Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Tasting Spoons: The Farmer’s Market Series

Tasting Spoons are practically the height of jazziness in the world of canapés. Apparently, you can put just about anything in a large, ceramic spoon and call it a party!

I’m obviously not about to be left out of such fun, and as we know, I adored my trip to the Farmer’s Market the other day, so I thought it might be fun to do a tasting series on the things I purchased.

The first spoon was a simple heirloom tomato salad with feta, basil and balsamic. Definitely not the most dramatic or new flavour combination, but a fabulous go-to when you are looking for a simple salad. Chiffonade your basil to make it look fancy. 

You already know about the scapes, but for the spoon series I decided to sauté a few shrimp with the scapes and butter and serve that. It’s a fresh take on your standard (and delicious) shrimp with garlic butter.

The final spoon is the most exciting spoon for me, because those are home-grown nasturtiums, bitches. (I know that’s a little racy for this blog, but I’m bloody well proud.) “Oh, what’s a nasturtium?” you say. That, my friends, is an edible flower. You can grow them yourself, and then you can EAT THEM. Flowers! You can eat them! How fun! How pretty! Right? If anything was made to go in a spoon, it is an edible flower. The reason I am particularly proud is because most things I attempt to grow die within five days of being in my care. It’s heartbreaking. I can’t even grow mould in my fridge (Ha! Just kidding. That totally happens if I’m not careful). Anyway. Here’s the thing about the nasturtiums. I planted seeds, and the next thing you know, I’ve got actual plants in a pot growing. I love it. You can eat the leaves of this plant too. They taste a bit like green pepper. The flowers are more peppery- almost spicy. I mixed them here with some microgreens from my local growers and gave them just the tiniest splash of some really nice olive oil. Little salt and pepper, and you’re good to go.

Try this tasting series from your own trip to the Farmer’s Market. Be creative and send us your pictures! 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Grilled Swordfish

Alright, I don't mean to be a blogaholic and write up every single thing I eat. But I have to get it down on paper while it's still fresh in my mind, or I'll forget it. And how can I help it if two amazing meals piggyback themselves in one weekend? And how in the name of God was I supposed to know that when I went out this morning to buy Negroni ingredients (because I have such a huge crush on Anthony Bourdain), I was going to actually fall in love with a piece of swordfish? Life happens that way. So if it's too much, read this blog on another day when you're feeling lonely for a LadyGirl recipe!

I have to give total credit for the inspiration for this recipe to Giada De Laurentiis. One of the original goddesses of the Food Kingdom. I've been way too heavy on the soy based marinades lately, so I Googled around for some inspiration. Her grilled swordfish was the only one I found that didn't call for soy sauce. I can't really give her credit for my amazing herb garden, nor the amazing infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars I foraged out on my own adventures. But I can't blame her for not having my fabulous life! Her recipe called for mint and basil. Check. I pretty much took it from there.

So you'll need an awe inspiring piece of swordfish. It's a rare find in my neck of the woods as you can tell from my excitement.

For the marinade:
6 or 7 fresh basil leaves
5 or 6 fresh mint leaves
about 1/2 cup of olive oil (I used my Tuscan herb infused oil, which sadly, is nearly gone)
a splash of balsamic vinegar (of course I used my cinnamon pear infused which I value more than my most important piece of jewelry)
zest and juice of a lemon
4 cloves of finely chopped garlic
freshly ground pepper and course sea salt

Marinate your fish for about half an hour and grill it on high heat for about 4 minutes per side. Take it off the heat and cover with foil to let it rest for about 10 minutes. And here's a tip for you grilling newbies - start your meat or fish at 12:00 o'clock on the dial and after 2 minutes, rotate it to 3:00 o'clock so you get those amazing grill marks like you see on the food channel. Hahah just threw that in because it's fun to have your grilled food looking gorgeous!

For my side with this meal, I made an arugula salad. I just tossed it with some of my treasured cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar and my Hojiblanca olive oil that is so damn virgin you feel like you have to get down on one knee and ask God's permission to use it! And course sea salt. Voila! Anybody can impress with this one. Enjoy my friends. I promise no more blogs for a week at least. Unless I come up with something amazing like this!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Grilled Shell On Shrimp

I can't begin to tell you how much I'm enjoying my reducing diet! So far, I've lost 25 pounds in just 8 weeks, and there is no better feeling in the world than going around with a baggy ass because your clothes are two sizes too big. And to tell you the truth, it no longer feels like a diet. It feels more like a lifestyle now. I am naturally drawn to healthier food choices because when you feel like a million bucks everyday, you don't even want to cheat.

