Monday, 30 June 2008

Peas with Garlic Scapes & Cream

Fresh shelled peas are just amazing. I mostly eat them plain, with a little butter and salt, but every so often I feel obliged to get a little fancier. These were worth the effort.

2 servings
40 minutes - 25 minutes prep time

Peas with Garlic Scapes and Cream
1 litre (1 quart) unshelled peas (2 cups shelled peas)

2 garlic scapes
1 teaspoon minced fresh savory
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon flour

Shell the peas, and put them in a pot with water to just cover.

Chop the garlic scapes finely, and mince the savory.

Turn the peas on to cook over medium-high heat; about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small skillet, and add the chopped garlic scapes and the savory. Cook over low heat until soft and slightly coloured; about 10 minutes. Have the flour mixed into the cream, standing by.

Drain the peas well and add them to the skillet with the cream. Cook for another 5 minutes until just thickened. Serve at once.

A year ago today I posted about visiting the Cambridge Farmers Market, as well as Beets in Mint-Anise Dressing and Peas & Radish Salad.

Sunday, 29 June 2008



Hunger makes a person lie down --
He has water in his knees.
Hunger makes a person lie down
And count the rafters in his roof.
When the Muslim is not hungry he says:
We are forbidden to eat monkey.
When he is hungry he eats a baboon.
Hunger will drive the Muslim woman from the harem
Out into the street,
Hunger will persuade the priest
To steal from his own shrine.
"I have eaten yesterday"
Does not concern hunger.
There is no god like one's stomach:
We must sacrifice to it every day.

Yoruba Oral Poem

I recorded this poem a number of years ago into a binder in which I keep bits of poetry which catch my interest; unfortunately I did not record the title of the book that it came from, although I do remember that it was a collection of oral poetry from around the world.

I tend to write about the happy side of food here. I enjoy eating - well, we mostly all do, don't we? especially when we get to eat what we want - and I enjoy experimenting with it and sharing it with others. It gets harder and harder, though, to forget how incredibly fortunate I am to be in the time and place that I am. I get to struggle with the problems and temptations of having too much food; lucky me.

The unhappy side of food, of course, is that inadequate quantities (and quality) prove fatal. Inevitably, when hunger jumps from the individual level to the community level, it starts with a natural trigger (crop failures, generally) but is in fact a human-created disaster; war, politics, bureaucracy and ideology, complacency and indifference, environmental degradation, already existing poverty and lack of resources, and poor agricultural practices all take a far larger toll than mere weather or disease ever could.

If you are looking for poetry and writing about famine in English - and an exemplary model for just about every subsequent famine - the Irish potato famine of the 1840's is the place to look.

Famine & Exportation

Take it from us, every grain,
We were made for you to drain;
Black starvation let us feel,
England must not want a meal!

When our rotting roots shall fail,
When the hunger pangs assail,
Ye'll have of Irish corn your fill --
We'll have grass and nettles still!

We are poor, and ye are rich;
Mind it not, were every ditch
Strewn in spring with famished corpses,
Take our oats to feed your horses!

Heaven, that tempers ill with good,
When it smote our wonted food,
Sent us bounteous growth of grain --
Sent to pauper slaves, in vain!

We but asked in deadly need:
'Ye that rule us! Let us feed
On the food that's ours' ~ behold!
Adder deaf and icy cold.

Were we Russians, thralls from birth,
In a time of winter dearth
Would a Russian despot see
From his land its produce flee?

Were we black Virginian slaves,
Bound and bruised with thongs and staves,
Avarice and selfish dread
Would not let us die unfed.

Were we, Saints of Heaven! were we
How we burn to think it -- FREE!
Not a grain should leave our shore,
Not for England's golden store.

They who hunger where it grew --
They whom Heaven had sent it to --
They who reared with sweat of brow --
They or none should have it now.

Lord that made us! What it is
To endure a lot like this!
Powerless in our worst distress,
Cramped by alien selfishness!

Not amongst our rulers all,
One true heart whereon to call;
Vainly still we turn to them
Who despoil us and contemn.

Forced to see them, day by day,
Snatch our sole resource away;
If returned a pittance be --
Alms, 'tis named, and beggars, we.

Lord! thy guiding wisdom grant,
Fearful counselor is WANT;
Burning thoughts will rise within,
Keep us pure from stain of sin!
But, at least, like trumpet blast,
Let it rouse us all at last;
Ye who cling to England's side!
Here and now, you see her tried.

John O'Hagan

In 1840, the population of Ireland was about 8 million. By 1855, it was closer to 5 million. About a million (or rather more; no one is quite sure) of the difference had died; another 2 million had emigrated. The currant population of Ireland and Northern Ireland is about 6 million. Certainly, I remember travelling to Ireland in the 1970's and seeing the decaying cottages which had never been re-inhabited. (Although Germans were starting to buy them up cheaply to rebuild for summer cottages.)

The Irish potato famine also left an enormous mark on Canada - we think of ourselves as founded as a country by the English (and French) but many Scots were driven here by the highland clearances, and large numbers of those 2 million Irish immigrants came to Canada. (I number both groups amongst my ancestors.) Emigration was no guarantee of survival. The immigrants were weak and ill, and many died during the journey. To this day, you will find francophone Canadians with Irish surnames - surviving children were readily adopted by the French-Canadians, who identified with the Irish troubles as fellow Catholics and fellow victims of British colonialism.

And the Irish potato famine still resonates, as with this recent poem, which I recently found on the blog Poem of the Week:


In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking – they were both walking – north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Eavan Boland

How accurate are my numbers of the dead in the Irish famine? Not very, history counts its skeletons in round numbers...

