Category Archives: Food

Foraging Fun: Violets, Winter Cress, and Dandelions

Wild VioletIt’s hard to believe that it’s June already…especially since up in Saint-Adolphe-D’Howard, in the Laurentians, there was still snow on the ground until just a few weeks ago!  Spring/summer it is, however, and the land is green, and alive.  My boyfriend and I finally made it out into the woods and fields, and walked around to see whether we could discover any wild edibles to take home with us.

We looked for mushrooms, but didn’t see many; I guess it’s either too early, or too dry for them.  I saw a lot of strawberry plants in bloom, so I guess that in a couple of weeks, there will be strawberries everywhere!

Wild Violets

Finally, on a hill where I once found some wild irises growing, I found some wild violets.  IWild Violets had grown pansies in my garden before, so I found them fairly easy to identify (they are in the same family).  The flowers have a distinctive striping on one or more of their lower petals.  Apparently, these veins are meant to guide bees to their nectar.  The species is, I believe, the viola adunca, commonly called the ‘early blue’, or ‘hookedspur’ violet.  The leaves and flowers may be added to salads, and the flowers can also be candied.

Winter Cress

Winter CressFurther down, at the base of the hill near some water, I discovered some winter cress.  There are, according to Wikipedia, twenty-two different species of winter cress, and I’m not sure which one in particular this one was.  It was, however, also fairly easy to identify, as the leaves which were further down, near the base of the plant, looked exactly like watercress leaves.  As with every plant (or mushroom) I find in the wild that I have the intention of consuming, I did, of course, make sure to look it up in a field guide (in this case, Edible Wild Plants Eastern/Central North America by Lee Allen Peterson) in order to determine if, firstly, it was/could be highly poisonous, and secondly, whether I have reason to believe that I have correctly identified the type of plant.  It is, of course, better to be safe, than be sorry.  After looking it up, and finding no look-alikes (and most certainly no poisonous ones), I tasted a leaf; after discerning a pleasant cress-like flavour, I picked some to take home with me.  The partially unopened flower-heads looked particularly tasty, like broccoli, so I made sure to gather some of those.

Dandelions

Since I now had the makings of a tasty wild salad, I gathered a few leaves from the dandelions which were growing nearby.  The flowers had not yet opened up, so I was hoping that they would be a little bit less bitter than usual.

A Wild Salad…

Winter Cress Head

Upon returning to the house,  I washed the greens and flowers carefully.  I also tasted one of the partially unopened cress flower-heads, and my boyfriend and I both agreed that they were very nice and tasted quite like broccoli.  The foraged greens and some of the violets made a very pretty and colourful  salad, to which I added a bit of (locally grown) radish, since I had some on hand, and a simple vinaigrette consisting of salt, pepper, white balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

Foraged Salad Foraged Salad Foraged Salad Lunch!

I went on to candy the violets, later on in the evening.  It turned out to be a rather satisfying day, even though we did not find any mushrooms!  Anyhow, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for strawberries, which should be appearing everywhere soon.  ‘Till next time, happy foraging!

How to Make Sauerkraut

Fermentation Facination

Okay, so, I few years ago,Cutting the Cabbage I became interested in fermentation (probably as an offshoot of my interest in sourdough?), and came across Sandor Ellix Katz’s website, Wild Fermentation.  After perusing the site, I became so excited that I decided to order his book of the same name.  It’s a very informative book, and it’s also a very interesting read.  One of the things that I found especially appealing about this book was Katz’s advice to ‘reject the cult of expertise’:

Do not be afraid.  Do not allow yourself to be intimidated.  Remember that all fermentation processes predate the technology that has made it possible for them to be made more complicated.  Fermentation does not require specialized equipment.  Not even a thermometer is necessary (though it can help).  Fermentation is easy and exciting.  Anyone can do it. (p. 28)

I also appreciated the philosophical, historical, nutritional, and anecdotal information, as well as, of course, the recipes.

