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springcomb

A client, local to Toronto, once joked with me that spring in Ontario was not so much a soft and gentle, new born lamb frolicking in a pretty green meadow, chasing little yellow butterflies as it is a stripper suddenly removing all her clothes.  I know, the image is rather vivid and lewd, but you get the idea and it’s pretty much spot on.  The end of Winter here is a long, shuffling commute of faceless pedestrians huddled into long, dark grey coats walking down an endless road and boarded by tall, dark buildings under a heavy, humourless sky.  Suddenly, through a little break in the clouds, a single ray of watery sunlight shines down on one of those faceless coats and exposes a slither of pretty ankle escaping out past the hem.  The crowd stops.  The shuffling dwindles and every face in that homogeneous, grey sea lifts from the folds of their coat and turns to look at that bit of humanity exposed in the sun.  Then, without warning, the sky breaks open and the woman of the ankle flings open her coat to reveal a body, young and lithe, wrapped only in shimmering, translucent, fuchsia silk.  The coat falls around her feet like a dust cloth removed from a painting and she steps away from that dead, lifeless garment without looking back, her face in the sun, her limbs exposed and dancing now, in slow fluid movements. As she dances on, moving down the street, her joie de vivre infects those around her like a contagious disease and one by one the coats fall to the floor until the street is alive with dancing and colour and sunshine.

Welcome to Toronto, the Caberet of Spring.

And to celebrate a little Quiche, yes?

quiche-mush-leek-ham-combo

Leek, Mushroom and Ham Quiche

For the Pastry:
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp tarragon
¼ tsp thyme
½ cup cold butter, chopped into 1cm cubes
80ml cold water

for the filling:
1Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
1 large leak, thinly sliced
1 brown onion, finely chopped
150g mushrooms, sliced (I used shitake and portobello)
3 or 4 slices ham, chopped (I used black forest ham)
½ cup cream
½ cup milk
3 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup Gruyer, grated

– to make the pastry: whisk the dry ingredients together

– rub the butter into the flour until it looks like course oatmeal

– add the cold water and mix just long enough to form a dough

– wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least a half hour

– preheat the oven to 350˚F

– roll the dough out on a floured surface to line a 25cm quiche tin

– bake blind for 10 mins

– while the quiche shell is cooling, heat the oil and butter in a frying pan and saute the leeks, onions and mushrooms until soft

– Beat the eggs with the milk, salt and pepper and then add the cream

– fill the quiche shell with the onion-mushroom mixture, the ham and then top up with the eggy cream.

– sprinkle the Gruyere cheese over the top

– bake at 350˚F for about 35 mins, until the cream is just set

– allow to cool for 10 mins before serving, preferably with a light salad

quicke-mush-leek-ham1

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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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Autumnal Stuffed Squash

I love squash. I was brought up eating gem squash a couple of times a week, steamed in a pot and mashed up in the half shell with a slathering of salted butter and black pepper. Yum. I don’t know why we don’t eat that many any more, but when I saw these beautiful, variegated, stripey squash in amongst the first autumn pumpkins I knew just exactly what I was going to do with them: stuff ’em! And even though it’s still warm out (amazingly, thinking back to the wet, chilly September we had last year) I’m filled with the excitement and energy autumn seems to bring me and a really, truly Autumn meal is just what the doctor ordered, especially when served with a divine, meaty South African Cabernet. Oh, my!

Stuffed Autumn Squash

1 Kale leaf, chopped
2 Beet leaves, chopped (use the ones from a bunch of beets if they’re fresh and not wilted)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small zucchini, finely chopped
⅓ – ½ cup mushrooms, finely chopped
5 – 6 meat balls ( or a bit of cooked mince, or some pancetta, chopped)
handful chopped parsley
2 – 3 Tbsp chopped Almonds
salt and pepper to taste

1 or 2 squash, halved and deseeded
Camembert cheese, enough for a chunk on each squash half

– preheat oven to 400˚F

– simply mix all ingredients in a bowl, seasoning to taste, and fill the cavities of each squash. You might have filling left over. Bake this in a bowl along with the squash for a great lunch treat. Top each squash with a generous chunk of Camembert.

– bake the squash for about 40 – 50 mins or until squash is tender when poked with a fork. Serve with polenta or mashed potato

Autumn Kale

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Mushrooms, mixed

We’re still having our love affair with an Indian Summer here in TO. The evenings remind us that the season is changing, but the days are still above 20˚C. Fall is mushroom season, though, and even though it’s warm out, a nice comfort dish at night is in the calling. After all the salads and crisp fruit and veg, it was fun to eat something as soft and warm and aromatic as this. Besides, how could anyone resist such colourful, strange, beautiful and ugly looking mushrooms? Does anyone know what they are?

