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Friday 5 – Random Links

1 Aug

By Chris Garbutt

1. The world’s most expensive foods, from CNN.

2. Looking for a great dip idea? Try the Baked Garlic with Goat Cheese here.

3. Radishes – one of my favourite vegetables for home growing! Grow them in a tiny spot, and because they grow so fast, you don’t have to wait long to eat them!

4. Taste.To takes a tour of tea in Toronto. You can do a lot more than drink it!

5. Cooking tips from the Onion: the Dream Omelet.

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Friday 5 – Great Summer Dishes from the Blogosphere

25 Jul

By Chris Garbutt

1. How about grilled rapini? Or as others call it, broccoli rabe.

2. Watermelon feta salad, anyone?

3. Are you ready for spaghetti squash?

4. For dessert, how about a chocolate-cardamom sorbet? (Liquid nitrogen is optional).

5. Or, for something a little simpler, a no-cook vanilla ice-cream.

A Rare Pig

8 Jul

By Monica Udoye-Stubbins

Down oyster shell driveways, past horse drawn buggies, former slave plantations, tobacco fields and the great Chesapeake Bay on rare days exists a peculiar pig – only on the tip of Southern Maryland. St. Mary’s County is the home to the growingly popular stuffed ham.

Navigate your way through the unique southern dialect and brief suspicion granted outsiders for the St. Mary’s famous October Oyster Festival or holiday visit. On these days there are a number of Southern taste-tempting innovations. Oyster-cornmeal pancakes fried in sizzling lard with a side of creamy onion cast-iron stewed potatoes, piping hot blue crabs and evenings filled with mugs of Dandelion wine are delicious. But nothing can compete with the sacred pig only found on holidays. This little known county that could not attract visitors with all its boasted attractions, including a historic plantation and abounding nature was able to attract the likes of CNN, The Food Network and countless others with the religiously worshipped stuffed ham.

Each holiday, strangers that have only had a taste of some friend’s stray stuffed ham sandwich wander to the county in search. Wrapped in cheesecloth, a corned ham is slotted throughout and stuffed with finely diced kale, watercress, collards, cabbage, mustard seed, onion, lots of hot red pepper, a little celery and a dash of salt and pepper.

Recipes vary slightly. Boiled for several hours, and cooling in its own juices, the cheese cloth is removed, layers of stuffing that were packed on top fall away to reveal a perfectly pink ham stripped with green manna – food from heaven, a mouthful of complex flavors, which historian credit to the cultural hodge-podge of colonial St. Mary’s.

Seventy minutes south of Washington, DC, an isolated peninsula called St. Mary’s developed a distinct culture. Stuffed ham is said to be the result of a rich history of slaves, indentured servants and Natives who came together during harsh times, grafted English traditions of “boiled meat”, Yaocomaco Native American tribal grilling of leaf-wrapped meats and slave practices using the exact same ingredients and curing methods used in stuffed ham today. A labor of early American Cooperation, stuffed ham is in St.Mary’s County Maryland to stay. It seems a part of a rare place with a rare pig.

During holidays St.Mary’s grocery stores are stocked with Stuffed Ham, though they aren’t elsewhere. St. Marian Sandra Marshall, who makes her own, says simply, ” I don’t think we could live without it.”

Sandra Marshall’s Stuffed Ham

1 (20 to 22-pound) corned ham, boned 8 pounds cabbage

2pounds watercress (optional)

2-3 pounds kale

5 pounds onion

2 to 3 tablespoons crushed red pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper

3 tablespoons mustard seed

1 tablespoon celery seed (or substitute a bunch of chopped celery )

1 package cheesecloth

Wash cabbage, watercress, kale and onions (optional celery) with cold water after chopping into approximately 1 inch pieces. Place in a large bowl.

Prepare a large pan of boiling water. Wilt cabbage, watercress, kale and onions until slightly pliable. Make sure vegetables are not in the water too long as it will cause them to loose flavor. Drain kale, cabbage, cress and onions well. Add mustard seeds, celery seed, red and black pepper. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.