Thus, fermentation newbies, do not despair!  Sauerkraut is perfect for beginners.  It was actually Katz’s book which inspired me to try making it (as opposed to the other way around) since I had never actually tasted the real thing before.  If you have, you’re one step ahead of me, since you’ll know what to look for…while if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat, since I expect everything will go swimmingly, and you’ll soon be pushing your friends and relatives to try your homemade stash (sauerkraut in this case, not booze- though both are fermented products)!

Sauerkraut Recipe:

Okay, so here is the recipe (based on the one in Wild Fermentation, p. 41):

You will need:

2 kilos / 5 lbs cabbage or cabbage and other veg (see #1)(about 1 medium and 1 small head- any type is okay…here I am using 1 red cabbage and 1 regular green cabbage)

3 TBSP salt (Katz specifies sea salt, but I have used pickling salt in this case…any good quality salt will do, but avoid regular table salt)

You will also need:

A suitable 4 L container (here I am using a food-grade plastic bucket, but you can use a ceramic crock if you have one, or a very large jar or another type of large glass container…just avoid metal vessels)

A plate or something else that fits inside your container, as in another container, or a glass or plastic lid, etc.

A weight (here I am using my mortar, but you can use anything that is clean, and not metal, like a jug filled with water).  The weight must also be able to fit on top of the plate.

A cover (such as a pillowcase, or kitchen towel, or one of those cloth bags, or produce bags)

Step 1: Chop or grate the cabbage

It may be as fine or as coarse as you like…or you can even do it in the food processor, if you desire.  As you work place the chopped cabbage in a large container or bowl, and sprinkle the salt onto it so that it mixes in evenly.  If you find you’re running short on cabbage, you can add other vegetables or fruits to your mix…onions, garlic, apples, turnip, celery, carrot…etc.

Step 2:  Add some seasonings

Classic sauerkraut seasonings
Classic sauerkraut seasonings

Here I’ve added some classics: caraway seeds, celery seeds, and juniper berries.  However, feel free to experiment.  Mix these into your cabbage mixture.

 

Step 3: Pack the mixture into your container

You can use either your hands, or some other tool.  Here, I am using my pestle.

Step 4: Weighing down the kraut

Packing the kraut
Packing the kraut

Fit your plate or other object into the crock.  The plate must be small enough to sit directly on top of the kraut.  The goal here is to push the cabbage mixture down, so that, as the brine (which will made up of the liquid the cabbage releases due to the salt you added) rises, the solids will remain submerged.  This will prevent the formation of mold.  Furthermore, if mold does form, it will only be on the surface, and will thus be able to be skimmed off, leaving the rest of the mixture unadulterated.

Place your weight on top of the plate, for the reasons explained above.

Step 5: Cover the whole shebang

Weigh it down
Weigh it down

It is important to do this in order to protect it from flies.  I have covered mine with first a (fine) mesh produce bag (available at Loblaws stores), then a kitchen towel.  The produce bag will serve as a fly barrier, while the kitchen towel will provide extra protection and will also help in the  maintenance of a more consistent temperature.

The froth is not a bad thing-it's just an indication of the fermentation.
The froth is not a bad thing-it’s just an indication of the fermentation.

Okay, we’re pretty much done!  It is, however, important to check the kraut within 24 hrs to ensure the brine has risen above the plate.  If it has not, simply add some (preferably chlorine-free) salt water (Katz recommends 1 TBSP per cup) to the mixture until it does.  After this, it is important to check your kraut regularly in order to ensure that there is still enough brine, as some will evaporate over time.  This will also give you the opportunity to taste your sauerkraut so that you can decide when it has reached its peak.  This will depend largely on when you think it’s sour enough.  Your kraut should be ready in 1 to 4 weeks.  The timeline will depend mostly on the temperature in your kitchen (or the location where you are storing your maturing sauerkraut).

Sauerkraut after 5 days
Sauerkraut after 5 days

When it’s ready, you can portion it into a few mason jars or other containers and store it in the fridge (in its brine), in order to slow the fermentation.

Happy fermenting!

