Artichokes
For those lucky enough to live in a region where artichokes can survive the winter, spring is when you get to enjoy the first of the local flower buds. For the rest of us, we'll have to settle for imported artichokes from warmer climes, or hold out for the die-hard local crop.

Asparagus
They are still a bit of a ways away, but last year the first spears in my Montreal garden broke ground in mid-May, so if the weather remains clement (and there is no more snow on the horizon), any asparagus growing in a mild-ish micro-climate may well poke out by the end of the month. In any case, May is when a true blood asparagus fan turns their nose up to long-line travelling spears: because we all know that asparagus should be eaten the day it is harvested.

Strawberries
It seems like a pipe dream, but May is when the first strawberries do indeed begin to make an appearance. Although June is more strongly associated with bowls of strawberries and cream, if snow and sleet hold off, the first strawberries in New Jersey, New York, southern Quebec and Ontario, and along the Mediterranean coast hit the market shelves in May. The first berries are not quite as sweet and juicy as the mid-summer ones, but they still pack a lot of flavour, and nothing beats the first bite into a truly local fruit. If you live and garden in the city, you will probably see your first berries at this time of the year. Just in time to enjoy a bowl of strawberries and rhubarb.


Bon app'!


P.S. May 21 (Victoria Day in Canada) is often used as the benchmark for gardeners in Southern Canada: it generally thought as the official last frost date, and the long week-end holiday is when most garden centres do brisk business. Happy digging!


 
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