Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sometimes It's Just What You Need

Some foods you just crave. There is no preamble, no build-up, you just want to eat a specific something, and you want it now. It happens to me quite a lot, and I rarely see any reason to oppose a craving. The other day, the idea of croquettes just came to mind and stuck there until I went out to buy the ingredients. The croquettes were made and nearly eaten before it even occurred to me that I should write about this simple recipe. Hence the fuzzy picture.

The word may be of French origin, but I am thinking Japanese croquettes, where these deep-fried patties are served as a main dish along with shredded cabbage and a zingy sauce that tastes very much like ketchup. Japanese croquettes are always potato-based, but any vegetable can be added as long as crushed spuds make up at least half the mix. Cooked ground pork, beef or fish is often added to the mix, however, vegetarian versions are just as satisfying. My craving for sweet potatoes and squash was completely unseasonal, but any vegetable can be added to the mix. Bulky vegetables such as beetroot, squash and sweet potato should be mashed, but most others can simply be chopped into the mix.

It's difficult to give exact measures for this recipe, as it really all depends on what you plan n putting inside the croquettes. Expect to use about 125g/4.5oz of potatoes (three large new potatoes or one medium baking potato) per person for a light main, or double that if you want something more substantial. Cook and mash the potatoes (and any any other starchy vegetable) while still hot. Season with salt and pepper. Chopped green onions, sweet peppers, or leafy greens can be added at this point. You can even throw in some left-overs into the mix. Combine thoroughly, and chill until the mix has firmed up.

Divide the mix into balls. Roll in some flour, then into a beaten egg, and finish with some bread crumbs. I prefer to use fresh breadcrumbs, which can now be found in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets, or even at bakeries, but any breadcrumb will do. Shape the balls into patties. Although croquettes are usually deep-fried, they can be shallow-fried in about 1cm/½inch of oil. Flip the croquette over when the edges appear to have browned.

Serve the croquettes with a lovely salad, and you can forgo the ketchup-like sauce. Or be liberal with ketchup... and mayo! These croquettes are also great cold, so they're perfect for picnics and packed lunches.

Bon app'!


There were a few others, but they didn't feel like hanging around for a photo shoot...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

In Leaps and Bounds

This past week was simply marvellous! Though I worry that we will not get any closer to Summer than that... The sun and warmth have been very beneficial to my little balcony garden. And the progress has been staggering.

The strawberry that was merely blushing the day before has got a full-on sunburn, and it seems to have rubbed off on its neighbours. By the end of the day, the upper side of the strawberry had gone fully red, but its backside was still pink.

It seems like yesterday since I first harvested the salad bar, and yet it is already nearing the end. While I should still be able to get a few more bowlfuls, I need to think about sowing the next batch.

The chile pepper is a survivor from last year's non-summer, and it is doing quite well. Its leaves have not fully unfurled, but it has set several buds. I think it may be holding out for a proper heat wave.

I've planted garlic for the first time this year. Well, actually, what I mean to say is that it's the first time that garlic was planted the proper way, at the appropriate time (back in November). Although, I am still unsure I will get a viable crop, I did manage to get some scapes. They were quickly consumed in this week-end's salads.


The tomato plants were planted out last week-end, and have visibly taken to their new living quarters. Although they are still rather puny, they have grown considerably in a week.

Finally, I am positively beaming about these fava beans! The first flowers bloomed and faded before being visited by bees, and I worried that they would come to nothing. While the strawberries were more than happy to get pollinated by flies and the wind, bean flowers have an intricate system that require a bee's know-how. Luckily, with the arrival of June came the bumblebees, and now the broad beans are taking shape!

Happy gardening, and bon app'!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pretty Little Things

It's the season for elderflowers. There is a spot near my house that I have dubbed 'the one stop shop' because of its ten mature elders, wild cherry trees, and scrubby blackberry bushes. But you won't catch me confessing its whereabouts! The flowers are so abundant that I went a little overboard. Not so much that the future berry harvest is in jeopardy, but overboard all the same... I wanted to have enough for a batch of cordial as well as a few fritters. 

Depending on where you live, elders will flower anywhere between mid-May and late June. The European (Sambucus nigra) and the North American (Sambucus canadensis) elders are separate species, but to be honest there is little to distinguish the two. Either one is a medium to large, and rather elegant shrub. If you find one, you should be able to spot an entire stand, as they tend to spread like weeds. Should you be in the market for an elder for your garden, keep in mind that the European elder comes in several decorative versions, including one with purpley-black leaves.  