Hunger Camp at Jaslo

Write it. Write. In ordinary ink
on ordinary paper: they were given no food,
they all died of hunger. “All. How many?
It’s a big meadow. How much grass
for each one?” Write: I don’t know.
History counts its skeletons in round numbers.
A thousand and one remains a thousand,
as though the one had never existed:
an imaginary embryo, an empty cradle,
an ABC never read,
air that laughs, cries, grows,
emptiness running down steps toward the garden,
nobody’s place in the line.

We stand in the meadow where it became flesh,
and the meadow is silent as a false witness.
Sunny. Green. Nearby, a forest
with wood for chewing and water under the bark-
every day a full ration of the view
until you go blind. Overhead, a bird-
the shadow of its life-giving wings
brushed their lips. Their jaws opened.
Teeth clacked against teeth.
At night, the sickle moon shone in the sky
and reaped wheat for their bread.
Hands came floating from blackened icons,
empty cups in their fingers.
On a spit of barbed wire,
a man was turning.
They sang with their mouths full of earth.
“A lovely song of how war strikes straight
at the heart.” Write: how silent.

Wislawa Szymborska

Poetry and Being
(He Mahajiban)

No more of this poetry.
Bring on the hard, harsh prose instead.
Let the jingle of verse disappear
And the strong hammer of prose strike.
No need for the serenity of a poem;
Poetry, I give you a break today.
In the regime of hunger, the earth belongs to prose,
The full moon burns like a loaf of bread.

Sukanto Bhattacharya

The picture at the top of this post is of Bridget O'Donell and her children, from the London Illustrated News of December 22, 1849.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Roasted Beet & Asparagus Salad

My brother and sister in law make a roasted beet and asparagus salad that is very good. This is not it; I simply took home the ideas of "roasted" "beets and asparagus" and "salad", and went from there. The beets and asparagus can - and perhaps should, especially the beets - be roasted in advance of assembling the salad.

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes prep time - not including 1 hour to roast the beets

Roasted Beet and Asparagus Salad
4 to 8 smallish beets
450 grams (1 pound) asparagus
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 to 8 large lettuce leaves
150 grams (5 ounces) feta cheese

Wash the beets, but don't trim them. Roast them at 375°F for about an hour, until tender. I tend to roast beets for salad when I am baking something else; they will keep in the fridge for about a week. Allow the beets to cool completely before using.

Wash and trim the asparagus, and toss it with the grapeseed oil on a baking sheet. Spread it out and sprinkle it with the sea salt. Roast it at 450°F for 10 to 12 minutes, until well done. Let it cool.

Wash and dry the lettuce, and arrange it in a salad bowl or on individual serving plates. Arrange the beets, peeled and cut in quarters over it, as well as the asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces and the crumbled feta cheese. Drizzle with the salad dressing.

the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dill seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
a little salt, maybe

Squeeze the lemon juice into a small bowl, and add the oil. Grind the dill and fennel seeds and add them, with the paprika. Add a little salt, depending on how successful the sea salt was at sticking to the asparagus. Whisk well, and drizzle over the salad.

Last year around now, I was making Roasted Lamb Chops and Roasted Gnocchi & Asparagus.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Spinach Sautéed with Mushrooms & Green Onions

Yum! I do love spinach, and mushrooms too, so this could hardly fail to be a winning combination. The green onions are so spring-like and subtle with this. And yes, this will seem like massive, extravagant quantities of raw ingredients, but each and every one of them will cook down to a disconcerting wee spoonful. (Okay, so not the fats or the salt and pepper. Sorry. Whatever.)

2 to 4 servings
40 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Spinach Sauteed with Mushrooms and Green Onions
8 cups fresh spinach
8 to 12 large button mushrooms
2 large green onions
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt & pepper

Wash the spinach very well. Pick it over, discarding any tough stems and yellowed or slimy leaves. Rinse it well again, and drain it very well. You want your spinach as dry as you can get it.

Clean the mushrooms, and slice them. Save the white bulbs from the onions for something else; chop the greens finely.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet until it begins to foam. Sauté the mushrooms until lightly browned on both sides. Add the green onions, and sauté until they are limp. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the spinach and cook, turning it over constantly to get it all cooked down, until it is soft.

Remove the veggies to a serving dish with a slotted spoon, discarding any excessive quantity of juice.

Last year on this date I made Sydney's Salad Dressing, and Strawberries with Sour Cream & Sucanat.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Strawberry Agua Fresca

Aguas frescas are traditional Mexican drinks, consisting of water with puréed fruit, lightly sweetened and served ice cold. They are meant to be real thirst-quenchers, so should be heavy on the water and somewhat light on the fruit and sweetener.

These should generally be somewhat chunky. I see a number of recipes for aguas frescas that call for using a blender or food processer to purée the fruit. If you do that, be careful you don't get it too smooth. It definitely should not be strained! (Although I admit I do try to decant it off of the seeds which sink to the bottom.) Ahhh! Can't be beat on a really hot day.

4 to 6 servings
10 minutes

Strawberry Agua Fresca
1 quart (1 litre) strawberries
1/4 cup honey
6 cups water
mint to garnish, optional
squirt of lemon or lime juice, optional

Hull the strawberries, and give them a quick wash. Mash them very well with the honey. Add the water, a bit at a time to start with, mashing and mixing until well combined. Add the rest of the water. Taste it; and adjust with a little lemon or lime juice if you feel it needs to be sharpened a bit.

Serve cold over plenty of ice, garnished with mint if you like.