Parboil ham 20 minutes in water used for wilting stuffing. Remove ham from water and prepare ham for stuffing by making 1 or 2-inch slits all over the ham, roughly 1 to 2-inches deep. Press stuffing into slits, crevices and cavities throughout the ham. Make sure you pack stuffing tightly and covering ham with stuffing as much as possible.

When finished stuffing, wrap ham with cheesecloth and tie ham with string.

Make sure ham is tied securely. If ham is loose or falling apart, use wooden skewers used for grilling or similar cooking tools to hold together. If ham is tied tightly this should not be necessary.

Either cook ham in water used for wilting on stove top for 4-5 hours

(OR)

Cook ham in water used for wilting in oven covered with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 4-5 hours.

When ham is finished, drain and let ham cool down overnight in the refrigerator before carving. Usually served cold.

Monica Udoye-Stubbins was raised in a “cooking family” in Southern Maryland. Her family recalls Monica cooking from the age of two – her very first original recipe “potato chip cake”! Learning to cook with family-farmed produce and livestock (without running water), she believes in “all recipes from scratch”. Tucked safely in the woods (where no one would hear a two year old was allowed to cook), she developed her writing hobby alongside her culinary one. She currently works as a model, cooks for her husband and Hollywood Hills neighbors and writes. Her work has appeared in “The Baltimore Sun” and “Spillway”.

Magic Gnocchi Night

16 Jun

By Katherine Hauswirth

Cecilia, my Argentine-American friend, had me over last month for Magic Gnocchi Night. She seemed excited about it, and I was intrigued. What would be magical about it?

On the 29th of every month, Argentines eat ñoquis (gnocchis, as we would say). For the uninitiated, gnocchi is a potato-based pasta. It is pronounced nyoki, with the n and y run together. Like a lot of Argentine dishes, this flavorful dish has Italian roots. Many Italians worked on coffee plantations in Argentina during the 19th century, and they left a permanent impression on the culture’s cuisine.

It was just the two of us for the celebration, and I was honored to share in this tradition from Cecilia’s childhood. She lit candles, and we spooned the savory meat sauce, Tuco (an Argentine derivative of the Italian word for juice: suco ), over our steaming bowls. Careful instructions followed: put money under your plate. Donate that money (it has to be that money, now warmed by the plate) to charity after the meal, and it will bring you good fortune. We toasted our friendship and chatted eagerly over our modest feast.

Why gnocchi? Why the 29 th? Gnocchi is cheaply made and belly filling, a combination appreciated by the working poor on the night before payday. The story goes that a poor family welcomed a hungry man into their home and shared their gnocchi supper. To reward the family’s generous spirit, the man, who was a saint in disguise, left a gold coin under his plate. Hard financial times in Argentina after World War II may have helped the tradition to grow, and now Gnocchi Night is practically sacred. My friend’s family has collected many tales of dire financial straits that reversed after the monthly ritual.

What a refreshing spin, to celebrate the cheap meal, to make the best of running low on grocery money. I love the tradition of sharing what little you have and, with that sharing, nurturing hope for good fortune. Clearly the Argentine populace is infused with good spirits and good humor: government workers that are scarce except for when paychecks arrive at month’s end have been nicknamed ñoquis , too.

I carried my twenty dollar bill around for more than a week after that first Gnocchi Night until, on impulse, I pulled up at the local food pantry with cash in hand. I dashed in (they were closing for the day) and was immediately impressed by the happy looking children around the place. No hint of embarrassment or hesitation here, just a wide-smiling joy at the anticipation of a filling meal. I thought back to my warm feast with a close friend and was glad to pass on my blessings.

Gnocchi can be made from scratch, of course, and any decent Italian or Argentine cookbook would contain a recipe. But it can also be purchased from the supermarket pasta shelf or freezer section, a modern twist I have put on this delightful tradition. Here is the sauce recipe, also modernized (with canned tomatoes).