The Top Ten Foods You Need to Try While in New Orleans

There are a lot of things to see and do whilst on vacation in New Orleans. However, if you go, you should make sure to try the following culinary delights (listed in no particular order):

1) Beignets:

These simple doughnuts topped with icing sugar

Beignets
at Café du Monde

are way better than anything you’ll find at a Dunkin Doughnuts or Tim Hortons (most likely because they’re made fresh, in-house, using real ingredients)…and they’re available 24/7 at Café du Monde! The coffee’s good too.

 

2) Gulf Shrimp:

Although there are a number of species of shrimp found in the Gulf of Mexico, the majority of shrimp landed in Louisiana are either White shrimp or Brown shrimp. According to the Louisiana Seafood website, the differences between white and brown shrimp, especially while they are small, are slight, so I won’t bother distinguishing between them. The shrimp are slightly sweet with a firm, resilient flesh. Though there are concerns associated with the way these wild shrimp are caught (due to bycatch and such), they are definitely better than any shrimp coming out of Asia.  They are classified by seachoice as a “good alternative”. However, be sure to ask about where the shrimp come from…because although we were told by one restaurant that they ‘don’t do imported shrimp in NO’, another (high-end) restaurant was that we went to was in fact serving shrimp from Thailand.

BBQ Shrimp
at Mr. B’s Bistro

Shrimp in New Orleans are often served “BBQ” style- which there means they are cooked simply with salt and pepper, in a sauce made mostly of their own juices, and are neither cooked on a barbacue, nor grilled. They can then either be served on their own, in their cooking liquid, or in a po boy sandwich or somesuch. The BBQ shrimp that I ate at Mr. B’s Bistro were amazing; they are served in a rich, savoury sauce, which I’m certain contains quite a lot of butter. As they are served in their shells, eating them is quite a production, involving bibs and finger bowls, but don’t worry…the staff will take care of you. I enjoyed the shrimp po boy I had at Luizza’s By The Track as well, in spite of the fact that the shrimp were not deveined (okay, I know that it’s a diner, and they were small shrimp, but is that normal?). There was quite a bit of black pepper on the shrimp,  but besides that, they were simply seasoned, allowing the fresh flavour of the crustaceans to shine through.

Gulf Shrimp Po Boy
at Luizza’s By The Track

On a note related to this post (though sort of unrelated to gulf shrimp), I’m not sure I get the appeal of the po boy sandwich.  Okay, maybe I’m a bit spoiled, since I’m from Montreal and have thus been surrounded by a wide variety of delicious, flavourful, and diverse types of bread for my entire life, but the bread that I ate in New Orleans was pretty unremarkable, including the buns used to make the po boy sandwiches.  It was like a pale, largely tasteless, imitation of french country-style bread.  To make a great sandwich, you need good bread…right?

In addition to the bread problem, the traditional sandwich toppings ( lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mayo) are not particularly interesting.   At this point, since the bread doesn’t add much flavour, nor do the toppings, if you’re thinking of ordering a seafood po boy (as in one containing breaded deep-fried oysters, or some such) you’re probably better off ordering the seafood solo, because at least then it will likely come with a horseradish dipping sauce, or something.  But enough about that.  On to the next food (or should I say, drink):

3) Bloody Maries:

Okay, so these are more of a beverage…but they do, in New Orleans, at least, contain some food, usually olives and some mean pickled beans.  Damn, they’re good…but they are quite spicy, even when you request medium spice.  So, people who do not like/are not used to

Bloody Mary
at Organic Banana

spice, be warned. The best Bloody Mary I tried while in New Orleans was at Organic Banana at the French Market, and the second best was at Pat O’Briens; since coming home, I’ve tried recreating the drink, using Emiril’s recipe, and that worked out pretty well. I didn’t have any green beans on hand, but I did have some okra, and I quick-pickled it, using a Martha Stewart recipe. It worked out well.

