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'!




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