Last year on this date I was putting strawberries into Birchermeusli.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Chicken & Pasta Salad with Peas

Since it was fairly cool this week, I did a little cooking in advance. This is something I often do during cool breaks during the summer. When it gets hot again, it's lovely to open the fridge and find you have cooked potatoes or barley, or chicken, or pasta, or beets, or eggs, or some such item for salad. I wouldn't do all of them at once, but one or two can seem like a miracle once it gets too hot to cook again. I do like a pasta salad. Since I roasted one of our Stone Meadow Farm chickens this cool rainy week, a salad like this was inevitable. It's also a contribution to Presto Pasta Nights, at Chew On That this week.

4 servings
20 minutes, presuming your chicken is cooked

Chicken and Pasta Salad with Peas
250 grams (1/2 pound) stubby pasta

2 cups shelled peas (4 cups or 1 quart with the pods on)
8 to 10 radishes
2 or 3 green onions
2 cups diced cooked chicken

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted, boiling water until tender. I am inclined to give it a minute longer to cook than I would if I were eating it hot. When done, drain it and rinse it in cold water until cooled.

Meanwhile, shell the peas. Add them to the cooking pasta when it has 3 or 4 minutes left to cook.
Wash, trim and chop the radishes and green onions. Dice the cold cooked chicken.

Mix the pasta, peas, radishes, green onions and chicken in a large bowl.

1/2 cup mayonnaise - light is fine
1/2 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1 teaspoon savory
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, ground
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
a little smoked paprika, if you like

Whisk together the above ingredients and mix into the salad. Serve it as-is or on a bed of lettuce.

Last year on this date I blogged about Oatmeal Cooked in a Rice Cooker, Horseradish Potato Salad and Devilled Eggs with Smoked Paprika.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

An Ethiopian Style Salad

This salad is modelled - or more accurately, blatantly copied - from one I had at an Ethiopian restaurant. I really liked the combination of fresh, crunchy lettuce, soft cooked root veggies and a kick-ass lemon and cayenne based salad dressing. The original didn't have radishes, but I did so in they went. They are not really required as this is a salad that will bite back already. On that note be a little discreet with the cayenne; it's strong stuff.

2 to 4 servings
15 minutes to assemble the salad, but the veggies must be cooked in advance - allow at least an hour.

An Ethiopian Style Salad
2 medium beets
2 medium small potatoes
1 medium carrot
1/2 head of romaine lettuce
4 to 6 small radishes (optional)

Boil or roast the beets until tender. I'm inclined to cook beets for several salads at once; they will keep for about a week in the fridge and it is hot and time-consuming to cook them only once wanted. Peel the beets and cut them into bite-sized chunks.

Scrub and trim the potatoes, and put them in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil for about 15 minutes, until just tender. Peel the carrot, and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Add the pieces to the potatoes about halfway through the cooking time. When the are done, drain them and cool them under cold running water. Drain well.

Wash and tear up the lettuce. Arrange the pieces of beet, potato and carrot over the lettuce, along with the radishes, washed and quartered if wanted. Drizzle the dressing over the salad.

the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/16th to 1/8th teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (less if regular salt)
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil

Whisk these ingredients together and drizzle them over the salad.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Spinach, Asparagus & Pea Soup

When I made Gordon Ramsay's Broccoli Soup last fall, I was immediately struck with the possibility of using the same technique with other vegetables. Here it is again, this time made with peas, asparagus and spinach - and very delicious too. This is just so fast and easy, it's mind-boggling. It's simple and healthy enough for everyday menus but it would also make an excellent starter to a more formal meal. Just prepare everything in advance, then it can be cooked and puréed in under 10 minutes.

2 servings
15 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Spinach Asparagus and Pea Soup
1 cups shelled peas (2 cups of peas in the pod)
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
12 spears asparagus
2 to 3 cups fresh spinach
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil OR butter
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
OR 2 slices of goat cheese

Shell the peas, and put them in a large pot with the water and sea salt. Clean and trim the asparagus. Wash and pick over the spinach, and rinse it well again and drain it. Remove any limp or slimy leaves and any coarse stems, but tender stems can be left, as they will purée.

Bring the peas to a boil. Once they are boiling, add the asparagus spears. I cut them in half to be sure they would fit into the pot and the blender, but they don't need to be cut up beyond that. When they have cooked for 2 or 3 minutes, add the spinach. Cook for another minute or two, until all the vegetables are just tender.

Put the vegetables and their cooking water into a blender with the sunflower seeds, oil or butter, and pepper. Purée until very smooth. Serve garnished with the cheese.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Salad Poetry

Salad in June
Food is not the most popular of subjects for poems, although I'm quite certain it's not the least popular either. But when poets do turn their attention to food, a food they often turn to is salad. See...

I've already written about Sydney Smith's famous recipe for salad dressing, which you could put on


Radishes flip their skirts in the wind
like a line of chorus girls,
throw them over their heads.

If they were singers
they'd be the Andrews sisters.
If they had jobs
they'd be nurses who drive
red sports cars after work.

Every spring you put up with
their flirtations
for the crunch between your teeth
the quick surprise
of rain and fire
they've saved all season
just for you.

Lorna Crozier (who wrote a book called The Sex Lives of Vegetables, from which I suspect this poem originally came.) Just don't let Ogden Nash hear about Sydney's Salad Dressing...

The Chef Has Imagination, or, It’s Too Hard to Do It Easy

Hark to a lettuce lover.
I consider lettuce a blessing.
And what do I want on my lettuce?
Simply a simple dressing.