 

4) Crawfish (aka crayfish):

These freshwater crustaceans, which look like mini lobsters, are the symbol of Louisiana.  And if that wasn’t enough of a reason to put them on the top ten list…they’re also delicious (and sustainable)!  The majority of crawfish from Louisiana is produced on farms, and crawfish from this region is a “Best Choice” according to seachoice.org.  During my stay in New Orleans, I tasted them two ways: in a crawfish etouffee, and also boiled, served cold.  I have to say that the crawfish, simply boiled (but with loads of spice) was amazing, while the etouffee was good, but not nearly

Boiled Crawfish
at The Court of Two Sisters (Jazz Brunch)

as memorable.  Also, with the etouffee, you don’t get to have the whole messy head-sucking experience.  If you don’t know how to eat crawfish, don’t worry- most new orleanians will be happy to help you figure it out.  I didn’t have the opportunity to try warm boiled crawfish, but I can imagine it must be a treat! Maybe next time…

 

5) Charbroiled Oysters:

Charbroiled Oysters
at Acme Oyster House

A New Orleans speciality, these are oysters that have been cooked on a hot grill, in their shells, with butter, spices, and cheese (such as pecorino).  I’ve found a recipe that looks good here, on Nola Cuisine. They’re very tasty, and are definitely worth a try.

 

6) Fresh Oysters!:

I wouldn’t say my first taste of a raw oyster was love, but I have always enjoyed eating them.  My shucking ability has certainly improved since then, as has my knowledge of the different types that are out there, and they do grow on you.  If you’re a raw oyster fan, New Orleans is definitely the place to order up a few dozen, seeing as how it’s right on the Gulf of Mexico, and you’re likely to get some fresh and juicy specimens.  Whilst in New Orleans, we had 

Fresh Oysters
at J’s Seafood Dock

fresh oysters at both Acme Oyster House and at J’s Seafood Dock at the French Market.  The oysters were fresh and good at both places, but I found the experience over  at J’s Seafood Dock, where you can sit outside and chill while you dine on your freshly shucked oysters, slightly more enjoyable.  Also, you don’t have to wait in line, as you do at Acme Oyster House.

 

 

7) Soft Shell Crab:

More seafood?  Yes, and there’s still more to come.  Soft shell crabs are crabs that have recently molted their hard shells, and can thus be eaten whole, shell and all.  In Louisiana, blue crab, which is

Soft Shell Crab
at Acme Oyster House

indigenous to the region, is the species used, and happily, stocks are well-managed, making this a pretty good choice sustainability-wise.  They are usually served breaded and deep-fried.  Mmmm….

 

8) Crab Cakes:

Louisiana blue crab can also be sampled in crab cake form. Meals From the Heart Cafe, also situated at the French Market, serve up some nice crab cakes, made with a high proportion of crab meat, and a lot of love.  They offer vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dining  options as well,  and I have a lot of respect for their dedication to producing good, healthy food, something that seems to be pretty scarce over in New Orleans.

Crab Cake Passion
at Meals from the Heart Cafe

 

 

9) Soft Tacos:

This may not be a food you would typically associate with New Orleans, but, on the other hand, the city was under Spanish rule for a while, so maybe that’s the reason for their taco-making prowess…or maybe that’s completely unrelated.  In any case, both of my soft-taco experiences in this town were both memorable, and pleasurable.  In fact, I have never tasted such amazing tacos!  The night of our arrival in New

Tacos!
at Juan’s Flying Burrito

Orleans, we headed over to SoBou, a tapas-style resto, and ordered, amoung other things, the crispy oyster taco.  Though the oysters were rather underwhelming, the freshness of the taco itself, and the zesty and flavourful accompaniments, made this a memorable dish.  At Juan’s Flying Burrito, the tacos were even better! There were also a ton of vegetarian options. Awesome!

 

10) Gumbo:

Obviously, the place to try gumbo is New Orleans.  This rich stew comes in a number of different varieties.  There are seafood gumbos, vegetable gumbos, and meat-based gumbos (chicken and sausage is a popular combo).  Prior to my trip to New Orle

Seafood Gumbo
at The GumboShop

ans, I had often made vegetable gumbos at home, but obviously, while I was there, I wanted to try an authentic version of the stew.  So, I tried a few different gumbos, both at The GumboShop and at Mr. B’s Bistro. I was impressed by the complex, and rich flavours of the stews at both restaurants, which likely can be attributed to dark rouxes and long, slow cooking, as well as by good stock.

