August 30, 2011

Potato, Beet & Bean Salad

There are few things that bring more joy to my life than a mountain of straight-off-the-farm veggies. The freshness and the fragrance, the variety of shapes and colours and textures, the direct connection to the changing seasons and the soil and the people who work it. But ultimately it's about the ripe possibility of all the potential flavour combinations and dishes that might come about from a bit of slicing and simmering and mixing....  (It also brings me a ridiculous amount of satisfaction to know that these goodies have been plucked off a plant or pulled out of the soil, and have all landed from a nearby farm to my kitchen without one single piece of plastic packaging.)

Looking at my gigantic pile of yummies from Saturday's market (which you can see in the video) I realize I may have overdone it a little. This week will be a bit of a race to conjure up ways to use up all this deliciousness before it gets sad and wilty. I started off with a potato, beet, and bean salad because, well the freshly-dug baby potatoes were acting all coy and cute and generally being their irresistible baby potato selves. And the golden and chioggia beets are simply drop-dead gorgeous and they know it, sitting there all smug and confident in the knowledge that upon slicing into them you just may fall to the floor in awe of their bright pink and orange flesh. And the purple beans with their aura of mystery and magic, they knew they were first up on the list too...  Of course all the other veggies have their charms (don't even get me started about the romanesco, that one deserves a post of its very own, possibly two)...  I hope to share with you some of the various ways I'll be racing to use up this mountain of goodness in the next few days... I'm toying with the idea of a savory swiss chard bread pudding, a leek chevre tatin, and something worthy of that romanesco, but I'm still pondering that one. 

Before we go to potato salad, do you remember a few posts ago, I told you about my mami's birthday cake from Patisserie Rhubarbe in Montreal?  The gateau choco-citron? Well it turns out one of my favorite food bloggers recreated the cake in her own kitchen, all the way in Brunei! How cool is that? The food blogging community is so awesome!!

Potato, Beet & Bean Salad from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.

Potato, beet & bean salad

     1 to 2 pounds baby potatoes
     1/2 pound fresh beans
     4 beets (golden or chioggia) 
     2 to 3 green onions
     1 bunch of fresh dill

     Honey Dijon Dressing:
     1 tbsp whole grain dijon
     1 tbsp honey
     2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
     1/2 cup olive oil
     1 tsp crushed garlic
     Salt & Pepper to taste

Steam the veggies. Chop into chunks. Chop onions & dill finely. 
Shake up a good dressing, pour and mix all together. 

August 23, 2011

Jack Layton's Gumdrop Cake

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.” 
                                                                                           –Jack Layton

Gumdrop Cake is not really the kind of thing I would normally bake. But I did it for Jack.

Food is my favorite way to remember loved ones who have passed on. I feel closest to my mom when I'm making her recipes and eating the foods she used to make (you’ll be seeing a lot of her recipes on this blog). This morning, I wanted to make a recipe in honor of Jack Layton who passed away yesterday. It turns out Gumdrop Cake is one of his all-time favorites. His grandmother used to make it as a special treat when he and his siblings would visit.

Like so many Canadians, I am deeply saddened and still reeling from the news of Jack’s passing. For the past 3 years, I've had the pleasure of living in his Toronto riding. It's been so amazing to have an MP that I can admire, respect, be inspired by, and who would so promptly respond to letters and let you know that your concerns had been heard. The news also weighs down on me because it was almost 2 years ago that I lost my mom to cancer. She was about the same age, a bit younger than Jack. Both were too young to die. Cancer has become such an epidemic. One of the reasons I chose to work in the environmental sector is because I believe, like my mom did, that the health of our planet is directly related to our own health and well-being. And if we want to win the fight against cancer as a society (and also get to eat delicious and uncontaminated foods) we need to fight against pollution first and foremost. This film really gets to the core of the cancer issue for me personally, so I thought I’d share the trailer here, even though it’s not directly food related.

But back to Gumdrop Cake. And Jack. What a politician, and what a man. It is such a huge loss for Canada, at a time when we badly need his leadership. But as he so eloquently says in his last letter, the future must be faced with love, hope, and optimism. To cheer you up a bit after that trailer, and get you warmed up for the cake recipe below, here’s an excerpt from This Hour Has 22 Minutes “Baking with Jack Layton”. Rest in peace Jack, and may there be an infinite supply of your grandmother’s gumdrop cake in heaven.