But in dining car and hostel
I grow apoplectic and dropsical;
Is this dressing upon my lettuce,
Or is it a melting popsicle?

A dressing is not the meal, dears,
It requires not cream nor egg,
Nor butter nor maple sugar,
And neither the nut nor the meg.

A dressing is not a compote,
A dressing is not a custard;
It consists of pepper and salt,
Vinegar, oil and mustard.

It is not paprika and pickles,
Let us leave those to the Teutons;
It is not a pinkish puddle
Of grenadine and Fig Newtons.

Must I journey to France for dressing?
It isn’t a baffling problem;
Just omit the molasses and yoghurt,
The wheat germ and the Pablum.

It’s oil and vinegar, dears,
No need to tiddle and toil;
Just salt and pepper and mustard,
And vinegar, and oil.

For Brillat-Savarin, then, and Hoyle,
Stick, friends, to vinegar and oil!
Yachtsman, jettison boom and spinnaker,
Bring me oil and bring me vinegar!
Play the music of Haydn or Honegger,
But lace it with honest oil and vinegar!
Choir in church or mosque or synagogue,
Sing, please, in praise of oil and vinegogue.
I’m not an expert, just a beginneger,
But I place my trust in oil and vinegar.
May they perish, as Remus was perished by Romulus,
Who monkey with this, the most sacred of formulas.

Ogden Nash

Actually, Ogden was a bit of a crank on the subject of salad. There he goes; he's off again, on what must be one of the earliest recorded rants against industrialized food (and yeah, it's true; iceberg lettuce is notable mostly for it's ability to ship and "keep")...

Iceberg Lettuce

I cheerfully forgive my debtors,
But I’ll never pardon iceberg lettuce,
A pallid package of rigidity,
A globe of frozen insipidity.
I hope I’ll never be so punchy
As to relish my salad crisp and crunchy,
Yet garden lettuce with leafy head
Is as hard to get as unsliced bread.

Ogden Nash

A Ballad Of Salad

I cannot eat the red, red rose,
I cannot eat the white;
In vain the long laburnum glows,
Vain the camelia's waxen snows.
The lily's cream of light.

The lilac's clustered chalices
Proffer their bounty sweet,
In vain; though very good for bees,
Man, with unstinted yearning sees,
Admires, but cannot eat.

Give me the lettuce that has cooled
Its heart in the rich earth,
Till every joyous leaf is schooled
To crisply crinkled mirth;

Give me the mustard and the cress,
Whose glistening stalklets stand
As silver white as nymphs by night
Upon the coral strand;

The winking radish round and red,
That like a ruby shines;
And the first blessing, onion shed
Where'er your lowness dines;

The wayward tomato's glorious head,
Cool cucumber sliced small;
And let the imperial beetroot spread
her crimson over all.

Though shrinking poets will prefer
The common floral fashions,
With buds and blossoms hymn their Her,
These vegetable loves would stir
A flint-heart mineral's passions.

Dylan Thomas

If this doesn't strike you as being up to Dylan's usual standards; give him a break - he was 14 when he wrote that.

Admittedly, most people don't find a salad sufficient. I can only say, with all due modesty, that they haven't had some of mine.


Gently stir and blow the fire,
Lay the mutton down to roast,
Dress it quickly, I desire,
In the dripping put a toast,
That I hunger may remove --
Mutton is the meat I love.
On the dresser see it lie;
Oh, the charming white and red;
Finer meat ne'er met the eye,
On the sweetest grass it fed:
Let the jack go swiftly round,
Let me have it nice and brown'd.
On the table spread the cloth,
Let the knives be sharp and clean,
Pickles get and salad both,
Let them each be fresh and green.
With small beer, good ale and wine,
Oh ye gods! how I shall dine.

Jonathan Swift

p.s. I'm really quite glad I'll never be called upon to cook for dear fussy old Ogden, no matter how much I like his poetry!

Parsley, parsley everywhere
Let me have my victuals bare.

Ogden Nash

Last year on this date: Spinach & Strawberry Salad with Buttered Almonds.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Steamed Sponge Cake with Fruit

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I still had 2 duck eggs from my trip to Stone Meadow Farm in my fridge... when was that again!? Still, they were fine, having been super-fresh when I got them. I used them, along with one extra-large chicken egg, and called it equivalent to 4 eggs. I had read that duck eggs were suberb for baking, and I really saw that here. They beat up so stiff and so sturdy, that they were strong enough to be taken as a cake batter all by themselves.

This is an adaptation of a traditional Chinese (Hong Kong) dim sum. Normally, it's just a plain steamed sponge cake, sweet and eggy. I've always liked it, but I thought it could do with some fruit to give it some tartness and zip. It worked very well. However, I would note that it would normally be cooked in a bamboo steamer lined with paper, and I think that would be better. My glass dishes worked fine, but the cake got a tad soggy around the edges. A bamboo steamer would keep it a little drier, I think.

I used rhubarb - definitely zippy - in one of my two cakes, and frozen raspberries in the other. The raspberry one was a little moist, although tasty. I wouldn't use more than a cup of them. This is something you could make all year round, using frozen fruit.

8 to 12 servings
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Steamed Sponge Cake with Fruit
4 extra- large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange or vanilla extract
1 cup pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 1/2 cups fruit pieces

Set up your steamer - a large pot with two racks in it. If using 2 bamboo steamers, line them with buttered parchment paper. Alternately, use 2 4-cup glass baking dishes, lightly buttered. Add water to come up to the bottom rack, or about 6 cups, whichever is less.