Plus I'm still thoroughly enjoying my new infused vinegars and olive oils, so experimenting with them is more like play than sloggy old cooking. It rained today, so that means grab something out of the freezer for dinner so as not to drag in groceries and get soaked to the skin. So shell on shrimp was the thing that jumped out at me first from the deep freeze. You'll grill these with the shell on. High heat for only about 3 minutes per side. I made a veggie stir fry for my side because that's how I roll these days. But you could serve them with a rice pilaf or pasta and grilled vegetables. I loved these so much that I'm going to serve them as an appetizer at our annual family get together next week.

For the marinade you'll need:
1 large shallot
a chunk of peeled ginger (about an inch long and an inch around)
4 large cloves of peeled garlic
1/2 cup of soy sauce
zest of 1 lime and the juice of 2 limes
a squeeze of honey (about a tablespoon and a half)
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
1/3 cup of olive oil or peanut oil
freshly ground pepper
fresh cilantro (about 5 stems but with the stems removed)
Put all of this into a blender or processor (I used my Magic Bullet) and puree it all up until smooth like a paste.
3 or 4 green onions chopped
Thaw your bag of shrimp and rinse them well. Put them in a bowl and add the green onion and the puree. Stir it all around and let it marinade for about half an hour.

Preheat your grill to high heat and grill the shrimp for about 3 minutes per side. Or flip them when the shell turns pink. Discard the remaining marinade.

These are messy and really fun to eat. The flavour in the marinade marries perfectly to shrimp, so make lots. They'll go fast! Enjoy friends!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Scape Pesto

The Farmer’s Market is a wonderful place. You can’t know what you might find. As I posted earlier this week, I made an amazing blackcurrant jam from a market find. I also bought an entire bag of “scapes” which I bought simply because I had never heard of such a thing before.

Have you ever heard of a scape? No? Check out the deal here, but basically they are what happens to your garlic if you let it sit for too long and then you go to use it and there’s that green shoot coming from it and you think to yourself, “Why the heck don’t I just buy the pre-minced jarred garlic?” (because you’re pretentious, and you don’t want the Loblaws checkout guy to judge you, that’s why). Lynn Crawford, who delights me regularly on various food-vision, calls these a “crazy, unusual, powerful, passionate vegetable.” Who wouldn’t want to eat such a thing?

Crawford suggests a pesto, and so did the woman I bought them from at the market. Pesto is absolutely my most favourite sauce by far for pasta, so that suggestion is like music to my ears. The beauty thing about pesto is you can put it on just about anything, and really use a ton of different flavours for it. The basic formula would be:

Large amount of herb(s)+smaller amount of toasted nut+ healthy amount of oil+ sprinkle of cheese

The traditional option is basil, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan. With my scapes, I chose scapes and arugula, toasted pine nuts (but you can use almonds), olive oil and parmesan. I use a cheap, imitation, knock-off Magic Bullet, because I don’t have a food processor, so I fill it right up with the greenery (I used equal parts scape and arugula), then add a sprinkling of nuts. The oil amount depends on the consistency that you like for your pesto. I wanted this to be a fairly solid pesto, so I used about a third of a cup. You can always add more. Then a little cheese and whip it all up.

The scapes add an amazing mellow garlic flavour, without having you feel like you need a breath mint after. There are peppery tones from the arugula, and finally a nice earthiness from the nuts. It was delicious. I put it on a risotto with some roasted beets. I also stuffed a chicken breast with it and grilled that up for my dining companion. (He doesn’t dig on beets.) It was just great.

Scapes, according to the handout I was given, also make a great green bean replacement. Call me a lush, but when I think of green beans, you know what I think of? Those amazing spicy pickled beans that come with a delicious Caesar (Bloody Mary to you non-Canadians). Blog to come on that soon! Visit your local farmer’s Market soon though if you want to try these- the season ends in just a week or two!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Espresso Infused Balsamic Vinegar Chicken Salad

My Land! I haven't hit one out of the ball park like this for a while now! I'm still delirious with excitement from my olive oil shopping trip from the weekend. I actually haven't been able to sleep because I've been thinking up ways to put my goods to creative use. I drew my inspiration for this recipe from one of my favourite European traditions. I love how they serve their espresso with a tray of cheese and fruits and nuts. So classically elegant, and not to mention delicious. What a lovely way to relax and visit with your guests after being in the kitchen all day cooking for them! I wanted those flavours and also to really feature my new Espresso Balsamic Vinegar. So why not make it a healthy main course?