Jack Layton’s Gumdrop Cake (taken from the Globe and Mail)
3/4 lb gumdrops (omit black ones)
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
5 ml vanilla
1 egg
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup hot water
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon each salt, baking soda and nutmeg
Cut gumdrops if large. In a shallow bowl, dredge gumdrops, raisins and nuts in 1/2 cup flour. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add applesauce and hot water and mix well. In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, salt, baking soda and nutmeg and add to sugar mixture. Fold in gumdrop mixture.
Pour into a well-greased tube pan or 9-by-5-inch pan lined with wax paper and well greased. Bake in a 275 F oven for 45 minutes. Increase temperature to 300 F and bake for 75 minutes. Let sit for several hours or overnight before cutting.

Man. I could have done some fun stop motion animations with those gumdrops, but no time for that this morning, off to work! Just a quick photo of the cake before it gets gobbled by my co-workers. (Looks quite Christmassy doesn't it?!)

August 22, 2011

Buckwheat Ravioli

I’ve been dreaming of having a farm and growing my own food for as long as I can remember. Somehow I’ve ended up living and working in downtown Toronto, but the dream is alive and kicking. It’s not so much that I’m ignoring it, as nursing it quietly, until its time comes. Part of keeping the dream alive was taking a week off work back in May to volunteer at Everdale Farm and learn a few things from the fine and knowledgeable folks there. Everdale is a non-profit teaching farm that has trained many new farmers. It’s certified organic and a tremendously inspiring place to be. Despite a rainy week, I got my hands in the dirt, did a lot of mulching and weeding, cooked some lunches for the staff and interns, and got to take a permaculture workshop. The instructor, Jessica Roder of Wild Craft Permaculture started off the course with this video which is an awe-inspiring example of sustainable living architecture.

This weekend I got to work at Everdale’s stand at the Brick Works Farmers' Market. It was so great to see my old friends from back in May and see their bountiful harvest. 
Selling freshly picked veggies brimming with life is something that just makes you feel good. Like really really good. The whole stand smelled like earth and a medley of fresh greens and herbs. And the basil, oh the basil. I was basically on a basil high the whole morning and couldn’t stop thinking of all the things I was going to make with my veggies when I got home. The thing that needed immediate attention though was a bag of beet greens. A lot of customers had been asking me all morning for their beet tops to be removed. And I’m the kind of person who buys beets more for the greens than the root so... I couldn’t let them go to waste and I came home with a bag full of discarded greens. Dear rejected greens, you are welcome in my kitchen, and I will eat you up in a flash. Usually I just steam them with butter and garlic but I decided to try a beet green ravioli... and for the simple reason that buckwheat and I seem to be having a lifelong love affair (this is something I will come back to in another post), I decided to make the pasta dough with my favorite grain (which is not really a grain!). But you can also use wheat flour or do a half and half mix for a less intense buckwheat experience. (I know everyone is not as fanatic about buckwheat as I am ;-)


La Pasta
2 cups buckwheat flour 
2 eggs
1 tbsp olive oil & salt to taste
water as needed

1 to 2 pound of beet greens, steamed & chopped 
About 1 cup ricotta cheese (I found buffalo ricotta which was lovely)
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/3 cup walnuts
1 egg
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt & pepper (to taste)

¼ cup butter
Fresh sage leaves (I used thyme because that’s what I had in the garden, but sage would be ideal)
Chopped garlic

Mix the dough ingredients together and add small amounts of water until you get a smooth but not sticky dough. Knead and shape into a ball. Let it sit while you work on the filling. Make sure that all the water is fully squeezed out from the steamed beet greens. Mix all filling ingredients. Roll out the dough, cut into circles or squares, add a teaspoon or so of filling and moisten the edges with water so you can press the edges shut. Bring water to a boil and cook the pasta for around 5 to 7 minutes. Melt the butter with the sage and garlic, let it brown a little, and drizzle over the ravioli. Top it all with grated beet or parmesan. 

August 16, 2011

Pâtisserie Rhubarbe

One thing that makes me really, really happy is when my friends become pastry chefs. 

When I lived in Paris 6 years ago, my apartment was directly above a pâtisserie, which meant ungodly smells would waft in through my bedroom window at all hours of day and night. And in the morning I could essentially roll out of bed, down the stairs, and before my eyes were even fully open, have a chocolatine in my hands. Why I ever left that place, I still wonder. Anyway, just before I left Paris, I met a fabulous girl named Kat. We recently reconnected on facebook and it turns out she ended up going to pastry school in Paris! And that she now works at a gorgeous little pastry shop in Montreal called Pâtisserie Rhubarbe. So since Sunday was my grandmother’s birthday and I was in Montreal for the occasion, it was a perfect time to visit Kat AND get a cake for my mami.