Beat the eggs with an electric mixer until they are pale yellow and foamy, and form ribbons when you lift the beaters. Slowly beat in the sugar, a little at a time. Expect this process to take at least 5 minutes. Beat in the flavouring extract.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt, and sift them into the eggs. Fold them gently but thoroughly into the egg mixture with a spatula, keeping it as light and fluffy as possible.

Turn the heat on under the steamer to bring the water to a boil.

Divide the batter between the 2 prepared steaming dishes. Sprinkle the fruit over the top, and don't press it in, if using berries such as raspberries, blueberries or strawberries. For fruit in pieces, such as rhubarb, apples, peaches, etc, stick them into the batter in a fairly upright way. They won't likely stay that way, but try.

Steam the cakes for 20 minutes. Check after 15 minutes; you may need to add a little more boiling water to the steamer. Test the cakes with a toothpick; if it comes out clean, they are done, otherwise give them another 5 minutes steaming. Cool on a rack and serve at room temperature.

Last year at this time: Pasta with Mushrooms, Bacon & Onion, and Strawberries in Mint Syrup.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Pasta with Chicken, Asparagus & Mushrooms in Paprika Sauce

Life has been in a turmoil lately, and I find myself with a sparse cupboard and not much desire to cook. As I so often do when in such a state, I pulled out the pasta. I had some yogurt and asparagus that needed using up, as well as an open tin of tomato paste. A quick trip to the store supplied the chicken and mushrooms. I'm never without several types of paprika. So this is what I ended up with... another submission for Presto Pasta Night at Once Upon A Feast.

2 servings
20 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Pasta with Chicken, Asparagus and Mushrooms in Paprika Sauce250 grams (1/2 pound) stubby pasta, such as rotini

300 grams (2/3 pound) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
3 medium shallots
3 cups quartered button mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups yogurt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
3/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed

300 grams (2/3 pound) fresh asparagus

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

Meanwhile, cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, and set it aside. Peel and chop the shallots. Clean and quarter the mushrooms.

Mix the yogurt, tomato paste, paprikas and pepper in a bowl, and set them aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Sauté the chicken until it is browned all over, then add the shallots and mushrooms. Season with the salt. Continue sautéing until they are soft and lightly browned. Add the yogurt sauce, and reduce the heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, while the pasta cooks.

Clean the asparagus and cut it into bite sized pieces. Add it to the pasta when it is 4 or 5 minutes away from being done.

When the pasta and asparagus are done, drain them and toss them with the chicken and mushroom sauce.

Good Lord! Last year on this date I blogged: Peas, Pasta & Bacon Salad, Cream of Asparagus Soup, AND German Radish Salad. Obviously not in my current state of funk and disorganization. What drugs was I on, and where can I get some more?!?

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Salade Niçoisish

We have been out of town since yesterday morning, and so I have not been doing much in the way of cooking lately. However, I took this picture of a salad that my mom made for us yesterday. Actually, it's not all here; there was potato salad in a separate bowl as well as some marinated artichokes. It's not as dedicated to Ontario produce as most of the dishes I post here, but it's got definite possibilities. Lettuce, check; asparagus, check; hydroponic tomatoes, check; eggs, check. That just leaves the tuna, and a nice piece of salmon trout would probably replace it very effectively. I will avert my eyes from the anchovies. The potato salad was politically correct, consisting mainly of potatoes, radishes and parsley. Most of this could be prepared in advance. Mom used a commercial Caesar salad dressing, but any simple vinaigrette would be fine.

Salade Niçoise is traditionally made with green beans, not asparagus - they are only a few weeks away at this point.

Salade NicoisishInstructions? On a bed of lettuce, lay sliced or wedged tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs cut in half (anchovy garnish optional), cold cooked green beans or asparagus, and cold grilled fish (leftover?) and potato salad, assuming you still have some room on the platter, or do as mom did and pass it on the side. I think the potato salad is best with a vinaigrette type dressing.

Last year on this date I blogged Rotini with Feta, Snap Peas & Tomato Sauce, and Strawberry-Banana Smoothies.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Potato & Asparagus Salad

If you like, keep the asparagus tips out of the salad and sprinkle them over the top to garnish; it will give the salad a bit more colour.

4 servings
30 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Potato and Asparagus Salad900 grams (2 pounds) potatoes
450 grams (1 pound) asparagus
1/4 cup minced chives
OR 2 green onions, minced
1/3 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/3 cup butter milk or thin yogurt
50 to 100 grams (2 or 3 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
salt & pepper

Wash the potatoes, and trim them, and cut them into bite-sized cubes. Put them in a pot with water to cover, and boil them until tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and trim the asparagus, and boil or steam it until tender, about 5 minutes. Plunge it into cold water to stop it cooking any further once done, and cut it into bite sized pieces.

Clean and mince the chives or green onions.

Mix the chives with the mayonnaise, buttermilk, crumbled blue cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Not too much salt; blue cheese is quite salty.

Toss the potatoes and asparagus into the dressing. Serve chilled.

Last year on this date it was potato salad too: Radish & Potato Salad. On the 17th, it was Early Summer Vegetable Medley, Balsamic Strawberries & Lime-Minted Cucumbers with Cottage Cheese, and Coconut Macaroons with Preserved Ginger.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

From "Stuffed and Starved" by Raj Patel

"The alternative to eating the way we do today promises to solve hunger and diet-related disease, by offering a way of eating and growing food that is environmentally sustainable and socially just. Understanding the ills of the way food is grown and eaten also offers the key to greater freedom, and a way of reclaiming the joy of eating. The task is as urgent as the prize is great.