For this recipe, you'll need:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
a package of arugula
herbs (since I have a jazzy herb garden, I used cilantro, basil and Thai basil)
a pack of goat cheese (chevre if we're puttin' on the ritz!)
a can of mandarin pieces
a handful or so of chopped walnut pieces

And for the dressing:
1/2 cup of olive oil (I of course used my new Tuscan herb infused)
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar - Espresso infused if you're as fortunate as I am!
a splash of pure maple syrup (since I love to roll homeland proud!)
zest and juice of 1/2 a big naval orange
a teaspoon of red curry paste
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
whisk this all up and put it in a jar in the fridge to chill

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Season your chicken breasts with salt, pepper, a light sprinkling of allspice and a teaspoon of your balsamic vinegar brushed on each one. Bake them off on a cookie sheet lined with tin foil and sprayed with Pam for about 35 - 40 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them rest for about 10 minutes. Then slice or chop into bite size chunks.

Chop your herbs roughly and toss them around with your arugula. Drizzle some dressing and toss until they're moistened, but not sloppy. Add your nuts, mandarins, chopped up chicken and break up your goat cheese over your greens. Drizzle more dressing over the top of everything and season with freshly ground pepper. And serve it up! So easy and fast. I took one bite and wanted to retire at once from my day job and stay home to infuse vinegars and olive oils for my new career! Yum!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Summer Flavour

Isn't summer so awesome? I just got home from a road trip and spent the most amazing 20 hours with Kelly there ever was! We both have such busy schedules, so we always pack in as much fun as we possibly can in the time we have together. And just once every summer, I motor down to Kingston for a Kelly jam packed overnight visit of pure fun! We had two goals in mind this weekend. Some beach time for sure, and to take in the military show at Old Fort Henry. We did both very successfully. And Kelly was writing a review for the local paper on the Fort Henry show, so we were V.I.P.'s at the Fort! Special bracelet armbands in blue to indicate we were somebodies, and as God is my witness, they put the most handsome young waiter there ever was to serve us! (These things matter to ladies of years such as myself).

BUT, we found a few extra minutes to take a side trip to a new and fantastic boutique in Kingston, the Kingston Olive Oil Company. What a unique and delicious shopping experience it was.The front half of the store is dedicated to various balsamic vinegars infused with different and creative flavour combinations. The back half of the store is dedicated to Extra Virgin Olive Oil! I think Rachel Ray will think she has died and gone to heaven if she were to enter over the doorstep. They have a tasting station out on the sidewalk with a selection of vinegars and olive oils and bread to draw you into the store or not. You can taste and move on if you choose. But I doubt you will.

I purchased two olive oils and two vinegars. Since I've been driving all day, and I've been away all weekend, my larder wasn't freshly stocked. I have a few recipes in mind, which I'll blog here after I experiment with them a bit, but I was too excited not to at least give my new oils a debut on my Sunday dinner table. So I grilled some top sirloins with my Tuscan herb infused olive oil. And I sautéed some onion, mushroom and snow peas in butter and Hojiblanca extra virgin olive oil. The Hojiblanca is not an infused oil, but rather, one of the most virgin oils you can get. You can taste every single item in the store. I was drawn to this oil because it was so damn virgin that I imagined myself chewing on the bark of the olive tree! Really amazing! In addition to my oils, I purchased two infused balsamic vinegars. Espresso infused, and also cinnamon pear infused. The possibilities are endless! I'm thinking about salads and desserts and some gazpachos, and you name it! Truly, my new oils and vinegars excite me much, much more than new shoes even! All I did was drizzle some of my Tuscan herb infused olive oil over my steaks after I took them off the grill, and I felt I could hands down WIN the Master Chef challenge!  Hahaha Flavour Town is going on right in your own backyard friends! Cheers.

Blackcurrant and Balsamic Jam

I basically made the jam so I could make a fun label.

I have had quite the delightful weekend for myself. I survived Southern Ontario Tornado 2013 and started Saturday with a trip to the Farmer’s Market. I now have material for about ten posts, but we’ll start with what I did today, which was blackcurrant jam.

I’ve never made a preserve of any type before, for a number of reasons. One, I am not a pioneer. Secondly, it seemed rather intimidating. It seemed it would take hours, and it also seemed like the potential for poisoning and killing people was high. So I was put off, obviously. Up until yesterday. Yesterday, those gorgeous little black currants were just calling out to me, begging me to take them home and simmer them with gallons of sugar, and then spread them on delicious various cheeses and baguettes.

