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Archive for June, 2008

So, lets talk Breakfast: in my life so far, apart from an ever-was-ever-will-be love for an eggy cook up on the weekends, I’ve gone through a patchy bunch of breakfast lifestyles over the 30-something years I’ve been partaking of the ritual. From a routine, almost never changing path my mother kept us tenaciously on while growing up, of cereal/oats porridge one day, eggs on toast the next; to, rather mindlessly, eating nothing until noon; to keeping a box of pronutro at work, munched in distracted mouthfuls on the go, with office milk from a coffee cup; to my current routine of weekday, home made, raw muesli and yogurt over morning emails at home. I think you’ll all agree, with the last one, that I have finally come to my senses. What was I thinking, not eating breakfast, even for the shortest of times? The one thing all these phases have in common is that, during their reign they were each unwavering in their dedication to routine, to their steadfast persistence in my life.

Except. Every now and then one must mix it up a bit, non? I don’t use ‘mix it up a bit’ lightly, either. I’m talking Smoothies, people. Delicious, frosty, breakfast smoothies. Summer Heat is no match for Raspberry Banana Smoothie, reigning champ of the competition to cool your cucumber first thing in the morning.

Mmmm.

There are no specific rules here. Choose your favorite fruit(s), throw in a couple blocks of ice, add some yogurt, some fruit juice, a sweetener (and I don’t mean Equal) if you want, even some nuts and fiber. My favourite method is to use frozen berries of some sort in stead of ice cubes (raspberry in this case) and a banana that’s a little past it’s eating best. Add fat free, plain yogurt, a glug or two of Ceres fruit juice (or the juice of an orange/lime/grapefruit), a good handful of ground almonds and ground flax and a generous wallop of Molasses (which is not only super yummy, but loaded with all sorts of mineral healthiness.) Blitz for a few seconds with a hand blender or equivalent and Voila!

A small note: this breakfast is super speedy, so have the coffee ready first.

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Strawberries?
Check!

Rubarb?
Check!

Custard?
Check!

It’s a staple we all know, love and gobble up whenever offered: a strawberry rhubarb pie with vanilla custard. There’s something as traditional and country living as tennis and Pimms about the whole thing and you know, with this combination, you simply can’t go wrong. As you’ve figured out by now, I love love love celebrating the seasonal changes as they come and go. I relish in buying fresh strawberries when they’re in season, and just as I very seldomly buy pineapples in December here in the Northern Hemisphere, you’d find me hard pressed to ignore a basket of deep red, lush and heavily scented punnet of fresh strawberries in spring. Even though said strawberries had to be rushed in from California because our season is a little behind here in Toronto. They may not be ripe in the fields here yet but my head is usually ripe to bursting ready for strawberries any time at all after April. If your mid morning drinking grandmother firmly believes that it’s twelve o’clock somewhere in the world (so bring me a G&T) then I’m of the belief that it’s Strawberry season somewhere too, so long as it’s warm enough in the garden to sit and eat them outside.

Here’s a little tart with a twist. A twisty tart, if you will. The pastry is light and biscuity, the filling creamy almond and the fresh strawberries so much more, well, Spring than the usual cooked version one typically does. Top it all with a great rhubarb compote and some fresh vanilla custard and your afternoon tea just became a springtime adventure.

A note about the custard: at the beginning of the year a friend kindly brought be a couple vanilla pods back from a trip to Zanzibar and I’ve been jealously hoarding them, waiting for the perfect thing to use them in; one where they are the focus and not hidden by too many other flavours. I’ve made custard plenty times before but never used a real vanilla bean. I guess it just felt like such an extravagance, but let me tell you: it’s true what you’ve heard. It takes the whole dish to a different level, and you can, you really, really can taste the difference. Give it a try!

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The Summer in Toronto is one of the lustiest, I think, in the world.  Those steamy, heat-hazy, lazy-crazy, long-limbed days that wrap their humid, whispering tendrils around your bare throat and exposed shoulders do something inexplicable to this city and the people in it.  The girls, the boys, the dogs, the ducks: no one escapes the sensuality of it, we are all susceptible to Summer’s hot, sticky embrace.  But before we completely lose our heads to this love affair there is, as in any meaningful, dirty little tryst, the courtship; the tease, the tempt, the flirt and the fluster.  A few gorgeous, sunny days sauntering by our Wintery table at the end of April have us shaking out our hair in false hope of an early Summer, only to be firmly reminded that we are the flirtee, not the flirter, by a cold shoulder for half of May as we look longingly at our Summer wardrobes and the pretty, colourful mannequins in store windows.

And then, slowly, almost painfully, just when you think she’ll never notice you, that she has eyes only for the muscular, deep tan muscles of Texas, she.  Stops.  And turns that beautiful, golden head and looks you straight in the eye.  The Glory that radiates from Summer’s eyes envelopes us all, does it not?  But now that she’s seen you, now that you finally have her attention, how can you, such a humble little creature, keep that gorgeous gaze locked firmly with your own.  How to impress such a fickle lover, you ask?  Why, with a barbecue, of course.  If you cook up the coals just right, who knows, she may just stay for dessert.

Just don’t expect it.

I made these eggplants for a dinner party the first time, baked for about 40 minutes at 350˚F and had a bunch left over when we decided to open up the Weber .  Wrapped in foil, they were just so good and the left overs were somehow even better the next day when I removed the skins, spread the pulp and topping on toast and grilled with some gruyere in the oven for a couple of minutes.

* this recipe makes enough for about 5 or 6 baby eggplants.  Adjust accordingly.

Eggplant with Sundried Tomato and Shitake topping

Baby eggplants, halved
salt

⅓ cup sundried tomatoes in olive oil, drained
½ red onion, roughly chopped
sprig fresh thyme
small sprig rosemary
1 clove garlic
50g (big handful) shitake mushrooms
¼ tsp dried Italian herb mix

salt and pepper to taste
olive oil (about 60ml/¼ cup)

– cut the eggplants in half and salt generously.  Leave for an hour or so at room temperature.  Rinse and pat dry.

– place all ingredients (except eggplant) in a processor and blitz until finely chopped (or chop it all by hand). Season and add enough olive oil to for a thick, chunky paste close to but drier than a pesto.  Allow it to sit for 45 mins to develop.

– place eggplant halve skin side down on enough foil to fully wrap them ein.  Top with tomato mushroom mix and barbeque for about 30 minutes on the rack.

– serve with a generous amount of sunshine and chilled beverages.

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The Simplest Things

Often the simplest things in life can act as a band aid to a bruised and weary soul.  A sudden scent of Lilac on a balmy summer evening after a crazy day; a long stroll through a pretty, gardened neighborhood after a cleansing spring shower; a fresh pot of tea at any time.  But can anything truly be said to be better than freshly baked bread?  Sliced thickly, with a generous smearing of fresh, cultured butter and homemade gooseberry jam this Maria Bread, an Italian loaf similar, but not, to Ciabatta, had to have been one of the most soothing culinary moments I’ve had in a very long time

Oh, yum.

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