In every country, the contradictions of obesity, hunger, poverty and wealth are becoming more acute. India has, for example, destroyed millions of tons of grains, permitting food to rot in sols, while the quality of food eaten by India's poorest is getting worse for the first time since independence in 1947. In 1992, in the same towns and villages where malnutrition had begun to grip the poorest families, the Indian government admitted foreign soft drinks manufacturers and food multinationals to its previously protected economy. Within a decade, India has become home to the world's largest concentration of diabetics: people - often children - whose bodies have fractured under the pressure of eating too much of the wrong kinds of food.

India isn't the only home to these contrasts. They're global, and they're present even in the world's richest country. In the United States in 2005, 35.1 million people didn't know where their next meal was coming from. At the same time, there is more diet-related disease like diabetes, and more food, in the US than ever before.

It's easy to become inured to this contradiction; it's daily version causes only mild discomfort, walking past the 'homeless and hungry' signs on the way to supermarkets bursting with food. There are moral emollients to balm a troubled conscience: the poor are hungry because they are lazy, or perhaps the wealthy are fat because they eat too richly. This vein of folk wisdom has a long pedigree. Every culture has had, in some form or another, an understanding of our bodies as public ledgers on which is written the catalogue of our private vices. The language of condemnation doesn't, however, help us understand why hunger, abundance and obesity are more compatible on our planet than they have ever been.

Moral condemnation only works if the condemned could have done things differently, if they had choices. Yet the prevalence of hunger and obesity affect populations with far too much regularity, in too many different places, for it to be the result of some personal failing...

...As consumers, we're encouraged to think that an economic system based on individual choice will save us from the collective ills of hunger and obesity. Yet it is precisely 'freedom of choice' that has incubated these ills. Those of us able to head to the supermarket can boggle at the possibility of choosing from 50 brands of sugared cereals, from half a dozen kinds of milk that all taste like chalk, from shelves of bread so sopped in chemicals that they will never go off, from aisles of products in which the principal ingredient is sugar. British children are, for instance, able to select from twenty-eight branded breakfast cereals the marketing of which is aimed directly at them. The sugar content of twenty-seven of these exceeds the government's recommendations. Nine of these children's cereals are 40 per cent sugar. It's hardly surprising, then, that 8.5 per cent of six-year olds and more than one in ten fifteen-year olds in the UK are obese. And the levels are increasing. The breakfast cereal story is a sign of a wider systemic feature: there's every incentive for food producing corporations to sell food that has undergone processing which renders it more profitable, if less nutritious. Incidentally, this explains why there are so many more varieties of breakfast cereals on sale than varieties of apples."

from the introduction to "Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World's Food System", by Raj Patel.

Last year on this date I was still caught up in the newness of it all: Asparagus with Shiitake Mushrooms, Quick & Dirty Sautéed Chicken, Barley Pilaf with Saffron & Chives, and Mushroom Soup. Woah Nelly!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Rosemary Spinach

Rosemary is an herb I don't use often enough. It has a lovely resiny-floral scent and flavour. I sometimes find it a little strong, perhaps. On that note, it is important to be careful with it here - it should just add a certain subtle je-ne-sais-quoi to the spinach; and not shout ROSEMARY! at the first bite. I used a piece of rosemary to the first leaf-joint - perhaps 6 to 8 leaves - and it was quite subtle; you can use twice as much, if you dare.

This recipe has been adapted from The Shaker Cookbook by Caroline B. Piercy.

2 servings
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Rosemary Spinach
450 grams (1 pound) fresh spinach
1 tablespoon butter
1 sprig rosemary, to the first or second leaf-joint
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
salt & pepper

Wash the spinach well. Pick it over, removing any limp or discoloured leaves, and any stems which are excessively coarse. Rinse it again, and dry it well - a salad spinner is not a bad idea.

Put the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the finely minced herbs, and a little salt & pepper. Add the spinach, and start cooking it over medium heat, stirring regularly, for about 10 minutes. Once the spinach is generally wilted, the heat should be reduced a bit. It should cook fairly slowly in the butter. If it exudes a lot of juice, lift out the cooked spinach with a slotted spoon to the serving dish, and quickly reduce the juice to a tablespoon or two; pour it over the spinach. Serve hot.

Last year on this date: Strawberry Tapioca Pudding with Custard

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Chicken in Miso-Tahini Sauce

Here's a quick and easy chicken dish; albeit somewhat rich. Plain steamed rice and a good robust green vegetable will complete the meal.

2 to 3 servings
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Chicken in Miso-Tahini Sauce
1 medium onion
300 grams (2/3 pound) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons light miso
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 dried red chilies
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
black pepper to taste

Peel and chop the onion. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Mix the tahini, miso and water.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, and add the chicken. Sauté until lightly browned, then add the onion and continue sautéing until the onion is lightly browned. Add the miso-tahini mixture and the dried chilies. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up anything that sticks to the pan, until the sauce thickens. If the sauce is too thick before the chicken is done, add a little more water. Season with the toasted sesame oil and a generous grind of black pepper. Heat through, and serve over rice.

Last year on this date I made Red Spicy Chicken, funnily enough. It required the making of Garlic Ginger Cubes.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Quaker Punch: Now! With Rhubarb

Let's raise a glass to one year of Seasonal Ontario Food (on line)!

I found the original version of this recipe in The Canadian* Woman's Cookbook, which was first published sometime in the 1930's, at least in Canada. It contained a recipe for "Quaker Punch", which gave me a good laugh - is that a triple entendre?