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto with Many Varieties

1 Tbsp Olive oil
300 g mixed mushrooms, I used shitake, chantrell, Big Orange Ones, and Some Other Wild Type
1 Shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
1 cup Arborio or other Risotto rice
4 cups veg/chicken stock
⅓ cup dry white wine
½ tsp sweet paprika
⅓ cup grated Parmesan/parmigiana

– if using Chantrell mushrooms, keep a handful aside, to add right at the end, to preserve their delicate flavour.

– roughly chop the mushrooms. Take half of them and process in the food processor until finely chopped.

– heat the oil in a large saucepan/skillet on a medium heat. Saute the shallot and garlic for a few minutes, then add the mushrooms. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. When the mushrooms are tender, add a bit of lemon juice and taste the mushrooms to make sure they’re good.

– remove half the mushroom mixture from the pan and reserve. Add the rice to the remaining mushrooms in the pan and stir constantly. The rice will start going translucent and might pop a little.

– Now add the wine and stir until it’s all cooked off.

– Turn up the heat a little on the hob and start adding the stock, about a cup at a time, stirring until it’s absorbed. Make sure the last lot of stock is absorbed before adding the next cup. This will probably take 15 – 20 minutes.
– about half way through the stock supply, re-add the rest of the mushroom mix and continue with the stock. Add the remainder Chantrell mushrooms now, if using.

– just before serving, add the Parmesan. Serve with fresh ground black pepper and extra parmesan.

Mushrooms, mixed 2

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Tomato Medley with Shitake and Marrows

A tomato is a tomato. Or is it? I’ve been doing some reading, which if I remember, I’ll tell you about later, and I’ve learned a thing or two about tomato’s. Turns out that the baskets and baskets of fresh Field Tomatoes we’re seeing in the supermarkets and food markets this time of year are quite probably the most watery, least flavourful tomatoes one can buy. Other than middle of February, shipped from Australia or some such Tomatoes, that is. The reasons have a lot to do with the industrialisation of food growing over the last 50 or so years and the scientific “improvements” catastrophe’d upon this once exotic fruit to insure a crop which grows fast, large and resists things like bugs and weather. Large yields equals large profit for the farmer. I found out the truth of this first hand by buying various tomatoes from various sources and the bulk-available, large, red ones were by far the blandest.

I’ve made a promise to myself to only buy tomatoes from the Organic Farmers Market and make them last as long through the week as they can. And what a difference! Each bite packs a punch of plenitude. Raw, cooked, sliced, diced and just pooped straight in the mouth. Yum. Now I fully understand why Ms R, a friend living in the Cornwall countryside of Ontario, has pledged to eat nothing but her own tomatoes, out of her garden. I remember an email from her last year where she was impatiently looking forward to her lunch, which was going to be her first tomato of the season sliced, with salt and pepper, on fresh bread. And what a lunch it would have been, no doubt, after so many months without a fresh tomato! I remember from many years ago when I lived in Ottawa as a student for a year, she would send through frozen tubs of home made pasta sauces to cook up for dinners. Delicious! Over the Summer, as her garden produced more tomatoes, peppers, marrows than the family could consume, Ms R cooked up large batched of sauces; Ragu, primavera and so on, to be frozen and used through the long Winter months of snow and cold and on until the next seasons produce were plump in the garden again. How I wish I had my own little patch of garden delights to tend!

Three Tomatoes

Tomato Medley with Shitake, Marrow and Polenta

Golden cherry tomatoes, halved, to make up a cup
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
½ tsp sea salt
good grinding of fresh black pepper
chopped basil, to make about ¼ cup
2 or 3 small yellow tomatoes (I used the low acid Peach Delight), sliced
2 or 3 small red tomatoes, sliced
cubed white cheese, I used a Basque sheeps milk cheese called Etorki, to make about ⅓ cup
1 tsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium brown onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
¼ tsp dried thyme
pinch ground sage
10 – 12 shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1 marrow or zucchini, cut in half; 1 half grated coarsely, 1 half cut in half lengthwise and sliced
salt and pepper
Parmigiano or parmesan to finish

– preheat the oven to 400˚F

– in a small bowl, combine the extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt pepper and 2 Tbsp of the basil, mix well. Add cherry tomatoes and mix.

– in a foil lined tin, bake the tomato mix for 40 mins, basting with the juice after 20 mins

– in a Saute pan, gently heat the butter and olive oil. Add garlic and onions and saute for 1 min until the garlic becomes fragrant

– add the mushrooms, herbs, salt and pepper and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until the mushrooms are soft. Add marrow or zucchini and bring to a low simmer. Leave to simmer with the lid on while you prepare the polenta.

– make the polenta according to the manufacturer’s instruction. I prefer to make mine with water, not milk, and I add 1 tsp ground mustard while it’s cooking and finish it off with a little dollop of butter and about 2 Tbsp Parmigiano.

