Wednesday, January 27, 2010

From the freezer with love

Kelowna cannot decide if it is winter or spring. For the last couple of weeks I have been waking up to frost, then just after breakfast, biking in the warm, above zero sunlight. And although it is not quite warm enough to ditch my mittens, it looks, feels, and sounds (birds singing as if in Snow Whites cottage) more like April than January. So long as the weather stays this way, and doesnt pull a prankster drastic freeze come Feb, I will be content to revel in the fact that things might be turning green a little sooner (I am knocking on wood here, folks--this is far to blissful a thought to jinx).

I love spring; it is by far my favorite season; it rejuvenates me. Spring brings sunshine and warmth and tulips and skirts and shoes that dont require socks. Theres little lambs and the chickens start laying eggs again. Let's not forget, too, rhubarb and peas and fava beans and the first crop of rapini. I am trying really hard not to get excited too early here, it is after all, still January and there is not a bud in sight yet, but I feel like clicking my heels and saying so-long to winter-- bring on the April showers and May flowers.

In celebration mode, I pulled a bag of peas out of my freezer that I shelled last June (the seasons were late to change last year), a habit I am trying to get into before it is time to refill it again. Even though my freezer is a right buffet of chocies, there are still many wonderful wintery veg at the farmers market that my fridge is jsut as full of fresh local goods. So I compromised and made a meal that was as much a mixture of the two seasons as the weather outside. It was a sort of non-committal, dont- get- your- hopes- up -dish- that was both tuck in wintery warmth and fresh spring. And with all the bags of peas still in my freezer, I will be able to keep celebrating even if January decides to be winter again.

Sage and Pea Barley with Roasted Sunchokes, Turnips and Hazelnut Pesto
The pesto was another freezer gift, frozen in icecube trays for easy use. The toasty buttery hazelnuts and fresh parsely flavour were brilliant with both the sweet peas and earthy roots. The sage made the whole thing warmer--perfect because it may be sunny, but its sure not warm yet. Serves two.

Gently soften in a pan:
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
Add in, cover with water and simmer for twenty to thirty minutes
2/3 cup pot barley

Meanwhile, roast on a parchment lined sheet at 375F:
1/2-1 cup sunchokes, halved if large
1/2-1 cup turnips, cut in wedges
drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper

When the barley is cooked, drain off most excess water, leaving about two tablespoons, and stir in:
2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1 1/2 tsp dried sage

Heat through, combine with roasted roots and top with a big glob of hazelnut pesto (just follow your favorite basil pesto recipe, substituting parsely for the basil and hazelnuts for the pines). Think spring.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This sabbath

I may not be religious, but there is something especially sacred about Sundays; a day of rest even for non-believers...and non-resters. The last day of the week is always special to me, or at least I try to make it that way by reading my favorite section of the Globe, having coffee with a girl friend via telephone, spending plenty of time outside, spending plenty of time in the kitchen. Sunday dinners, a ritual for many families, occurs in my single home too, either with invites, or just me, wine, a piece of fish, and dessert. Which was exactly how tonight, today, went.

To start, I was actually waking up at a normal people (non-bakers) hour. Eight am meant sunshine and CBC radio one as my wakeup call (their morning show is fantastic), and time enough to enjoy breakfast, a restaurant review read, and bike ride before my buddy Andy arrived for another Sunday favorite of mine: canning.

To carry on the Pink Lady obsession (and add yet another preserve to my sagging pantry shelf), Andy came over to make apple butter. Now Andy is no canning amateur, enjoying, in his unexpectedly homemaker sorta way, making jams and jellies with his ma, so he was not visiting this time for a lesson in cookery--he brought some of his homemade mint jelly in the cutest of tiny little jars, along with a batch of muffins (the boy is getting more Sunday invites for sure). However, he has never canned without pectin, or sans recipe. I have never canned with pectin, and make it up as I go, referrencing The Joy of Cooking for processing times and other fickle matters regarding botulism prevention. So it was a lesson in sporadicism, and fun to have company. With cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, and bay leaf in the mix, my kitchen smelt fragrant and sweet, and four "pops" later (a very small batch--seriously, my shelf is going to collapse), we considered ourselves successful.

We didnt stop there however, there was far too much Sunday left to enjoy. Even while we waited for the butter to cook itself perfect, we had attempted panna cotta (the results away me in my fridge--the dessert portion of my sacred Sunday). When the kitchen was tidy again and still smelling of spice, we went for a two hour hike up and down and all around Knox Mountain, refueling with caffiene before deciding we had been far to productive for a day religiously devoted to rest and vowed to relax for the rest of the evening. But not before a great dinner.

Andy and I work at the fish shop together, and one of the perks of the job was tonights dinner; ginormous tuna sides get cut into steaks, but the chunk on the end near the tail gets cut up for seafood mix, which we had far to much of yesterday, so it came home with me instead-- Im just taking one for the team, really, saving such a beautiful, albiet out of season piece of fish from being cooked with other random trimmings only to be tossed with pasta and cream and blasphemously topped with cheese. No, it was far to shiny and pink and moist looking for such treatment, and really, it was a small sacfrifice on my part to salvage it for a wonderful Sunday dinner. (Tooting my own horn here) Wonderful. And now I`ll see if those panna cottas are the perfect end to the perfect Sunday. Hope yours was perfect too.

