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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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spanish-stack2

I know that Stacked Food is oh, so very five seasons ago and since then the uber chefs of the world have moved on and through many other fancies and fads.  We’ve had Fusion illusion, Tasting Menus and Tapa’s everything and now we’re looking at 100 mile menu’s and locavore, seasonal, home style cooking.  All of which I’ve loved and lavished my attentions upon in turn in as much as I love food in it’s myriad of forms.  The simple truth is that I  am honestly as happy eating beans on toast in a greasy spoon as I am sampling the delicacies of the best sushi houses with the manicured and be-sequined.  But there’s something about the stack that I keep coming back to.  I think that at the end of the day, for a generally competent home cook, it’s such a simple technique that usually leaves me looking far more accomplished than I ever could be in front of a table of hungry guests.  I love the way it leaves space on the plate for sides and sauces and I love that it’s obvious that the various layers where thought about and meant to be eaten together, to compliment each other; instead of a random selection of cooked things from what I happened to have in the cupboard at the time.

* note: I served this with Polenta at the base of the stack, cooked with water and a teaspoon of rosemary , finished with some Spanish goat cheese for a bit of cheesy zing.  I’m not giving you the recipe for that as it’s pretty straight forward, non? There was a fresh salad of greens on the side and watercress as a garnish.

**you may be tempted to use a nasty wine in the dish; try not to.  Use what ever you’re drinking at the table, you’ll taste the difference.

spanish-stack1

Spanish Stack with Chorizo

Olive oil (about 2 Tbsp)
100 – 150g Shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 brown onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
100ml dry red wine
½ large (or 1 small) red pepper, thickly sliced
1 Chorizo sausage, thickly sliced
1½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
pinch nutmeg
½tsp dried Rosemary
salt to taste

1 med head broccoli, florets only
1 medium shallot
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds
Olive oil (about 2 Tbsp)
Squeeze of lemon juice (about 2 Tbsp)
salt and pepper to taste

– heat olive oil over a medium heat in a large sauce pan or skillet.

– gently cook the mushrooms with the onion and until soft.  Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute to caramalise.

– deglaze with the wine then add the pepper and chorizo, then the spices and herbs.  Simmer until the peppers are soft, about 10 mins.

– in a food processor, process the broccoli florets with the shallot until finely chopped (or chop by hand)

– heat the oil in a medium saucepan and cook the broccoli/shallot with the sesame seeds for just a few minutes, until tender but still bright green.  Season to taste with the lemon juice and salt and pepper.

-Layer your stack starting with the polenta, topped with the chorizo melange and ending with the broccoli.  The watercress garnish worked very well with all those richer flavours.

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snapper-w-sun-dried-tomato

A nice big fish is something I will eternally associate with Summer chez moi.  I have brilliant, sparkly memories as a child of going on summer holiday to the ocean and over dosing on good sea food.  South Africa has, if you ask me, some of the best sea food in the world and I look forward with glee to a trip back to my birth country and a seat over looking a pounding surf with a plate of fresh fish and chips.

One of my favourite fish to cook at home is a snapper, preferably whole.  Now, bear in mind that this is a bony little sucker, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommended it as a first date type affair. There’ll be plenty of sucking and plucking and chucking with this on the plate.  But a whole fish is still a great way to go for a barbecue, or in the oven, as convenience allows.

Getting your fish from a fish monger is the beat way to go, if you can.  You can pick the best fish and have it cleaned and descaled while you wait.  Fish doesn’t last, even in the fridge, so either freeze the sucker or eat it same day.

snapper-w-sun-dried-tomato-21

Preheat the oven to 400˚F

Start by rinsing the fish, inside and out, and pat dry with a paper towel.  Rub a little olive oil on the skin and season with a bit of salt.

Lay a piece of parchment paper large enough to completely wrap the fish in on the counter.

Slice up a large onion and place half of it on the middle of the parchment.

Chop up 5 or 6 sun dried tomatoes and throw these on top of the onions.

Now grab a handful of fresh herbs, what ever you have.  I used a big bunch of parsley, some basil and tarragon.  Mince a big clove of garlic, chop the herbs up, mix the two and put half of this on the onion tomato base.