 

Some things you may think are missing from this list:  po boys (which we’ve already been over), alligator, muffuletta, and pralines.  I did try alligator in New Orleans, and it was good.  However, it was breaded and deep-fried, and I didn’t find it particularly remarkable, so, for that reason, I have not included it here.  As for the muffuletta sandwich- well, that’s a meat-based sandwich, and I don’t eat meat, so…I don’t really feel equipped to review the sandwich…try it if you like!  As for the pralines…I did try some pralines while I was in New Orleans, and they were good, but I am not an aficionado, and I actually enjoyed some of the other sugary treats we tried over there more, so…if you like pralines, feel free to try some over there.

Until next time…happy eating!

Homemade Truffles

This year, for the holidays, in light of my new-found free time, and one of my sisters’ requests, I decided to make truffles. Now, having never made truffles before (I know, I can’t believe it myself!), I looked up a recipe online and found one on a blog called My Baking Addiction. The recipe is pretty simple:

Basic Truffles

yield | about 30 truffles

Ingredients

12 ounces chocolate, chopped (semisweet or bittersweet)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons liqueur, optional

Step 1: Make the Chocolate Mix

Stirring Butter into Melted ChocolateBasically, you melt the chocolate, then add the butter, cream, vanilla, and any other flavouring agents you would like. I decided to double the recipe and make six different types of truffles: matcha (green tea), espresso, fleur de sel, chili, Frangelico (a liqueur which tastes primarily of hazelnuts), and Grand Marnier. I made my basic mix, then separated it into six parts, each of which I subsequently labelled.

Chocolate Factory!Seasoning the Truffles

Step 2: Season Your Mix

I then proceeded to flavour my divided mixture with my chosen flavouring agents.  I used instant espresso powder for the espresso mix, matcha from Cha Noir for the green tea mix, cayenne for the chili mix…and- well, I guess the remaining ingredients are pretty self-evident.  I started with small amounts of the flavouring agents, and added more to taste.

Step 3: Shape the Truffles

Even after chilling the chocolate mixture, it’s still difficult to work with because it starts to melt (due to the warmth of your hands) as soon as you try to roll it into a ball.  I tried dunking my hands in ice water to cool them between truffles, but it was still very messy, and I ended up just accepting the fact that a) the truffles are not supposed to be round, and b) my hands were going to be covered in chocolate (there are worse things in life).

Some Thoughts on the Process

I think that the next time I make truffles I may just spread the mixture out on a rectangular tray before chilling it so that I can simply cut it into squares (which would probably be the easiest thing) or use cutters to cut it into little shapes.

I would have liked to differentiate all six sorts of truffles by rolling each type in something different to finish them off, but ended up sticking with the standard cocoa powder for most of them, simply because I wasn’t sure what else to use.  I did, however, roll the Grand Marnier truffles in a mixture of cocoa powder and ground dried orange peel (that I blitzed in the coffee grinder, then sifted), roll the green tea truffles in some matcha, and roll the Frangelico truffles in some crushed toasted hazelnuts.

I had briefly considered maybe rolling the chili truffles in a bit of cayenne, but the flavour would have been way too strong. The same logic applies to the fleur de sel truffles and the espresso truffles and their respective flavouring agents.

The Result

Finished TrufflesI was pretty happy with the results of my endeavour. I thought the truffles both looked and tasted good, and my sister was very happy with her gift.

To go a bit furthur in terms of final flavour analysis, I really liked the matcha truffles due to the way the initially bitter flavour of the matcha powder both complemented and contrasted with the bittersweet chocolate.

I may try a flakier salt for the salted truffles next time to play a bit more with the contrast in textures.

I’d like to try using something other than cayenne to flavour the chili truffles, perhaps a mildly smoked hot pepper powder…?

