Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rabbit Cacciatore, Artisanale-style

To celebrate our anniversary, my guy and I went to Artisanale (in Guelph) for dinner. I had never been to Artisanale before, but what I'd heard was mostly positive. The only negative remarks were made about portion size and price - portions being too small and prices, too high. But the food is all locally sourced, sustainable grown and, quite often, organic. Best of all, everything is handcrafted. Wednesdays and Thursdays they offer a prix fixe menu - 3 courses for $27. I've learned over time not to get too excited about a place, since often they do not live up to my high expectations. I must say, Artisinale was a pleasant surprise.

To start I ordered a glass of red wine. Our server brought it out with some fresh baked bread (baked in-house), sliced radishes and butter. We nibbled away while looking over the menu. I decided on a chicken liver pate to start, followed by a rabbit cacciatore dish, and dessert, which was to be decided after the meal.
The pate was delicious. Light and fluffy with subtle flavours. It was served with thinly sliced, toasted bread. It didn't last long. Since I had never tried rabbit before, I was really excited about the next course. I'm surprised, actually, that I haven't tried rabbit, being from a family full of hunters. I hoped that it would live up to my expectations.
When it arrived, its presentation was beautiful - so much so that I almost didn't want to touch it. The rabbit was carefully laid on a bed of pappardelle pasta and covered in a rich tomato sauce. Its aroma was heavenly. The first bite practically melted in my mouth. The rabbit was so tender, it just fell off the bone. I cannot express in words how much I loved that dish. I did not ask them where they got the rabbit, but I will be calling them back to find out. I'm going to have to try a recipe at home.
If you have not tried rabbit before, you may be understandably squeamish. If you can get past the fact that the rabbits are cute, fluffy and might make for a good pet, then you're in for a treat. I learned to get over that a long time ago. A delicious treat, I can't wait to eat rabbit again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

52 Weeks, 52 New Foods - Week 2: Morels

Last year I went foraging with an older gentleman who was very knowledgable about mushrooms, but I didn't actually eat any. It's not that I didn't trust his judgement; I would have let him eat anything he picked. I just wasn't sure about them. Then he told me about morels. I was intrigued. Most edible mushrooms have an evil twin sister who's jealous of her popularity, plotting the destruction of her adoring fans, but the morel does not. There is, apparently, one that looks somewhat similar, but I am told that you'd have to be just short of an idiot to think they were the same. I missed the morel boat last year, so I vowed to buck up and try them out this year. Morels are not easy to find. They have a very tiny season and then they disappear. They are well camoflaged, with a surface much like that of honeycomb, but without the uniformity. They are pointed and pale brown in colour. Inside, they are hollow and white. Their smell is pungent and earthy. Morels are a culinary delight and should NEVER be eaten raw. I was told that morels grew wild on the 35 acres where I live, but after weeks of crashing through the woods, frightening wildlife, I was close to giving up. I decided that if this was going to be the year of the morel, I had to take an alternate route. I was heading to Toronto for a wine tasting event anyway, so why not make a day of it? Directed by fellow foodies who I met on Twitter, I headed to Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers Market.There was said to be a 'wild foods' stall there and I was hoping to get my hands on some ramps (wild leeks), as well.
Dufferin Market - what a fantastic place! My friend and I sampled raw sheep's cheese, raw chocolate, organic, fair trade hot chocolate (frothed to perfection using a bicycle powered blender!) and fiddlehead pizza. Even though it was absolutely pouring, our undampened spirits were souring. And then we spotted him - Seth Goering of Forbes Wild Foods - AKA the Wild Food guy! There, on the table, were my much-coveted ramps. But where were the morels? I looked at Seth in desperation as he explained that his foragers were deep in the bush, out of cell-range (is this possible?), picking mushrooms as we spoke. I felt so let down. Seth did, however, carry dried morels for a whopping $33/bag, although I should note that the bag was of impressive bulk. I, however, did not want to settle for dried morels. I wanted fresh, and Seth understood. I pouted my way to another stall to contemplate the situation. Just before we were about to leave, I revisited Seth and, giving him my best cutest-kitten-in-the-world face, asked him if he would please, please, please sell me 1/3 of the bag. He agreed and I danced off to the wine tasting feeling as if I had just left one. But the story doesn't end there...
The next day, I arrived home, hungover and tired, to an even bigger surprise. My landlord had been strolling around the property when he stumbled upon -yes!- MORELS! Beautiful, wild morels - right in my very own backyard.
So, now you're wondering, what did I do with them? I made the wildest dinner that I have ever had and, my goodness, it was delicious!
Wild Duck in Morel and Wild Leek Sauce
2-4 duck breast, depending on the size
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4-5 wild leeks (ramps)
1-2 lg morels, thoroughly washed, sliced
3/4 cup red wine (I used Pelee Island Shiraz-Cabernet)
3/4 cup vegetable/chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
4 small sprigs fresh garden thyme
1/4 cup thinly sliced carrots
1/4 cup thinly sliced celery