Bay and Rosemary Roasted Tuna with Couscous, Celery Root, Turnips, and Capers
What contributes to Sunday dinner's fabulousness is Saturday mornings Farmers Market finds. I tend to go overboard at the market, especially when the veg offers so much color and freshness in a season typically devoid of such; I started this meal with a shaved salad of heirloom carrots, jeruselem artichokes and fennel. I prefer my tuna medium to medium rare, so feel free to adjust the cooking time to your liking. Portions are for two.

To prepare the tuna, marinate your pieces in:
glug of good olive oil
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (or stick 1/2 a sprig in each loin)
1-2 crumbled bay leaves
squeeze of lemon

In a coverable, oven proof dish (i favor my beloved stoneware Creuset knock off), place:
1 large celery root, peel and sliced in half moon wedges
6 small turnips, quarted
2 stems thyme
1 stem Rosemary
Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare your couscous (if you own a steamer for this, great, if you dont, just cook it like porridge, as I did)

Simmer gently until softened:
1/2 shallot
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
Add in, making sure you have at least 1 1/3 cup water in the pot:
2/3 cup couscous
Cook, stirring, until all the water is absorbed, about three minutes

Remove your veg from the "Creuset" and set aside, covered to stay warm. Turn the oven up to 400 and in the same dish, pour in couscous and place the tuna pieces on top. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Scatter 1 tbsp of capers overtop, cover, and bake for 7 minutes, adding in your veg for the last minute to reheat, because who wants cold veg or more than one pot on a day of rest? Take time and enjoy, because tomorrow is Monday.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pretty in Pink

Last spring I had to switch to Granny Smith apples when the Pink Lady supply ran dry. Granted, there are far greater tragedies in life-- such as just a couple weeks later when the only apples available in this beautiful orchard country came all the way from Washington--but i do remember truly missing them. So this year, I am planning ahead.

And why not? I freeze/can/jam/dry every other fruit that i madly love and even ones i just sorta like a little. Apples, second only, probably, to apricots, for my habitual love of them, surely deserve a place in my cold storage. And so begins the madness.

I started with apple sauce. But I only made one jar. Silly, I know, but I wanted to be sure that it turned out all right before making a ginormous batch--vanilla beans are expensive, after all, and I didnt need another incident like the champagne peach fiasco. Now, however, it is time to make a vanilla investment, because the sauce was lovely. Goes to show when you have apples as wonderful as Pink Ladies, it doesnt take alot to make em shine, just water, heat and vanilla in this case. Oh so pretty too.

Next: the rings of ladies in my dehydrater right now. The last of a big batch, I have already snuck a few. It says something that I am even bothering with these, as dried is about the last way I would eat an apple--though juice is right up there too. But since a pal wooed me with amazying oatmeal walnut cookies laced with sneaky little bits of dried apples, my opinions changed. They did so even further with the ones I am doing myself. Again, its those darn Pink Ladies, they shine with flavour even when you suck the life out of them.

This weekend: apple butter, so that the ladies can join me for breakfast through spring and summer until they return in full form in the fall.

Let the craziness (aside from referring friend-like to apples) begin. Its a girls weekend.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

bud breaking and baking

Tonight there was sunshine while I ate dinner. I dont think I even ate dinner in daylight once this summer, let alone the middle of January. A perk of my new life as a baker.

With school finished and only a part time job at Codfathers until the Grapevine re-opens in April, it seemed like a good time to learn the art of bread. So I asked Monika at Okanagan Grocer if I could do a stage with her, an unpaid stint taken on by many a young cook to learn a specific skill or simply to put a fancy pants restaurant on your resume (alot of high ended European restaurants run on free labour). So Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, beginning at midnight, I join the gals at Ok Grocer for some baking, chatting, and MJ dancing.

To do this, I have to retrain my system on Tuesday; read: pull an all nighter so that by Wednesday afternoon I am ready for bed. I thought this would be more difficult than it was, but I was amazed to find that eleven am Wednesday felt like five pm, and sure enough, waking up in the middle of the night, it felt just like my usual eight am. Plus, it is kind of fun to have breakfast at eleven at night, lunch while the sun rises, and, although surprising, dinner in daylight.

And a good dinner it was: buckwheat and ricotta gnocchi with tomatos and morels. I have dipped into my stash of frozen summer veg, and the morels were locally dried last spring. With the sun the way it was, though, it could easily have been a freshly made dish of a completely different season.

Though the switch from the notoriously grey Okanagan winters is great for the endorphins, there is a major downside to such early warmth and cheer: bud breaking. My pal explained this to me the other day as he chided me for revelling at the sun last weekend, as a too-early blooming of fruit trees, only to leave them barren in the summer. The idea has haunted me since, to the point of having a nightmare in which I am baking at the restaurant and there is no fruit for the flans, so I go searching fruitlessly at every orchard in the valley, the panic becoming stronger and stronger with each empty storehouse. Honestly, it is a scary thought! Whatll i eat this summer if there are no apricots? Sure, I laugh now at my overzealous canning and freezing, but now i fear that it will not last, and there may be nothing to replenish it with...ever again! Of course, I am probably being ridiculous, but then again, this season showed hardly any blackberries at winter's fault, so it is highly possible that stone fruit could be extinct this summer. I would rather have two more months of treacherous grey and cold. Because at least I have to bakery ovens to keep me warm.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hello again

Since the last post I have moved, been heartbroken by a pooch (or rather, the pooch-giving-away-SPCA), made fine food at school, made not-so-fine-food at school, laughed alot at school, finished school, and am now cutting fish for money and baking bread for bread (literally, a loaf as a wage). All that and so much more, and no internet to tell you all about it.

Until now. And I do not know where to begin. But I am glad to be able to be back.