Obviously I had to try it, and it turned out that it was in fact excellent. However, it called for 3 lemons and 3 oranges, which is not all that Canadian. I thought I would try Ontari-izing it by replacing the citrus with rhubarb extract. Nummy! I'm giving you both versions though, so you can make it either way.

2 litres (4 to 8 servings)
12 hours - 15 minutes prep time

Quaker Punch made with tea, ginger, mint and rhubarb
Quaker Punch: Now! With Rhubarb
1 large bunch (8 to 12 stalks) rhubarb
1 litre water
2 tea bags
3-4 sprigs fresh mint
1 tablespoon peeled, chopped fresh ginger
1 litre boiling water
1/2 cup sugar

Wash and trim the rhubarb, and cut it into pieces about an inch in length. Put it in a pot with 1 litre of water, and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the rhubarb, keeping the liquid and discarding the pulp (it should be pretty tasteless at this point.)

Meanwhile, put the tea bags, mint and ginger in a 1-litre canning jar (or any other vessel you like, although this is the easiest for measuring.) Fill it up with boiling water. Cover, and let steep for 6 or 7 minutes. Strain, again discarding the solids and keeping the liquid. Mix in the sugar and the rhubarb extract. Taste, and add a little more sugar if you think it needs it, but keep in mind it will taste sweeter once it is cold.

Let cool, and chill well. Serve over ice, garnished with mint. You may wish to add a squirt of lemon juice if you would like it to be a little sharper.

Original Quaker Punch
2 tea bags
3-4 sprigs fresh mint
1 tablespoon peeled, chopped fresh ginger
1 litre boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
3 lemons
3 oranges
1 to 2 cups cold water

Put the tea bags, mint and ginger in a 1-litre canning jar (or any other vessel you like, although this is the easiest for measuring.) Fill it up with boiling water. Cover, and let steep for 6 or 7 minutes. Strain, discarding the solids and keeping the liquid. Mix in the sugar.

Meanwhile, squeeze the juice from the lemons and oranges. Mix the juice with the punch, and add 1 cup cold water. Taste the punch, and adjust the sugar if needed. Also add more water if it seems too strong. (Keep in mind: it will be sweeter when cold, and if you are serving it over ice you may want it a tad strong.)

*It's packed up somewhere at the moment, but I believe that somewhere on the first page it said "an imprint of The American Woman's Cookbook." Americans have been thinking they can pull this sort of shit for a long time, and the sad thing is they seem to get away with it.

One Full Year of Seasonal Ontario Food!

On this day, one year ago, I found myself stuck in the office all day with not much to do and nowhere to go as a result of some construction work happening out in the hallway. The idea of starting a food blog had been knocking around in my head for a while, and under the pressure of acute boredom it made its escape out onto the printed screen. Here it is; I hope it has been enjoyed.

In honour of this momentous occasion, I have decided to add a few new items to the blog. First of all, check the bottom of new posts from here on out for a link to the recipe posted a year previously on each date or thereabouts. After all, it's back in season again! Last year I kicked off the blog with Asparagus, Feta & Pumpkin Seed Salad. You probably missed it, so check it out. It's one of my sweetie's favourite salads - mine too.

Secondly, I have been refraining from posting on Sundays, in a (failed) effort to keep this blog from taking over my entire life. I still have no intention of writing a post on Sundays, but I do intend to start posting a Quote of the Week: some little tid-bit on the subject of food, food politics, the seasons, Ontario, or any other topic that seems like a good idea at the time; written by someone else and merely transcribed by me. We'll see how long that keeps up.

Last year on this date: Asparagus, Feta & Pumpkin Seed Salad

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Spinach Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese & Egg

Bacon! Eggs! Blue cheese! Wow, they make salad almost interesting. (Okay, I am just kidding; although of course, this is an interesting salad.) I probably like it best with straight spinach, but the spinach and lettuce mixture is fine too. The raspberry vinegar adds a subtle fruity-sweet note, but if you don't have it, you could use lemon juice with a teaspoon of sugar, or balsamic vinegar. Just be sure to make a note to make raspberry vinegar once raspberries are in season.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Spinach Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese & Egg

4 extra-large eggs
200 grams (scant 1/2 pound) bacon
6 cups prepared spinach, or spinach and lettuce combined
1 or 2 green onions
6 to 8 large button mushrooms
60 grams (2 ounces) blue cheese

Put the eggs in a snug pot with water to cover and a tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil and boil for one minute. Remove from the heat, and let them sit, covered, for 10 minutes, then run them under cold water and peel them.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon until well crisped. Drain it and let it cool. Chop it into bits. Wash and prepare the spinach and also the lettuce, if you are using it. When it is clean, dry and torn into bite-sized pieces, arrange it either in a large salad bowl or on individual serving plates. Wash the green onion and chop it. Clean and slice the mushrooms.

Arrange the mushrooms and green onions over the spinach and lettuce, along with the bacon bits and the blue cheese, crumbled. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Slice the eggs and arrange the eggs over the salad.

1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup sunflower seed oil
salt & pepper

Whisk together the above dressing ingredients, and toss gently into the salad.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Radish Leaf & Potato Soup

This recipe came from Epicurious. As usual, changes have been made. Firstly, the recipe has been reduced to one-third to make a very nice amount for 2 people. Secondly, I've fiddled with proportions and cooking times. I really enjoyed the results, and I think letting the potatoes brown a little before boiling them was a good idea.

