Friday, June 06, 2008

Maple Bay: Day Three

Well, all good things, as they say, must come to an end, and that is true even of an idyllic long weekend at the cabin. But, luckily for us, they came to an end in style – and true to form, involving lots of good food and drink!

Breakfast on Sunday: Pear Smoothies and Asparagus Frittata

We awoke on day three at Maple Bay to the dulcet tones of the blender, as Alisha made us all a breakfast smoothie (see photo of said smoothies above, glowing in the sunlight). The smoothies blended ripe pears, goat yogurt (or gogurt, as we like to call it), ice and honey, and were a fantastic way to start a Sunday.

Alisha prepared a delicious frittata in one of the cabin's sturdy cast-iron pans, which handily went into the oven to cook.

I don't know whether we've spent much time discussing frittatas on WeDine, but essentially a frittata is a thick open-faced omelette, usually containing chopped veg and sometimes meat, which is cooked on the burner but then transferred to the oven to finish cooking. Alisha's frittata called for asparagus, both chopped and left in spears, fresh thyme, scallions and nutmeg (ah, the secret ingredient!) and was made with goat-friendly cheeses and soy milk. And bacon, which the recipe didn't call for, but was certainly a welcome addition! Here's my slice, served with a little multigrain toast:

After breakfast was cleared away, we set out on a hike to the top of Maple Mountain (I kid you not, it was indeed called that), being anxious to spend the day getting in what activities we could before we had to go. Along the way (on the cleverly-named Maple Mountain Road) Raisa found some juicy-looking blackberries for us to try. This is not the first time Raisa has handed me something she's gleaned from a bush or tree on the side of the road and told me to eat it. Though I experienced a brief city-girl twinge of suspicion of foods not gathered from a supermarket display, I quite happily ate it, and it was wonderful! Ah, blackberries in the sun.

I omit the climb to the top of Maple Mountain, largely because very little occurred that was food-related, and also because no one wants to see photos of me huffing and puffing up a mountainside – but I include this photo as evidence that it was achieved!

We hurried back from the hike as we had to fit in another meal (of course!) before we started the journey back to the ferry.

Lunch on Sunday: Steak Sandwiches and Cidre

Meg and Alisha went up ahead and very nicely (using all the charm at their disposal) managed to buy some tasty kaiser buns off of the restaurant along the road (possibly the Shipyard Pub and Restaurant), as we had forgotten to get some fresh ones. Much frantic packing ensued when we returned home, and the car was loaded up whilst Michelle cooked her delightful steak sandwiches (with jus! and grainy mustard!) in the kitchen. Then, because it was such a glorious sunlit day, and we weren't sure when we'd see that again, we ate outside in the garden.

Alisha assembles a steak sandwich

The treats didn't stop there, as Michelle decided that the sandwiches would go perfectly with a bottle of cider we'd picked up in Giverny a month before. They did go very well together – French cider is a thing of beauty, not overly sweet, nice and crisp, perfect amount of carbonation (see Michelle's Ode to Cidre here).

Michelle pours some Monet-inspired cidre in the sunshine

We all had a lovely picnic in the autumn sun, and the best part was that we had time to enjoy it and reflect on our fantastic cabin getaway. And how better to reflect on a weekend of food than with a great meal?

We boarded the ferry back and (if you can believe it) had a ferry picnic of leftovers on the way home. I managed to nip outside to catch the setting sun, but it was absolutely freezing on deck! Our sunny September reprieve was drawing to a close. But what a fabulous idea, and what a great holiday. Hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did, and thanks to Alisha for coming up with the idea in the first place, Jim & Betty for letting us stay, and to all the girls for making all that delicious food all weekend. Let's make it an annual event!

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Salad as Soup

Lettuce, Lovage & Risotto

Do you have archetypes about foods you didn't even know about?

My archetypal lettuce is a cold crisp head of iceberg, in salads and as garnishes for sandwiches and burgers.
Despite the fact, I can't tell you the last time I had it. With this cold, crisp lettuce in mind, would you cook lettuce? I would have said no are you crazy, this is the second last thing I would cook (the first being fruit).

Butter Lettuce

Having seen a tv chef make a cream-based lettuce soup from leftovers, I was intrigued to try this recipe and, well this is exactly what we did. With 2 special vegetarian guests, Daniela and Shula, this Wednesday was all-veggie: Lettuce and Lovage Soup followed by Mushroom Risotto.

Now most of you will have asked, as we did, what the hell is Lovage? The only thing I knew, it is supposedly in season. Lovage "is a hardy perennial herb with ribbed stalks similar to celery with a strong taste and smell similar to celery and parsley" ( It seems to be an herb commonly used in the past but which is in an currently in a ebb. Unfortunately, we could not get lovage (hopefully it will make an appearance in the near future), instead using fresh tarragon as the suggested alternative in the recipe.

1 medium onion, chopped
a little butter or olive oil
2 large butterhead lettuce (or the outer leaves from four or more lettuces)
250g frozen peas (or fresh shelled weight)
1L good chicken or vegetable stock
5-6 fresh lovage leaves (plus 4 more to garnish) or 3-4 sprigs fresh tarragon
salt and pepper

1. Sweat the onion in the oil or butter until soft, then add the peas and lettuce. Pour over two-thirds of the stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 4-6 minutes (cook until tender).

2. Remove from the heat and add the lovage leaves or tarragon, then blend the soup with a hand blender or in a liquidiser. I blended 1/3 coarsely so it has some texture and 2/3 more smoothly. I prefer a thicker soup but use the remaining stock to thin it to your preference.

We served this hot but following are instructions for chilling and/or reheating.

3. To serve cold, chill in the fridge, or if you're in a hurry, transfer to a cold bowl and place this in a second, larger bowl half filled with iced water. Stir until chilled, changing the water and adding more ice as necessary.
4. To serve hot, reheat, stirring occasionally and do not allow to boil. In both cases, garnish with a single lovage leaf or a tiny sprig of tarragon in each bowl.

(original recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)

Risotto is a staple in our house, usually a more wintry dish but as the weather hasn't been all that warm, we can be forgiven. This was made by the standard stirring stove-top method with brown and portabello mushrooms diced and added to the onions and cooked until softened before adding any liquid (alcohol or stock - I use various alcohols for the first 1/2 cup - today it was Gordon's gin, but i have used Bombay gin, rum and vodka).

Any suggestions on other alcohols or flavouring to use with risotto?

Now to the cheese used to finish this dish, as Daniela doesn't eat rennet we separated into 2 pots using as rennet-free parmesan in one and romano in the other. As always, delicious!

We enjoyed a nice red wine - Gato Negro, courtesy of Daniela.

What food archetypes do you have?
How does a staple food/flavour go out of style? Do you have any examples?

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