I acquiesced.  I feel that at this point in my life, I am enough of a grownup that I can follow instructions on preserving fruits and vegetables and hermetically seal mason jars. I can do this. If pioneers could do it, surely I can too. I was fairly good at Oregon Trail after all. Only one out of every four people in my party usually died of dysentery.

So anyway, the important lesson here is that jamming is not actually that difficult, and if you were the type of person who didn’t kill every plant that came with 10 metres (not me), you maybe would have fruit producing trees. You may actually have bushels of fruit and this could be a good way to deal with them. Mummy, as you may have seen in the jarring tomatoes blog, does this every fall. She once made a delicious cinnamon and peach jam, it was perfect for a nice Brie.

Picked clean!
I decided to add a splash of balsamic to my blackcurrant jam, because that sounds pretty fancy and delicious to me. I think you can really just be totally creative here and experiment with flavours. It doesn’t have to be Smuckers Grape Jelly, because you are better than that.

Let’s begin. Start by ensuring your blackcurrants are just fruit, no stems or leaves or anything. I know, you’re thinking to yourself, “That sounds time consuming. That doesn’t sound like Bailey. We know she hates attention to detail.” If you were thinking that, you would be right. I hate that sort of thing. But try to think of this as a meditative activity. Sit in the sun, sip your tea, and be in the Now. Enjoy the beauty of the currants; be grateful for your health. Blah blah. Just do it, because imagine the mortification if you served your homemade jam (which you will do, and you will likely act superior about it, because you are clearly an artsy Lady (or man) of the Canyon) and then someone gets a twig or insect in the heap of jam on their nice sheep’s milk blue? Exactly. So take the time and sort through them. Keep in mind you’re going to boil jars here, and disinfect and seal and do all sorts of other tasks, so just take the ten minutes to go through the currants.

Things are happening here! 
Now, the time it took you to read that bossy paragraph is all the time it will probably take you to go through your pint of fruit. That’s what we’re using here. It’s roughly two cups. I know that because I used a converter app on my phone, not because Ms. Graham, my Grade 10 math teacher, was able to permeate my teenage girl brain with important facts like how to convert distance and weight.

Put your cleaned currants in a saucepan and add 1½ cups of water. I also added a half-cup of balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and then simmer until currants are soft, about 20 minutes. I didn’t cover the pot for this, because I wanted the liquid to reduce. Add 3 cups of sugar. Stir and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. In recipes, they will tell you to look for a temp of about 220° on a candy thermometer, but who has one of those? Not me. You’re looking for the setting point, or in my experience, when your wooden spoon starts sticking to the whole damn kitchen.

Meanwhile, the important part of not poisoning other humans. Boil your mason jars for ten minutes and then set them out on the counter on a clean tea towel. Pour your hot jam into it (not completely to the top, leave a bit of space) and then put the lid on it. Then you boil them again, and let them cool. Check out the tomato jarring blog for that, because the details are there and they are much better than I can write out here.

I realize this should say "LadyGirls Table" but that will be the next one!
After you’ve gone through all this trouble, you’ll possibly want to give away these jars, like you’re Martha Stewart or something. Possibly, if you’re anything like me, you secretly wish you were a super artsy cool graphic designer girl who just flits about town “seeing” art everywhere and has this amazing Instagram full of pictures of sepia-toned forks and leaves. If you had any inclination to be like that at all, you may spend a huge portion of your day on Pinterest, looking for cool fonts that you can re-create with a fine point Sharpie.

Maybe it’s time for me to go back to work. Anyway, enjoy the jam!  

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Cooking With Coconut Oil

As I’ve mentioned before, I am unemployed in July. Sort of, anyway. I work a part time job, but my main job is closed for the summer. This unemployment is always a delicious treat looming on my horizon in April and May, in June I panic that I haven’t gotten organized enough, and my delight starts again July 1st. I’m always filled with hope for this free time. I imagine myself as a cheerier version of Sylvia Plath, or Joni Mitchell. Writing, doing yoga, working in the garden, and just being a Lady of the Canyon. You know. That sort of thing.

This is a very romantic version of myself. What actually happens is I wander around my un-air conditioned house feeling like a caged animal, between naps and binge TV watching. Sometimes I leave to go buy unnecessary beauty products at Shoppers or to buy various tchotchkes for my already overly crowded shelves at Value Village. I also look at Pinterest. A lot. I look at Pinterest and pin things that my Lady of the Canyon persona would do, like paint rocks in my garden with solar paint or create intricate playhouse tents for children I don’t have. I have considered stopping on the side of the road in construction sites various times to pick up a pallet or two, do you even KNOW what you can do with those discarded wood flats? You can basically build a guest cottage in your backyard with those things.