It was so nice to be in Montreal. My dear lovely aunt Marie Anne who works at La Maison du Roti prepared the most exquisite birthday brunch with wild boar & fig pâté, pâté en croute with rabbit and hazelnuts, and a heart throb of a cheese called Le Secret des Lys (The Secret of the Lilies), from Bourgogne. After we ate, my aunt and I talked about food and cats for about 4 hours straight. That's my idea of a perfect afternoon.

As for dessert, well, as you might imagine it is quite difficult to choose only one cake at Pâtisserie Rhubarbe… Plus I was feeling slightly intoxicated and distracted by the sight of all the OTHER pastries (!) In the end I went for the gateau choco-citron (and a necessary box of macarons). The cake was composed of 3 layers of pure bliss: a brownie-like bottom layer, a lemon-curd middle layer, and a velvet smooth chocolate mousse as a top blanket. I have never experienced a lemon & chocolate combination like this before, and let me tell you that I almost shed a tear when I ate the last bite. I would like to crawl inside that cake and live there, forever and ever... but more importantly, my grandmother loved it too! Bonne fête mami! Merci Patisserie Rhubarbe!

While I don't have a recipe for you today, this lemon chocolate combo thing is really something that deserves further exploration... here are some recipes from 2 of my favorite blogs that would be well-worth trying: Foodiva's Lavender-Honey-Cardamom-Lemon Dark Chocolate Tart and Cannelle et Vanille's Chocolate and Meyer Lemon Love. Ooh la la!

August 11, 2011

Chicken Soup (The Medicine)

Well, I sure didn’t think I'd be talking about plain old chicken soup in my second week of blogging. I was aiming for something a wee bit more glamorous. But the thing is, I have got myself a nasty mcnasty flu the likes of which I have not experienced since I was a kid. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t planning to blog at all this week, but today I mustered up the strength to crawl out of my cave and made a huge pot of chicken soup… simple, basic chicken soup, the cure of all ailments. And maybe it’s just because I’m so sick, but it’s been tasting like the best thing in the world to me (despite its not-so-handsome appearance as you may notice in the video). I’ve been sipping it all afternoon in the hammock, between snoozes, a bit of knitting, and reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a MUST-READ for any food lover). Maya, my roommate’s dog came sauntering over and I gave her a little chicken skin. At first she didn’t like it. But then she sort of clued in to the deliciousness and I captured our ensuing interactions on video. To tell you the truth, I’ve always been a big-dog-person, and not very appreciative of little dogs, until I moved here that is, and met Maya.

She pretty much stole my heart from day 1. Now, I realize that to some of you this video may seem like terrible canine etiquette (feeding the dog as I’m eating) but just so you know her mommy did say that I could. 

Organic chicken (ideally a whole chicken, but I used a bag of wings and it was great)
Fresh sage, parsley, a head of garlic, lots of ginger, and salt & pepper
Garnish: Fresh-squeezed lime juice & chopped cilantro

Gently simmer everything together for a couple hours, until the chicken meat falls off the bones. Ideally separate the meat and strain out the broth (but I didn’t even have the energy to do this, hence all the skins & fat I had in my bowl to give to Maya). Squeeze in lots of lime juice and serve which fresh cilantro. C’est tout.

August 08, 2011

Gooseberry (or any berry!) Cobbler

Gooseberry cobbler is very special to me. My mom used to make it every summer. It was her signature summer dessert. She wouldn’t put very much sugar so the berries were always bright and tart, and the dumpling dough’s sweet softness soothed the zinging tastebuds. A great marriage of opposites.

On one of my visits home, a few months after my mom died, I opened the freezer door and found a container of gooseberries from our garden. A note was scribbled on top: “To make cobbler when Aube comes home”.

I still have an ache in my heart when I think of my mom putting those berries aside and writing that note. She didn’t get to make that cobbler, so I dug out her recipe, and made it myself. Now I think of her whenever I make it. In this photo you can see her cooking and singing in her kitchen.

In the great cobbler versus crumble versus crisp debate, it’s a very close call, but I am of the opinion that cobbler takes the cake (excuse the pun). Except that this Apricot Berry Crumble and this Cherry, Blackberry, and Almond Crisp could have the power to sway me to the other side.  

You can make cobbler with pretty much any berries. I was just in Norfolk County this weekend where the cherries and blueberries are at their prime. Peaches also make superb cobbler! And for the gluten-intolerants out there, this recipe works beautifully with a gluten-free flour mix. My mom used to sometimes make a gluten-free version not because anyone was gluten-intolerant but just because she liked the texture.