Tuco

1 lb of 3⁄4 inch thick stew or roast meat, cubed

1 onion, finely chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

2 bay leaves

1⁄2 cup red wine

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Pinch of oregano

Pinch of basil

Pinch of ground thyme

Large can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning

1 can tomato paste with Italian seasoning

Warm oil in large stock pot. Brown meat on medium high. Add onion and sauté on medium until soft. Add garlic and red wine. Add spices. Add diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer on low from 20 to 30 minutes, adding broth as needed if mixture appears too thick. Spoon over warm gnocchi.

Katherine Hauswirth has been published in many print and online venues, including The Writer, The Writer’s Handbook 2003, Byline, Pregnancy, Pilgrimage, Writers Weekly, and the book Things My Mother Told Me: Reflections on Parenthood (available at amazon.com). Her blog, Inching Toward Simplicity, and more on her work, can be accessed at http://inchingsimplicity.blogspot.com/.

A Capital Berry

15 Jun

By Chris Garbutt
It was a hot summer day June. My then-fianceé and I were in Pusateri’s on Avenue Road in Toronto, picking out what I think is overpriced produce. The selection of strawberries was terrific. As Mary reached for a plastic package of organic berries, I reacted perhaps a little excessively.

“No,” I said, “You will not eat California strawberries when they’re in season here.”

“But…”

“But nothing. Those aren’t even real strawberries. Those are strawberries on steroids!”

“They’re organic.”

Okay, well, maybe they weren’t on steroids, but I just cannot think of the strawberries that travel thousands of miles to our city as real. They’re too big, they’re tasteless, and they’re mostly white in the middle. For me strawberries don’t exist for ten months of the year.

My hometown of Stouffville celebrates the Strawberry Festival every year on the Canada Day weekend. For a while, our town called itself the Strawberry Capital of Ontario. It never seemed like much of a distinction, really, and somewhere along the line the moniker was dropped. I found out recently that Clarkson (now a part of Mississauga) has held the title since the late 19th century. The whole capital thing is a bit out of control anyway: several U.S. towns (at least one in Florida, one in Tennessee and two in California) refer to themselves as the strawberry capital of the entire world!

The festival began when I was a little kid, and has endured since then. The strawberry has a much longer history in Canada. The wild version – that tiny, heavenly, sweet red berry – has been growing in this part of the world for all of recorded history. The wild strawberry sets the standard for the flavour, but collecting them requires a walk in the woods, a great deal of crouching, and a search that could prove, well, fruitless.

So the next best thing is the farmed version, especially when it’s still freshly picked and warm. A visit to a pick-your-own farm is definitely the way to go if you’re hardcore, but I’m perfectly happy to forgo the sore knees and back, and buy a pint from a farmer’s market. Sometimes I’ll take them home with big ideas for recipes, but usually, they end up as and snack that only ends when the bottom of the carton is reached. Better than chocolate. Way better than chocolate.

I have two vivid memories. The first is when, at a very young age, I decided I hated strawberries. My father had salvaged some fresh ones from his garden (the birds loved to poach them and no amount of plastic sheeting or netting was deterring them). He handed me a berry, so red it was almost black. I bit, taking half of it in my mouth. It was tart and sweet at the same time, so intense I recoiled. I couldn’t handle it.

My second memory is from a few days later, when I learned to love strawberries again. The smell of shortcake baking filled my mother’s kitchen. The flavours of the crisp yet fluffy shortcake (none of that spongy angel food stuff), combined with the sweet strawberries and the whipped cream brought me back to the humble berry. It’s not complicated, but the recipe has been handed down for four generations from my maternal great grandmother. It’s my turn now – maybe if I make this recipe for Mary, she’ll forgive me my supermarket rantings.

Great Grandmother Marshall’s Strawberry Shortcake

2 cups flour

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup butter

4 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

Fresh strawberries (about 3/4 of a quart, but as many as you want to eat), hulled and cut in half. You might want to sprinkle a teaspoon or two of sugar to make it sweeter and draw out the juices.