Put the snapper on top of this mix and repeat the layer: onion, tomato and herbs. Drizzle the whole shebang with olive oil.

Wrap the fish up in the parchment, securing with some string, and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until the flesh is just flaky.  Let the fish sit for a couple of minutes before serving with a good garden salad.

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As our temperatures here in Toronto start to dip and dive again in the face of Autumn I keep thinking about all the gorgeous food I cooked up over the Summer and never got around to sharing with you.  So, over the next little while, you’ll have to bear with me as I turn an uncharacteristically unseasonable page back to the hotter months and post some of the recipes and cook ups that got lost in the comings and goings of all the travelling I did over that time.  Hopefully I’ll manage to get up to speed with the backlog before the glories of autumn are over with, or I’ll find myself a season behind when spring finally comes around and I’m still stuffing butternuts and mulling apple cider.

A lot of the time in Summer the last thing you want to be doing is keeping an eye on a slow cooking stew or spending hours in the hot, sticky kitchen.  Summer over here at Lick Your Own Bowl is often a casual, quickly thrown together meal of the season’s freshest produce, herbs from the garden and a long, candle-lit evening sitting outside in the garden with the scent of flowers and barbecue in the air.  There’s not much too say about this Summer-Coloured meal.  A quick sticks pasta, with sauteed onions and garlic, sundried tomato, fresh Ontario corn and peas, lightly cooked and deglazed with a dollop of white wine and then plucked up with a bit of white tuna and washed down with an ice cold lager and a side of fresh salad is just heavenly.  Then sit back and listen to the crickets and the laughter of neighbourhood kids still playing street hockey in the road.

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Chickpea and Luganega stew

Funny that in French the word for garlic is ail. Funny, that is, when garlic, that wonder, that golden child of the onion family, is so good at protecting you from what ails, meaning keeping those nasty little cold and flu viruses at bay. I have personally noticed the relationship between number of cold viruses inflicted to the amount of garlic consumed. The New Year put that theory to the test with a bout beans-on-toast living followed by a visit from Sniffy ‘n Snotty. I love garlic and I tend to use it in just about every dish I make for dinner, along with a liberal and counteractive sprinkling of parsley, to be sure. I do, after all, have to interact with the rest of humanity now and again. When my dear friend and partner-in-crime at the Summer Market, Ms A, gave me a treasured bottle of Iranian pickled garlic, I gushed with happiness. These sweet, heady, more-ish pods of sweet, slightly tart garlic are a delicacy produced in the north of Iran and I can see why it’s a well kept secret. I’ve had the jar in my fridge for a good few months now, nibbling on a clove de temp en temp and in my mood of using what’s in the cupboard I tried to make a dish which would perfectly compliment them.

I opened up my pantry, now stocked mostly with canned and bottled goods, pickles and conserves, dried herbs and spices and jars of various sauces and did what we all like to do now and then: I winged it. So here is something made pretty much from what I had on hand in pantry and refrigerator. The last couple of carrots and the last but one clove of fresh garlic from the Summer Market went into the pot, along with the frozen, left over Luganega from the Pizza Rustica. And I have to say, not only was this little dish heart warming and super satisfying but it made fabulous wraps the next day for lunch, which the ever inventive Mr P made up with a good smearing of balsamic onion chutney. For the dinner it was served with minted couscous and goes brilliantly with those pickled garlic and a dollop of plain yogurt.

*note: I used Luganega sausages because I had a few left in the freezer I wanted to use up. Use any spicy pork sausage, or lamb, or leave them out for a vegetarian option.

Chickpea and Luganega stew 2

Chickpea and Luganega Stew

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 pork sausages, thickly sliced
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp sweet paprika
½ ginger
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 14oz (400g) can whole, peeled Italian tomatoes
1 14oz (400g) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup water
2 carrots, finely grated/chopped
cilantro

– heat the oil in a large, heavy based pot. Saute onions and garlic over a moderate heat until softened.

– add sausage and fry until browned. Add spices, cooking for a couple of minutes until fragrant.

– add tomato paste, cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes and water, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as they cook.

– when the mixture is bubbling, add the chickpeas and carrots. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer very gently for 40 mins.

– serve with generous cilantro and minted cous cous.

pickled garlic

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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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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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