Gooseberry Cobbler from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.


4 cups of berries or chopped fruit
1 cup sugar (more or less depending on berries)

2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup milk

Mix all dry ingredients. Cut in butter. Add milk, and mix gently together to form soft dough. Don't overmix. Mix berries and sugar in a pan, and drop dough by spoonful on berries. Bake around 30 min in a 350F oven. And voila!

Some notes on the recipe: I ended up being short on gooseberries so I used red and black currants as well. If using juicy berries like those, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of cornstarch or tapioca flour to the berries so that the juices aren’t too runny. Also, 1 cup of sugar may be too much for sweeter berries like bluberries or strawberries so adjust sugar depending on your berries of choice. 

August 04, 2011

Les aubergines...

Holy smokes! It’s been so exciting to get so much encouragement and nice feedback about this blog, I’ve been itching to get another post out. I’ll have another video for you all this weekend (gooseberry cobbler!)… but in the meantime, I just had to show you these marvelous little jewels of an eggplant I found at Riverdale Farmer’s Market

I’ve gone a little eggplant mad since I was taking photos for the blog banner earlier this week. I went on an eggplant shopping spree and hunted down every shape, size, and colour I could find. In the end, just the round little baby ones from Chinatown made the cut. But the day after I put the banner up, I found these, even CUTER ones!

They’re called Fairytale Eggplants. I think the name suits them quite well. So now I have a whole pile of beautiful eggplants. I need to gaze at them for a few more days before I make anything with them…  but I promise to be back with an eggplant recipe before too long.

Meanwhile, our very own garden jewel is getting bigger everyday in the backyard! With a bunch of plants all in flowers. (Thanks to my wonderful roommate Julie who was on top of the garden this spring!)

Fingers crossed, we’ll have a nice harvest in a few weeks time.

August 01, 2011

Garlic Scape Pesto

OK, I’ve wanted to start this blog for a long, long time and have found every excuse in the book to talk myself out of it. But it seems that didn’t work, so here we are, day 1, post 1, of what I hope will be a fun-filled adventure. In this blog, I will be sharing some of my favorite recipes & some short videos to accompany them. I’m thinking of these videos as tiny inspirational vignettes. You may not get A to Z instructions out of them, but my hope is that they will put a smile on your face and make you want to eat / cook / plant something…

I made this pesto while on vacation in Nova Scotia, when the garlic in my parents’ garden is at that magical state where it shoots out those elegant, curly scapes. The ballerinas of the garden. So pretty (and also kind of wild & wacky!) They have so much personality and flavour oozing out of them it’s like they’re speaking to you.

My mom was a little bit famous for her garlic. She skillfully grew many different varieties that kept all year round. Now that she is no longer with us, my stepdad plants it every year and takes great pride in his crop. Where I’m from in Nova Scotia, folks are pretty keen on steamed garlic scapes, in my mind one of summertime's great delights, similar to green beans but more tender and flavorful. But if you're up to your ears in scapes, pesto is just the thing! 
Garlic Scape Pesto
A large bunch of scapes (around 3 lbs-ish)
1 to 2 cups of olive oil
¾ cup parmesan
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (or pine nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds…)
salt to taste

I recommend blanching the scapes first – put them in boiling water for 30 seconds (my sister suggested that and it really does improves the color and texture of the pesto). Chop them in the food processor with the olive oil until you’re happy with the consistency. Add more olive oil and salt to taste, as needed. You’ll see in the video, I didn’t put walnuts & parmesan in mine since I like to have the option to put them in later, especially if I'm going to be freezing the batch. And to tell you the truth, the scapes have such a delicious and delicate flavor that they don’t even need the nuts and cheese at all. You can also experiment with throwing some basil, lemon, or actual garlic bulbs in there. The pesto freezes well, my mom used to put hers in icecube trays in the freezer and pop them out whenever she needed them. It's also very versatile! My neighbour Sophie spooned it on some pork chops before throwing them in the oven and it was absolutely delicious. I dumped a large jar on a whole chicken and scattered some vegetables in the pan and it made a tasty (and easy) roast. It’s also a great soup starter, yummy on pasta (of course!) and in sandwiches. The possibilities are endless. And if this is giving you the pesto bug and you’re cursing me because the scapes are gone, just substitute them for: cilantro or arugula or parsley or (of course!) basil... or whatever herbs & greens are in your garden or at your market these days. Try other nuts too…  Mmm, tarragon-hazelnut pesto anyone?!