250 ml whipping cream, whipped

Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in butter until the mixture has the look of small peas. Using a rubber spatula, gradually add milk until it is just mixed in. Don’t over mix, or the dough will become tough.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto a cookie sheet in the size you desire. Bake for 12 minutes. Tops should be just golden or slightly brown. Allow the shortcakes to cool slightly.

Place shortcakes on individual plates or shallow bowls. Cut tops off shortcakes. Spoon strawberries onto bottom halves of shortcakes, and replace tops. Garnish tops of shortcakes with one or two strawberry pieces and whipped cream to taste.

Makes about 6 large or 12 small shortcakes.

PS. I’m not the only one who feels so passionately about the strawberries-on-steroids problem. Check out Taste.To’s take on the subject.

UPDATE: Great posting about wild strawberries (with jam recipe) here.


A Taste of Home

1 Jun

By John Fitzgerald

On a trip back to see my family in the UK, I started thinking about what to eat first. Friends had also asked me, “What do you think you’ll eat first?”

So, with thoughts of my first English food in a year there was a lot to choose from: Fish ‘n Chips, full English breakfast, Roast Dinner, Indian takeaway. I hoped to try them all. I also hoped I would eat some of my mum’s cooking. For me this food holds some of the best memories and is most enjoyable.

When I think of which food I associate with home, my first choice would be something my mum used to make that she calls a “Special”. This really reminds me of being at home. I know my sister loves these too.

The ingredients are simple: cheese, bread and eggs. I don’t know much about the history of the dish. I asked my mum where the recipe came from and she told me that it was something that her mum used to make for her when she was growing up. I really love these as they are easy and quick to make and can be eaten for any meal.

I can’t remember how old I was when I first had one but it really reminds me of my family. I knew if I had been off school due to illness, a sign of my recovery would be the ability to eat two of these by myself. Real comfort food!

I haven’t made one for myself since I have been back in Toronto. To think of one of my mum’s makes my mouth water, so eating one is now at the top of my to-do list.

Another favourite is Trifle. This is one I remember my nan and mum making. It was a dessert we would usually eat a Saturday night when family was visiting and finish up the rest on Sunday. We would eat this sitting around watching television together. I would try and save the cherries – my favourite part – until last. This is also easy to prepare and the results are worth the effort! Don’t worry about exact meI do not know exact measurements for this one but you will get the idea.

Mum’s “Special” (for one serving)

Two pieces of bread (I prefer white. I don’t think I’ve tried brown)

Grated cheese, enough to cover two pieces of bread (more if desired)

One egg (gently beaten)

Margarine or butter

Under a broiler, melt the cheese onto the toast, remove from broiler and put the two faces of cheese together forming a sandwich.

Pour the beaten egg onto a shallow plate.

Dip the sandwich into the egg, covering both sides.

Place sandwich into a pre-heated pan; pour remaining egg over the sandwich.

Cook both sides until egg is set.

Remove from pan and serve.

I usually top mine off with Tomato Ketchup but that’s optional!

Mum’s and Nan’s Trifle

There are many different styles of this recipe but this is how I remember my nan making it.

1 large bowl (glass preferably)

1 Swiss Roll or sponge cake

1 glass of sherry (optional)

1 packet of jelly (I like strawberry)

1 large tin of custard

1 tub of whipped cream

1 medium tin of fruit cocktail (not including pineapple)

A tub of hundreds and thousands (aka sprinkles in North America)

5-6 Glace Cherries

Break the cake into pieces and place in the bottom of the bowl (at least 1-2 inches deep). Pour the glass of sherry onto the cake.

Drain off the fruit and pour this the cake.

Make the jelly in a separate bowl and before it sets pour over the cake and fruit, then place this into the fridge until jelly has set.

When the jelly has set remove from fridge, empty the tin of custard over the top of the jelly and place back in the fridge until a thin skin forms on the custard, this can take about an hour. (If you are using powdered custard cool the mixture before pouring over the jelly.)

Once the skin has formed you can now whip the cream and spoon over the top of the custard.

To garnish, sprinkle the top with hundreds and thousands and cherries.

Serve

John Fitzgerald is originally from Peterborough, UK, and now lives in Toronto.