Most of these projects require a power tool, or at least a glue gun, neither of which I own, so realistically those things won’t happen until I marry someone who owns at least one of those apparatuses (apparati?). Anyway, no need to worry about that pallet and terra cotta pot guest cottage now, because I’ve made other observations whilst mindlessly scrolling for hours on end.

Coconut oil. Have you noticed? It’s like the 2013 version of 2001’s soy. You can put it on anything, anywhere. Pinterest has numerous infographics dedicated to its various uses. Your hair! Your skin! Your food! Your dog! It cleans your antique wood armoire whilst simultaneously cleansing your lung cilia! Staining your deck is so 2010, did you know if you add purple food colouring to coconut oil you can get a deep mahogany for your back patio (or pallet guest cottage?).  (Editor’s note: Pinterest does not endorse any of the preceding claims.)

So, I like a bandwagon as much as the next guy. I felt coconut oil was something I needed to try. I needed to get in on this business so that I could not only Pin the recipes, but also hashtag them as #cleaneats and #healthy. I have a food blog. These are tricks of the trade, and I do it all for you, faithful readers.

This means that I also had to go to the organic aisle of my grocery store. I need ORGANIC coconut oil, because I might put it on my skin, you see. It doesn’t matter what I ingest, but God help the company that provides a coconut oil that gives me a rash that other people can see. I cannot have that. So after I purchased my $9.59 jar of oil, I came home and placed it on my shelf. It sat there for several days and nights. I pinned many an infographic, with the best of intentions and plans for my jar of liquid gold. (Actually, it should be said it comes as a white solid. BUT, as I mentioned before, my house is not air-conditioned, so clearly the liquid point for the oil is somewhere around 90 degrees. But that’s not a problem at all, because it was actually easier to work with as a liquid.) Finally, I opened that jar and readied myself for the life-long health benefits I was about to enjoy.

The meal plan was based around some fancy heirloom carrots I bought, simply because they were pretty. Also! From Bradford, ON. So I’m hometown proud. I also grilled a chicken breast, with the mesquite smoker I bought last year.

For the chicken, I simply chopped some rosemary and garlic, and then added that to the oil with some lemon juice, which I marinated the chicken in. And by marinated, I mean I poured it on the chicken, at which point the coconut oil re-solidified due to the temperature of the chicken, (since I am always thinking of food safety precautions) so it sat on top of it. But it doesn’t matter; the flavour was still there when it went on the grill.

I also made quinoa, another jazz-food of the new millennium. I can’t wait to hear what these foods actually do to us in ten years, like when all of a sudden everyone realized soy was causing men to develop fallopian tubes or something and then it was banished to the dollar sale bin of the No Frills. So brutal for soy farmers everywhere! Thank God vegans still demand their tofurkey or the unemployment rate would be even higher. But back to the quinoa. I like it well enough, I’ll eat it plain if need be. But I do like to add a little something to it, and on this particular evening, I added goat milk feta and pesto sauce to it, which was no mistake at all. Try it. It’s still healthy; it’s just even more delicious.

Finally, the carrots. The star of the show. I cut them into long strips, simply because I felt that would plate the best. Then I boiled them until they were just barely soft, but still had a little bite to them. While they boil, toast some slivered or chopped almonds (mine are not nice looking, because I bought whole plain almonds at a gas station on the way home to avoid going into a full on grocery store, and then I tried to chop them at home, but it was a huge mess, with almond chunks shooting across the kitchen and flying into my eyes and pelting the dog. The dog, who felt plain almonds were not pleasing enough to her palate to eat off the floor, even though she eats rat by-product on the regular in her own food, and therefore I am still vacuuming almond chunks from behind the refrigerator). But if you go to a grocery store they will have pre-chopped almonds for you. Or you can get a Slap-Chop, which will chop your almonds in a contained area and you won’t have to have the bits stick to your bare feet for days afterwards in 90-degree heat, despite hauling your Dyson up over the stairs several times to vacuum the kitchen floor. You have lots of options, really. Anyway. When the carrots are cooked, drain them and squeeze a teaspoon of honey in with a teaspoon of coconut oil (this could be butter, but then that would make this entire blog post irrelevant). Add the chopped and toasted almonds.

There you have it. Feel free to turn this into an infographic for Pinterest, if you want.