2 servings
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Radish Leaf and Potato Soupthe leaves from 1 large bunch of radishes

2 large green onions
2 medium-small potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup milk or light cream
sea salt and pepper

Cut the leaves from the radishes, keeping the radishes for another use. (One or two will make a good garnish.) Discard any limp or discoloured leaves. They are likely to be somewhat chewed by flea-beetles, who think radish tops are the best thing in the world. Don't worry about that, just soak them in some cold salted water for about 10 minutes.

Wash and trim the onions, and chop them. Put aside about two tablespoons of the green tops. Wash and trim the potatoes, and cut them into fairly small dice.

Put the butter into a heavy-bottomed soup pot, and sauté the onions and potatoes in it for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, drain the radish tops and chop them coarsely. Add them to the potatoes and onions, and sauté them for about 2 minutes, until they are all limp. Add the water and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Purée the soup with 1 tablespoon of the reserved chopped onion tops and the milk or cream, and sea salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with a radish or two, chopped finely and mixed with the last tablespoon of chopped green onion tops.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Black Bean & Asparagus Salad

I don't know why I am so convinced that black beans and asparagus were born to be together, but there it is. They aren't a flashy couple, but oh-so-compatible. The carrots won't be local (most likely) at this time of year; you could replace or augment them with a bit of greenhouse red pepper if you prefer. And yeah, yeah, I know; it's bean salad again. Tired of it? I don't wanna hear about it. We live on the stuff.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Black Bean and Asparagus Salad
450 grams (1 pound) asparagus
1 540-ml (19 ounce) tin black beans
1/4 cup minced chives or green onion
2 medium carrots
AND/OR 1/4 of a red bell pepper
1/2 head leaf or Boston lettuce

1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Clean and trim the asparagus, and steam it until just tender. Cool it under running water, then cut it into bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, drain the beans and mix them in a salad bowl with the minced chives, or a green onion or two, cleaned and minced. Peel and grate the carrots, and mix them in, likewise the chop the red pepper fairly finely (if using) and add it to the bowl. When the asparagus is ready, add it as well.

Whisk together the sunflower seed oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Toss the dressing into the salad and serve it on the lettuce leaves, which should be washed and dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces first.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Bad, Bad News - Ontario's Last Fruit Cannery Closed

I have to admit, I hadn't realized the situation was quite so grim, but Niagara's last - Ontario's last - fruit cannery closed last month. In fact, the article says it's the last one east of Britich Columbia. Farmers are already ripping out hundreds of acres of peach trees.

A vegetable plant in Exeter has closed as well.

Time to take up canning your own food. I have to say, I was amazed last year when I was trying to find some commercially canned fruit, and could find nothing in the store. Nothing at all.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

A Tiny Batch of Oatmeal Macaroons

When my grandmother died, a little handwritten notebook full of her recipes made its way to me. This is one of the recipes that was in it, slightly adapted. The recipe was in fact not hers but her mothers, making this recipe quite the old family heirloom.

One of the things I like about this recipe is that it makes so few cookies, and they are quite healthy. I can make a batch and when the two of us scarf the lot in a day or two - as is certain to happen - there isn't any lingering guilt about it. They are not crazy-sweet, but they have a nice nutty, crunchy quality that goes really well with a mid-afternoon cup of tea.

I always make these with old-fashioned rolled oats, because that's what I always have around. They might be a little sturdier if made with a finer rolled oat. However, just give them their resting period before and after baking, and they'll be fine as-is.

12 to 16 cookies
25 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Oatmeal Macaroons1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 extra-large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
a pinch of salt
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut,
OR 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
and 1/4 cup chopped nuts

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and honey. Beat in the egg and the almond extract.

Add the salt, oats and coconut, with the nuts if you are using them. Mix well and let the mixture sit for at least 5 minutes.

Use a disher (melon baller) or tablespoon to press the mixture against the side of the bowl, then gently slide the cookies thus formed onto the cookie sheet.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, until just lightly browned around the edges. Cool the tray of cookies on a rack; don't try to remove the cookies until they have cooled.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Stewed Rhubarb Compote with Apples or Strawberries

Use one or the other of the two lists of ingredients; the instructions are basically the same. Apple and rhubarb are an ideal combination early in the rhubarb season; fresh strawberries show up towards the end of the rhubarb season. You could also use frozen strawberries. Rhubarb freezes well, so you could make this through much of the year if you wished. To me it's a special springtime treat though.

I find I need to add a little liquid at the start, for fear of scorching something, but once the compote starts to heat, it exudes a lot of juice. The strawberries in particular are very juicy; I added a bit of minute tapioca just to keep it from becoming too much like soup. You could use a tablespoon of cornstarch or arrowroot dissolved in a little water instead if you liked. I didn't think the apples needed it, but if your apples turn out to be particularly juicy, you could add it there too.

6 servings
20 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Stewed Rhubarb Compote with Apples or StrawberriesRhubarb and Apple Compote
4 cups chopped rhubarb (8 to 12 stems)
3 or 4 apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 or 2 tablespoons water or apple cider
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, or sugar and honey

Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote
3 cups chopped rhubarb (6 to 9 stems)
3 cups hulled strawberries, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon minute tapioca (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, or sugar and honey

Trim the leaves and ends (discard them) from the rhubarb stems, and cut the stems in pieces an inch in length or less. Peel, core and dice the apples, if using, or hull the strawberries if using fresh ones.

Put all the listed ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until all the ingredients are cooked and amalgamated. Stir frequently. Check for sweetness; add a little more sugar or honey if you feel it is required. Keep in mind that things do taste sweeter once they are cool.

Serve the compote just warm, at room temperature or chilled; plain or with yogurt, ice cream or whipped cream.