Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another Contender for Summer Drink of '09

I bought a Saveur magaizine at the airport last week – it was The Texas Issue, how could I possibly resist – and it delivered, with a recipe for sangria so good that the awesome white sangria I usually make (this recipe from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson) has been outdone. Of course there's room in my heart for a favourite white sangria and a favourite red sangria, so there's no need to worry. But, I was just so surprised I loved this so much, as I'm usually not that wild about red sangria. It's often too sweet, or not really flavourful enough to wow me.

Saveur's Book Club Sangria has plenty of citrus (oranges, limes, and lemons) to balance the sweetness and add flavour, and the unexpected additions of pineapple and gingerale. It was really good – tart enough, tons of flavour, just the right amount of sparkle. Addictive. We didn't have a large enough pitcher, so made it in a big pot which we carried down to the back deck for easy refills while we ate a late (11:00!) dinner of bratwurst sausages topped with a choka of eggplant, tomato, peppers, sweet onion, and habanero pepper (more about that, and a recipe, to follow soon). The sausages were made nearby in Invermere, our appetites were fueled by a late afternoon mountain-biking adventure (my first!), it was the eve of solstice, the company was unmatched, and the sangria completed the perfection. Ah, why I love summer.

A few notes about the recipe:

  • Wine – we used Cono Sur pinot noir, which turned out to be a good choice.
  • Sweetener – we used agave syrup instead of sugar, so skipped the first step of boiling the sugar and water. We just combined all of the ingredients, using about 3/4 cup of agave syrup for a double-recipe. Taste as you go and add more if you like it sweeter. I love agave syrup because it dissolves easily in cold liquids, making it perfect for iced tea, lemonade, sangria... You can get it at most natural food stores.
  • Fruit – we couldn't get a ripe fresh pineapple, so used canned, and it was still good (would be awesome with fresh, but if you can't get it, don't fear). We also substituted nectaries for peaches, also with good results.

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The Freshest Salad

This bowl full of delicious, so-fresh-they're-nearly-still-alive greens was my first garden salad. As in, from our garden, greens grown with our very own hands. Last Friday, just after arriving back from Kelowna, and hours before leaving for Radium, I dropped by the garden (I can't walk by without stopping, no matter how little time I have or how much I'm carrying – I've tried) and picked a bunch of arugula and mixed greens. With them, I made my favourite salad of the moment: greens with chickpeas, feta, and a maple-balsamic-basil vinaigrette.

The chickpeas and balsamic dressing are inspired by the salad at Pagliacci's in Victoria which I love. Theirs has lettuce, chickpeas, tomato, carrots, red onion, and whole kalamata olives, and I always choose the balsamic vinaigrette to go with it. Although those other veggies are great with it (love grated carrots in a salad), I've become partial to this simplified version, with only the feta and chickpeas. Especially when the greens are as sublime as these were! Don't they look like they're nearly climbing out of the bowl with freshness? I could happily eat this every day.

If you want to join me in salad-heaven, here's what to do:

  • Wash and dry assorted greens.
  • Drain and rinse canned chickpeas.
  • Crumble feta.
  • To make dressing, whisk together equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a glug of maple syrup, a couple of tablespoons minced fresh basil, salt and pepper.
  • Combine greens, chickpeas, and feta, and toss with dressing until lightly coated.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

New Summer Drink! Tang-tastic!

Lemonade is always a traditional standby drink for summer though a truly great lemonade is few and far between. Lemonade has to be tart - if there isn't a tingling in your cheeks you've done something wrong. Tell us what you think of this one.

Strawberry Lemonade

2.5 cups hulled strawberries
a few whole strawberries
1.5 cups lemon juice (~12 lemons)
.5 cup honey
4 cups water
4 cups ice cubes
mint sprigs

1. Dissolve .5 cup honey in 2 cups boiling water, add ice cubes to cool it
2. Squeeze the juice out of the lemons (the amount of juice per lemon varies wildly, the original recipe called for 5-8 so i would suggest buying more than you need)
3. Blend the hulled strawberries
4. Combine the honey water, lemon juice, strawberry puree, 2 remaining cups cold water and ice cubes and stir or blend.
5. Pour into glasses, add whole strawberry and mint as garnish

Most recipes call for a simple syrup to sweeten this drink but we didn't want to wait for the heating and cooling so we tried to find an alternative: agave syrup (a natural sweetener) which will dissolve in cold water but couldn't find any. So we used honey instead and it was perfect, just the right balance of tart & sweet with a subtle strawberry flavour.

It will be a summer of delicious lemonade. Enjoy!

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mushroom Inspiration

I was inspired at the beginning of this week by a mushroom soup brought into work for a meeting (from Trees Organic). It was so delicious - earthy, creamy, pure liquid mushroom that I had to try making it.

For all those who have ever hated soup or thought it was just dirty dish water, make this soup and be converted. When soup is made with real ingredients, it has great flavour. I used 2 portabellos, 1/3 kg of white and 1/3 kg of brown mushrooms, but experiment with any you like (It can be a new soup every time if you change the mushroom combo). This was my first ever mushroom soup and YAY! it turned out wonderfully. Pretty close to the one from Trees. So make this and enjoy, be swept into the earthy depths of this mushroom soup. Hope you love it as much as I do.

Mushroom Soup

* 5 tbsp butter
* 1 kg/2 lb. of any mushrooms, sliced
* 1 x large chopped onion
* 1 clove garlic, chopped
* 1/8 c brandy, dry sherry or Madeira
* 4 c of chicken, beef or vegetable stock
* 1 tbsp flour
* 1/4 c milk/cream
* salt and pepper

1. Melt 4tbsp of butter in a soup pot and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes, add the mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms are wilted and release their moisture.

2. Add the brandy or other alcohol. (Feel free to omit this, but it does add an dimension to the flavour.)

3. In a separate pan, make a roux ( melt 1 tbsp butter, stir in the flour, when combined, add the milk/cream bit by bit until combined)

4. Add the roux to the soup, heat soup to a slow simmer. Simmer for five minutes or so stirring constantly.

5. Add the stock and simmer for another 20 minutes.

6. Remove a couple of slotted spoons-worth of mushrooms (1 cup) to a separate bowl. Blend the rest of the soup. Recombine the mushrooms with the blended soup.

7. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Let us know how you like it, or any exciting variations you might have.

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