– arrange the sliced tomatoes around the plate, top with the sheeps cheese and baked cherry tomatoes; reserving the juice and oil. Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil.

– dish up the polenta, topped with the shitake marrow mix. Drizzle the juice and oil from the tomatoes over the dish and salad. Garnish with fresh basil and Parmigiano.

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Burger with shitake tarragon sauce and roquefort cheese

There’s something decadent about cooking up burgers at home. In North America we feel inundated with the things, from the multitudinous fast food chains everywhere you look to the pub ‘n grubs serving up overcooked hunks of beef-on-a-bun. One of the posher eateries down the street from us notoriously sells a burger for nearly $40, with the chips cheekily brought in from the fry up a few doors down. But I still love a burger on the odd occasion: the sloppy, messy, goo it runs down your chin as you try to fit a bun just-too-big into your mouth, the licking of fingers and slurping of beer to wash it down. It feels like the parents have left the building for a bit, leaving the rules to the five year olds. But then these are grown up burgers, after all, made with the best ingredients we can find. Mr P., the meat expert in the house, always gets fry up task, while I focus on fixing up a sauce and opening the beer.

Tonight we used sun-dried tomato and onion patties from The Healthy Butcher, which serves up organic, grass fed beef, with a shitake and tarragon sauce, Roquefort cheese caramelised shallot and garlic.

Shitake and Tarragon Burger Sauce

1Tsp butter
2Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup destalked, halved and sliced Shitake mushrooms
2 stems tarragon, leaves removed and finely chopped
2 Tbsp Parsley, finely chopped
pinch sel de mer
pinch freshly crushed black pepper
1 Tbsp Chestnut flour
½ cup milk
1 Tbsp cream cheese (I used Philadelphia)

– heat oil and butter over medium heat

– add garlic and heat gently until aroma’s start to rise

– add mushrooms and tarragon. Cook, stirring, for a minute or so.

– add parsley, salt and pepper. Cool until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes

– sprinkle mushrooms with chestnut flour and stir. Cook for another minute

– slowly add the milk, stirring, and bring slowly to boil. Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens.

– just before serving, add cream cheese and stir until combined.

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Thai Summer Salad

We were blessed, this weekend, with extraordinarily good weather on our portage trip. Which meant a clear, deep, warm blue sky bereft of clouds, temperatures perfect for swimming and lounging on rocks like lizards and no need to ever use the gas burners to cook our food on. All meals were prepared over an open wood fire from start to sweet, gooey, smorsey end. Now, usually after 4 or so days in the bush eating what you managed to drag with you leaves one craving some or other comfort food from home, not to mention ones own mattress and a hot soapy bath. On this trip, however, the wonder-woman in charge managed to organise meals of such fabulous diversity and succulence that ne’er a soul hankered after anything for their belly that wasn’t somehow already there. No dehydrated-rehydrated pea passed the lips. No thirst went without quenching by beer or wine or cold, fresh water. And, thanks to our (rather belated) discovery of a little thing called the Thermarest, no ache graced a bone in my back through the nights. All said and done, it was a trip which bordered on the sublime and trembled dangerously near perfection.

And after a long, long weekend of, in one team member’s words, Ghetto Gourmet, what better way to get back on the bright side of health and digestion than a salad made from the sweetest, most succulent of Summer’s wares? After a trip to the farmer’s market on our return, I picked up a selection of crisp, freshly picked goods for a dinner filled with all the flavours of a gorgeous season. Due to the abundance of things like garlic, Shitake mushrooms and Cilantro (coriander leaf) I opted for a somewhat Thai inspired arrangement.

 

summer bounty

Thai Summer Salad with Sweet Corn and Watermelon Beetroot

for the topping
¼ cup pine-nuts, toasted

1Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp canola oil (or other veg oil)
1 onion, thickly sliced
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
about 1 cup Shitake mushrooms, sliced

for the saladwatermelon beetroot
small bunch of lettuce, torn
1 big handful fresh basil leaves, torn
1 big bunch Cilantro leaves, torn
a dozen or so golden cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ear of sweet corn, kernels removed
2 new carrots, julienned
2 watermelon beetroot, scrubbed and thinly sliced
⅓ garden cucumber, peeled and julienned
2 spring onions, thickly sliced

for the dressinglettuce
1½ Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small chili, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime

– combine all dressing ingredients and leave to infuse.
This dressing is particularly good made a day ahead.

– keep toasted pine-nuts to one side

– in a skillet, heat oils. saute onions until they just start to brown slightly. Add mushrooms and cook on a medium heat until mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat.

– when cool, add pine-nuts and mix. Set aside.

– combine all salad ingredients, top with mushroom pine-nut mix and dress only when ready to serve.

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