Pan sear the duck breasts in HOT oil. Remove to oven-safe glass dish.
On medium-low heat, saute ramps and morels. Slowly add red wine and stock of your choice. Let simmer. Add sliced carrots, celery, thyme and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer for about 10 mins. Pour sauce over duck breasts and roast in oven at 275 F. Do not roast for too long or the breasts will get tough.
I served our duck with wild rice and bacon bits, cress salad with goats cheese and Pelee Island Shiraz-Cabernet. It was one of the most deliciou meals I have ever had - 75% wild and 100% local.

Double Green Garden - Tomato pots

For the past couple of weeks I have been searching, searching, searching, trying desperately to find those little 3" plastic pots for transplanting. My tomatoes and peppers have hit their max root capacity and are dying to break out of their cramped prison cells. I searched my household for things that might work; egg cartons aren't big enough and yogurt containers are too big. When I finally decided to suck it up and shell out my hard-earned money to the local gardening centre, I found that they were sold out - everywhere!
Luckily, a friend of mine had a solution. She told me about this little device that they sell at Organic Botanic here in Guelph. It's called a PotMaker. Now, don't go getting any silly ideas about what I'm growing in my garden. The PotMaker is a small wooden device used to make pots out of newspaper. It is made in Canada by a company called Richters and it retails for a mere $14.95.

The PotMaker is extremely easy to use. You just cut strips of newspaper, roll and press. No glue, no tape, no fuss. The pots are not only environmentally friendly, but also better for your plants. Newsprint is soy-based and biodegradable. The paper will protect the roots from pests and the shock of transplant, absorb water, and will break up on its own in the soil. Busting out of these minimum security prisons won't be a challenge, and the roots of your transplants will be out in the big world in no time. Exciting, n'est pas?
Just one more way to make sure that your tomatoes (or what-have-you) survive the shock of transplant, and you have all the local produce you can grow. Happy growing!

PotMaker by Richters
Goodwood, Ontario
L0C 1A0, Canada


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

52 Weeks, An Adventure in Food

52 weeks. 52 new foods. Life's too short to turn your nose up at anything... this year I vow to say yes and try something new each week. Care to join me? 52 Weeks, An Adventure in Food

Fiddleheads... Not the most attractive of foods, but highly sought after every spring. Before this year, I had never even heard of fiddleheads. Had someone tried to serve me one, I would have flat-out rejected it. First of all, they are one of my least favourite plants to look at. For whatever reason, I have always thought that they are extremely ugly. Second, they just don't look like they'd taste good. Finally, I have never seen them in the grocery store, which means to me that there isn't a high demand for them. But curiousity finally got this cat and I had to know. Were fiddleheads worth the fuss?
Fiddleheads rear their swirly-curly little heads during the first weeks of May. They look like a tight coil of tiny leaves, covered with a very fine, brown, tissue paper-like chaff. Their heads are approximately 1-1.5 inches in diameter. However, if you do happen to find some with larger head, they are still edible provided their heads are tightly coiled. Fiddleheads grow all over the place, but not all are edible. The edible variety grows in mudflats.

I purchased my fiddleheads at the Guelph Farmer's market. A sizeable container was going for a whopping $5, but I kindly asked the vendor to divide the container into two, in case I didn't like them. I took them home and stored them in the fridge until I was feeling brave enough to pull them out again. Fiddleheads store well in the fridge, provided they are well-wrapped. They store for up to 10 days, but are best eaten soon after harvest. It took me about 5 days to work up the courage to pull them out again.
Once I was ready, I visited several websites to see what I could do with my fiddleheads. All of them recommended that I first wash and rewash them. So, that's what I did. I found a simple recipe that I felt wouldn't detract from the flavour. I did not want to claim that I was trying something new, and then lather it in some sauce to mask its unique character. I'm braver than that... I think. I chose a simple recipe of butter, garlic and fresh parsley, all of which I had on hand. I sauteed the fiddleheads very lightly in butter, adding a little garlic and parsley for flavour.

Lo and behold, fiddleheads are not the frightening little things I thought they were. They were delicious! They have a slight nutty taste and a texture comparable to asparagus. I liked the way they crunched, even after cooking.