Anyway, that’s it for now.  ‘Til next time,

Sarah

Emson Smoker, Round Two: Smoked Tomatoes

So, for my second experiment with the Emson smoker,  I decided to try smoking some tomatoes.  I bought some organic cherry tomatoes that I found on sale at Vert Pomme Fruterie, and some brown tomatoes, both grown in Canada (yay!).  After a bit of research, I decided to leave the cherries whole, and cut the brown tomatoes in half, before smoking for ten minutes on the hot-smoke cycle.  My boyfriend suggested we also try smoking some sun-dried tomatoes.  So, we loaded everything into the smoker:

Tomatoes about to be smokedThe cherries were too small to stay on the rack, so we decided to put them on parchment paper. My boyfriend punched holes in the parchment paper, but I’m not sure that’s really necessary. I left him to start up the smoker while I went to attend to other things.

Unfortunately, he thought he had to soak the wood chips- so they never lit and didn’t actually smoke.  The tomatoes only smelled a bit smoky due to residual smoke inside the smoker.  So let this be a lesson to you; don’t soak wood chips when using the Emson Smoker!

However, all was not lost!  When we learned of our error, I suggested that we try cold-smoking the tomatoes for 10 minutes.

Tomatoes about to come out of the smokerThat worked out well.  The cherry tomatoes and the brown tomatoes were delightfully sweet and smokey.  The smoked sun-dried tomatoes were amazing.

The smell of smoke is a bit more prominent during the cold-smoking process, but it’s certainly not overly invasive, nor is it strong enough to set off smoke detectors.

Smoked Tomato SoupI used the smoked cherry and brown tomatoes to make a tomato soup.

I topped it with some chopped eggs that we had also smoked, cilanto, sour cream, and avocado oil.  The flavour was really nice.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Until next time,

Sarah

Emson Smoker

emson smokerSo, my boyfriend and I were at Walmart today (not the most sustainable store, I know, but sometimes you have to pick your battles), and we came across the Emson Smoker/pressure cooker on sale for $70. I’m not exactly sure why it was so cheap, since even on Amazon.com the list price is $179.99. Based on the the cheap price, and the pretty positive reviews, we decided that it would be a good buy. Anyway, Emson bills this as ‘the only combination pressure cooker and indoor smoker’. What’s really cool about this device is that you can both hot and cold smoke with it, and it can be used indoors. Whilst hot smoking, food will cook more quickly, due to the combination of hot smoking and pressure cooking. You can also use this device as a regular pressure cooker. Another feature that’s pretty cool is the option to program the smoker to first cold smoke, then hot smoke, automatically.

For my first experiment with this machine, I decided to do smoked baked potatoes (one of the recipes provided in the Emson smoker instruction and recipe booklet). All I had to do was put some wood chips in the little wood chip container (I decided on apple chips), put 1/2 a cup of water in the bottom of the cook pot, scrub the organic PEI yellow-fleshed potatoes that I had decided to use, place them on the racks provided, put the lid on the smoker, and place the weighted knob on the pressure cooking valve to seal it. I programmed the machine to hot smoke for one hour, as per the recipe.

The smoke smell, though detectable, was mild, kind of like shisha smoke, and did not set off the smoke alarm. However, according to some of the reviews that I have read (again, on amazon.com), the cold smoke setting releases more smoke into the surrounding area than does the hot smoke setting (I suppose because during hot smoking, you are pressure cooking, whilst during cold smoking, you are not). I plan to try cold smoking with the smoker soon, perhaps with eggs.

Potatoes in the smokerSmoked potatoes

The potatoes were perfectly cooked, and had a nicely smoked taste, almost like potatoes cooked on the BBQ (at least, that’s how my boyfriend put it). I used the minimum number of wood chips recommended in the recipe, so as not to overpower them with smoke flavour the first time around. Obviously, the amount of wood can be adjusted for more or less smokiness. I’m sure the the potatoes will be delicious with some salt, pepper, and sour cream!

smoked potatoSo far, I’m quite satisfied with this purchase and am excited to try smoking cheese, tofu, tomatoes…the possibilities are endless. My boyfriend has a littlechef smoker, but it cannot be used inside, and stays at his house, because there is more outside space at his place. This little Emson Smoker provides a lot more flexibility and possibility for experimentation.  I look forward to said experiments!

Till next time,

Sarah