When picking elderflowers, try to avoid fading flowers: if the petals rain down when you grab a bunch, it is too far gone. In fact, you get the best flavour from bunches that are about a third unopened. The following recipe has a high enough sugar content to keep for a few months, as long as the cordial stays in the refrigerator, however, freezing it will give it an indefinite shelf life. The extra citric or tartaric acids also act as preservatives, but are not essential. Citric acid can be found in pharmacies or in natural food shops (in the gluten-free baking aisle). Tartaric acid can be found in hobby wine shops, but if you cannot find it, you may be able to get away with substituting it with 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar.

Elderflower Cordial
Recipe adapted from the River Cottage books
Yields about 2L/67.6 fl oz

25-30 elder flower heads
3 unwaxed or organic lemons
1 organic orange
1.5 kg/3.3 lbs sugar
2 tsp citric or tartaric acid (optional)

Pick through the flowers and remove most of the stalks. Though this step is not necessary, I usually take this time to ensure that there are no bugs in the flowers. Try to do this over a bowl to collect any falling pollen, as it packs a lot of flavour.
Place all the flowers in a large bowl or pot. Add the zest of the lemons and orange, and cover with 1.5L/50.7 fl oz of freshly boiled water.
Cover the pot, and let sit overnight, or until the infusion cools completely.
When cool, pass through a scalded muslin or jelly bag. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Return to the pot, adding the sugar, the juices of the lemons and orange, and the citric or tartaric acid if using.
Bring up slowly to a low boil, and let simmer gently for about 5 minutes, all the while stirring to make sure that the sugar dissolves.
Pour through a clean muslin again.
Use a funnel to pour the hot cordial into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles, and let cool completely before storing in the fridge.

To serve the cordial, dilute one part syrup to about 5 parts still or sparkling water. Elderflower cordial is also quite lovely in gin based cocktails or over strawberries and rhubarb. This method can probably be used to make cordial with other flowers, such as roses, lilacs, or violets.

Bon app'!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Finally Blushing!

Well it's taken long enough. Now bring it on!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Food For Thought

"The freedom of man, I contend, is the freedom to eat." - Eleanor Roosevelt

June is a month full of possibilities, the sun has finally warmed up the earth and things are growing with wild abandon. Summer is around the corner. I'm crossing my fingers that the nice weather is here to stay... The honey bees have not been back to visit my balcony garden, but the bumblebees (the one pictured above is a buff-tailed bumblebee) and the tiny solitary bees have been regular visitors now that the sun has come out.

Regardless of the weather, June has loads on offer. Asparagus season may be winding down, but the peas are plump and sweet, and the broad beans (favas) are nearly ready for harvest. New garlic and scapes will be making their way to the market stalls; leafy radish bunches can be found everywhere... Truly, the possibilities are endless!

There are myriads of herbs on offer from June on. It is true that most produce are available year-round, but there is something sublime about herbs and vegetables that were picked no more than a day or two before it was delivered to the market. The basil may be a little tired looking by closing time, but that fatigue is a badge of authenticity.

June is also the month for watercress. In North-America, this green has taken a backseat to the more popular roquette  (arugula), but watercress very much deserves a place on our plates, and not just as a mere garnish. In Europe, watercress is still prized for its fresh, peppery flavour. It will liven up a mild salad, add crunchy texture to the soft leaves, and it is also much less aggressive than trendy arugula. It also adds interest to a classic -or not so classic- egg salad sandwich. It can lend itself to hot dishes -fire tends to tame the leaves' bite- and it is especially nice wilted in a sandwich. Watercress has strong green tones, much like spinach, and would be a welcome addition to smoothies -if that is your thing. Being of the brassica (cabbage) family, it also has high nutrional values, and beats spinach hands down any day!

Although my own strawberries have been slow to ripen, June definitely marks the height of berry season. And there isn't much else to say about that! Except perhaps that the elders are blooming, and their perfume is absolutely intoxicating when drizzled over a bowl of sun-warmed berries.

I can go on about all the wild tidbits -such as fiddleheads in North America, nettles, wild fennel, and such... And lobster! But I won't. June should be renamed the horn of abundance!

Bon app'!

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