Friday, October 31, 2008

Gastropod's Molecular Delights

Without further ado, I give you the top ten reasons to eat at the amazing Gastropod restaurant in Vancouver (besides Chef Angus An, of course – the best reason to visit):

10. Venison, plum, frisée and potato crisp amuse bouche!

9. Seared scallops with heirloom beets (beets!), choke cherry glaze and candied hazelnuts (mm!). I can't decide which part of the dish was more tasty – the beets were so perfectly prepared, but the scallops were unbelievable.

8. Oysters with horseradish 'snow' (how molecular!) and sauternes jelly (you know I love a sweet white wine in any form):

7. Pork done three (delicious) ways. Pork belly! Need I say more?

6. Squab, with pistachio and tongue (!) mousse, crab apple purée (how autumn!) and squash spaetzle (see the Omnivore's One Hundred).

5. Plum sorbet as a palette-cleanser:

4. A well-stocked cheese plate showing off Quebec (and French) cheeses and Saskatoon berries (how Canadian!):

3. Because Michelle is paying!

2. Horchata pannacotta! What on earth is that, you ask? Horchata is a Mexican (originally Spanish) rice drink made with milk, sugar and vanilla. The dessert also came with tres leche cake, dolce du leche and peach sorbet. And...
1. Because it's your birthday and the pastry chef very nicely helps you celebrate!

It was a lovely night. Thanks so much, Michelle!

Me, happily full.

Bonus reason: Because of the chocolate petit fours they give you with your tea!

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

What the Farmers' Market Provides

Following Meg's last two Odes to the Farmers' Market, I thought I would get a post in too, especially as Meg informs me that last week was the last one they're holding the market downtown. Sigh. But perhaps Meg will tell you about her Zombie Tomatoes if you ask nicely – just in time for Hallowe'en!

In any case, here are some of my own food experiences generated by visits to the Farmers' Market. It's amazing what such a variety of veggies and other produce can inspire. What the market giveth...
Not fried green tomatoes

These green zebras, plus a yellow accordion tomato (and a curvy green tomato that I'm afraid I have forgotten the name of) were combined into a delicious salsa verde, with garlic for bite and lime juice and cilantro for a little more flavour. Green heirloom tomatoes are so tasty! And pretty. The salsa went very well on some beef burgers one night.

Another night saw me making a beet soup with delicious roasted piping-hot beets and some sturdy organic carrots. Beets are amazing – I can't believe how brilliantly burgundy they are, and how they subsume every other colour in a recipe. They were so hot they were hard to peel, but they were lovely and sweet and blended beautifully with the carrots. I include the following ode to beets from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins:

"The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious...the beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies."

How poetic! There's lots more, but you should read the book for yourself as it's wonderfully odd. I remember reading these words as a teenager and being thoroughly confused. Robbins assures us that a Ukrainian proverb warns that any tale that starts with a beet will end with the devil ... but says that's a risk we'll have to take. My tale that began with a beet, however, ended with delicious soup! As you can see below.

One of the first things I tried with my market haul was stuffed squash blossoms – largely they were first because they were worrisomely fragile (though beautiful) and were sitting with their stems in water.

They looked something like this:

Except not as French. And as you can see, the above are zucchini blossoms. But the principle was the same! I made a mixture of ricotta cheese with various finely-chopped mushrooms and shallots, and the blossoms were stuffed and then breaded (with Japanese rice panko, as that's the only breadcrumb mixture we have) and fried.

Lots of recipes I read called for them to be deep-fried with a batter – which does sound good – but trying to keep the whole endeavour vaguely healthy, I went with shallowly-fried. They were delicious – and it was just fun to realize that you're eating a blossom! Next time I would make more, and possibly serve them as an hors d'oeuvre to lots of people, though possibly substituting a soft tofu or goat cheese for the ricotta (for the dairy-impaired, mais oui).

The farmers' market comes through again. These are certainly veggies to dream of in chillier times ... pass the soup!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Shoulder season supper: cozy and fresh come together

So, it's fall. I've completely come to terms with that now. But we're not totally in darkness yet. I have been looking suggestively at my slow cooker, but haven't yet been craving stew and roasted root veggies every day. There's still part of me that wants to eat green salad with fruit and tacos with fresh salsa. The farmers market on Saturday still had fresh heirloom tomatoes, so there.

Tonight I pulled together a dish that perfectly satisfied my need for summer and winter flavours to mingle. I thought I should share it in case you're feeling a bit mixed up by this shoulder season just like me.

I started by cooking some du puy lentils (French green lentils). These have been my favourite lentils lately. I love how tiny and delicate they are, their peppery flavour, and how quickly they cook (15–20 minutes, no pre-planning required!). So, I put 1 1/4 cups of du puy lentils in a small pot with lots of water and put them on the stove to simmer.

Then, I heated my large cast iron skillet and melted 2 tbsp of butter with 2 tbsp olive oil. I used this to saute 1/2 red onion (sliced), 1 sweet pepper (sliced – from the farmers' market, it was half red and half green), 2 garlic cloves (minced), and 1 fennel bulb (sliced). Once these had softened in the butter and oil, I added some spices – 1 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika, 1 tsp dill, 1/4 tsp Spanish smoked paprika – and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Next, I chopped up a whole savoy cabbage (1" pieces) and added this to the pan along with 1 1/2 – 2 cups veggie stock (conveniently stashed in my fridge from the batch I made this weekend). I covered the pan and let this all simmer together for a while. Oh, and I added 1–2 tbsp brown sugar 'cause the cabbage just seemed to be calling out for some sweetness.

While the veggies were simmering, the lentils finished cooking. I drained them, poured them into a bowl and stirred in the following: salt and pepper to taste, a few glugs of walnut oil, a small glug or two of white wine vinegar, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1/4 cup minced fresh mint, and 3 small green tomatoes, diced. Mmmm, I had to start eating this by the spoonful right away – so good, earthy, fresh and bright tasting. Tangy and a tiny bit spicy.

After my snacking, the cabbage was softened and just about ready to eat. I let it simmer uncovered for a few more minutes to reduce some of the liquid. Then I got impatient and decided it was okay a bit brothy. One final thing – I chopped up the fluffy fennel fronds and stirred them in.

I spooned the veggie mixture into a bowl and topped with the lentil salad. I wasn't sure what exactly I had ended up with, but it turned out to be really delicious! The cabbage was sweet and wintery, but still had that great fresh from the farm veggie taste, and the tangyness of the lentils with their mint and chopped fresh tomatoes brought enough summer into it all. Mmm, perfect to cozy up on the couch with, read the paper, and let the blustery sound of leaves falling drift into the background for a while.

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