Delicious and nutritious! According to, fiddleheads are low in cholesterol and sodium, and a good source of protein and zinc. They are a very good source of Vitamin A and C, Riboflavin, Niacin, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

I'm so glad that I didn't let my fear of the unknown get in the way of trying these delicious little nutty nuggets. I ate the entire bowl in one sitting! With week one down, I can't wait to see what's on the menu for next week. Unless I can find morels, I think it's going to be Quinoa. See you next week!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Beer and Butter Tarts

The other day, I came across a blog that might be of interest to my fellow readers. Beer and Butter Tarts acts as an aggregator to pull Canadian food blogs together in one place. It is an RRS feed of participating food bloggers, which makes it easier for us to find our fellow foodies from across the country. It also helps us promote our sites to new readers, and I could always use more followers.
So, if you're interested in what Canadian food bloggers are writing about these days, or you have your own food-related blog that you want to promote, check out Beer and Butter Tarts.

Creamy Leek and Asparagus Soup

After making several batches of my Spicy Pickled Asparagus Spears, I found myself with a large bowl of asparagus trimmings. I could have easily cooked these up for dinner, but I felt that serving asparagus without the tips was about as appropriate as serving muffins without their tops. I had an idea. If I put them into a soup, no one would ever know about my tasteless behaviour. Surprisingly, it was one of the most unbelievable soups I have ever had! The best part is that this recipe can be made with ingredients which are both local, and in season. I had to share.

Creamy Leek and Asparagus Soup

2 tbsp butter
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper, to taste
Fresh chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Heat butter in a medium saucepan on med-low heat. Add leek. Once leek is nice and tender, add flour and stir until it is well-mixed. Stir in chicken broth, chopped asparagus and parsley (I used chicken broth that I had made from my last chicken dinner, frozen in 1 cup portions). Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove soup from heat. Transfer, in small batches, to blender. Puree until smooth and return to pot. Slowly add the cream and stir until mixed thoroughly. Add salt (1/2-1 tsp) and a dash of pepper, to taste.
Serve with fresh parsley for garnish. Serves 4.

Honestly, this is one of the most delicious soups that I have ever made. It is smooth, with subtle flavours and it tastes like spring. Enjoy!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Make your own pickled spicy asparagus spears!

This weekend I purchased my first batches of Ontario asparagus for pickling. There is no better garnish for a Bloody Caesar than a pickled spicy asparagus spear and, rather than buying them throughout the year, I opted to pickle my own this year! This is the first batch I've done and, therefore, the test run. This recipe makes 3 1L jars of pickled asparagus spears.

For the brine, boil:
4 cups pickling vinegar
4 cups water
4 tbsp sugar
2 heaping tbps course salt

To prepare jars:
Boil water in a large stock pot. Using a pair of canning tongs (I don't know what they're really called), lift the jars into the water bath and boil to sterilize. Once boiled, remove from hot water.

Into each hot jar, stuff:
2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled
1/3 hot pepper, cut lengthwise, seeds removed
1 tsp mustard seeds
1-2 lg sprig fresh dill (use more, depending on size of sprig)
1 lb asparagus, tips up (thoroughly washed, ends removed)

Once brine has been brought to a boil and the jars are stuffed and ready to be filled, pour brine into jars. Make sure that the spears are covered with brine once it is poured in. Leave 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar. Use a long, non-metallic utensil to poke at the asparagus, removing all air bubbles from the jar. Once air bubbles have been removed, dry the lip of the jar with a clean towel. Take the snap lid in a pair of tongs and dip it in hot (but not boiling) water for a few seconds. Place the lid on the jar tightly and seal with a screw band. Do not tighten the screw band too much. It will make it extremely difficult to open later. Now boil the sealed jar in the large pot, completely covered in water, for about 10 minutes. Remove and wipe jar clean with a towel and move to an area where it can cool, undisturbed. The jar is sealed when you hear a loud POP!, or when the snap lid is depressed and cannot be pushed down futher.
Leave to pickle for a few weeks minimum, open and enjoy!

Note: I always make sure to label each jar with its ingredients and date that it was made. I also keep a journal-like record of which jars correspond with which recipes. There's nothing worse than having an especially successful batch, but not knowing what you did different. Also, the ends that you chopped off to fit the asparagus into the jars can be steamed and used in salads or eaten on their own. As my mother used to say, "Waste not, want not".
Pickled spicy asparagus spears make a great garnish for Bloody Caesars or a delicious addition to an appetizer platter.