Whole Garden Gnocchi


Who knew I could feed myself from a front yard garden alone? Other than the flour, I grew everything for this dish in my small, urban yard; potatoes, garlic, chard, tomatoes and squash.

I may have mentioned my front yard transformation last spring. With the help of a great neighbour, a dumping of dirt, a seed catalogue and some eager kids, we transferred lawn into an edible space.

Less the brussels sprouts and the chard, most of the garden now harvested. There were the three varieties of potatoes; Peruvian Reds, Blue and Russian Fingerlings, Rainbow Swiss Chard, Butternut Squash, sweet Yellow Pear Tomatoes just for this dish alone. (It doesn’t even hint at the edamame, peas, beans, beets, asparagus, blueberries, herbs, okra, cabbages, zucchini, pumpkins… corn… wow!)

After digging up a surplus of potatoes, I needed a few ideas on what to do with them. With BBQ season pretty much a thing of the past, potato salad wasn’t topping my list as much as the gnocchi. Besides, I just had to when I saw the light pinkiness of the potatoes and the great texture that was perfect for such a thing.

Feeding yourself all on your own, that’s local.
Now, that’s something to be thankful for!

PERUVIAN PINK POTATO GNOCCHI

1Lb Potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed (you can use other starchy potatoes, like Russetts as well)
1 Cup All Purpose Flour, plus more for rolling.
1/4 teaspoon Salt

In a large bowl, finely mash the cooked potatoes so they are lump free.
Add the salt and half of the flour then add 1/4 cup at a time stirring to combine and bring everything together in a smooth dough. You may not need it all.
Depending on your work surface, third or quarter the dough. Take one piece and cover remaining pieces.
Roll the dough into long “snakes” and cut into 1″ pieces.
Roll each piece off the back of a floured fork and repeat finishing all of the dough.
Drop into salted boiling water and cook gnocchi until they float; about 3 – 4 minutes.

While the gnocchi were boiling I made the “sauce” of tomatoes, chard, squash and garlic.
I cubed the peeled, cleaned squash and sautéed it, covered in a large, lightly oiled pan. Once the pieces began to soften, I removed the lid to let the stem escape and pieces brown.
I added two cloves of finely chopped garlic and the chard to cook for another two minutes.
Once the chard had wilted, I added 1 cup of sliced yellow pear tomatoes, salt, pepper and a palmful of chopped basil.
Simple and delicious.

Maple Syrup


When I was a kid I used to spend every school holiday up with my grandparents. They lived at the “cottage”, but to a kid it was paradise, specially for a city kid. They had killer tobogganing hills, skating, snowmobiles and nature as far as the eye could see. I was allowed to play with fire, build stuff and wander in the woods but best of all, every March Break, my Grampa would tap his maple trees and start collecting sap.

Ever since I’ve been about 10, I’ve wanted to learn the process from start to finish however the call back to school usually had other plans taking me away from the best part, the final product.

Now with years gone by, Grampa had put the maple gear into storage.
I have my own kids, flexibility and a food blog. It may have taken a few years of urging, but Greatest Grampa, how he’s now referred, dusted off the sap buckets and handed down one of the most awesomest candy thermometers I’ve ever seen.

In playing the role of Mom, I was able to take the kids out of school a few days before the break to head up north. The weather was ideal, so after packing too many clothes and boots for the changing of the seasons, we were off for our my long awaited visit with Greatest Nana and Greatest Grampa.

We were eagerly greeted by my Grandparents with scrubbed buckets and boots on. The weather had been cold the night before but was warming up nicely in the soon to be spring sunshine; ideal weather to get the sap running…

Since there aren’t any leaves, we were amazed at the knowledge and accuracy my grandfather, whom I’ve always thought was a genius anyway, was able to identify the Sugar Maples from the at least twenty varieties of trees he has growing in his quite diverse forest. With a drill and a spiel, we tapped the trees and hung the buckets, which were quickly chiming off a delicate symphony of drips into the galvanized pails below.

Next, we had to wait. Greatest Grampa had only brought down ten buckets, but after listening to the rapid drips of sap filling our buckets, we had caught the bug. We found water jugs and ice cream pails, you name it. If we could drill a hole into the side of it, it was soon hanging from a tree. All in all we doubled our collection and headed off to the local Maple Syrup Festival to pass the time. The kids saw, and tasted what was about to come their way.

By the end of the second day we’d collected enough sap to begin our first boil.

Sap is mostly water, so it takes about 40 times the sap to make one part syrup.
Thinking it had to by much more complicated than it was, I was sure that there had to be more to it when we were told that we “Just cook it.” I will cook just about anything and so we continued onward this adventure in syrup making. We were given a large soldered pan, which I’m sure my Grampa must have manufactured himself all those years ago.

When we started the cooking process, we realized we were soon referring to the boiling sap as, “Our Baby”. How precious it became as we watched our heavy sap just evaporate into the air. Slowly but surly it cooked down, only to be replenished by more sap until the last liter of the batch had been added. Shadowed through the bright sunshine we watched as the nearly clear liquid gave way to a light mapley shade of amber. The smell of cooking sap is amazing. The sweet steam warming our chilled cheeks, faintly reminded me of Shrove Tuesdays past. Finally we tasted, pondered and, of course, tasted some more.
Once we had deemed it worthy, we packed a sips worth into a cup and trotted up from the cottage, through the bush to Greatest Grampa’s house in the forest.

Anxious. “Maybe a little underdone.” We were told. But better under than over, as we learned. Apparently syrup is quite forgiving… phew.

Of course, pancakes were made to celebrate. Certainly a sweet success.

Cape Gooseberry & Raspberry Clafouti


Being indigenous to South American countries like Columbia, Physalis doesn’t exactly fit into the local food movement around here. However, they are in season right now.

Physalis, or Cape Gooseberries, come naturally wrapped, giving them a shelf life of over a month or more. Described as a cross between sweet cherry tomato and pineapple flavours, the Cape Gooseberry actually isn’t a gooseberry at all. In fact, it’s about the closest to the tomato, coming from the nightshade family.

An interesting combination of tart and sweet, they are a perfect and versatile match for desserts, preserves, salads or savoury dishes.

From the moment I saw my little package of Cape Gooseberries, it was destined for my grocery cart and clafouti. Most typically toped with cherries, clafouti is a French baked custard that’s super simple to make and rustic yet elegant to present.

Having not baked with Cape Gooseberries before, I still wasn’t so brave as to go it alone to tempt my clafouti solo. I opted to pair the Gooseberries with a handful of raspberries, which turned out to be a tasty choice. Both seedy, a bit tart but sweet, they balanced really well.

So well, my vegan friends thought I might just have been pulling a fast one this time.

CAPE GOOSEBERRY & RASPBERRY CLAFOUTI

1/2 Package Firm Silken Tofu, about 210g
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 Cup Soy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Brandy
1/8 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Pint Cape Gooseberries, about 1/2 cups halved
1/2 Cup Raspberries, fresh or frozen
2 Tablespoons Demerra Sugar

Combine the soy milk, lemon juice and brandy; Stir and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
In a food processor, blend the tofu until very smooth
Add the sugar and vanilla, continuing to blend.
Pour in the soy milk mixture into the tofu.
Sift the flour and baking powder and add just to combine.
Pour the batter into a cast iron skillet, soufflé or oval baking dish.
Evenly top with fruit.
Bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until the edges are browned and the center is set.
Cool and dust with confectioners sugar.

Soba 101


One of my most favourite places to explore is any neighbourhood China Town. Bustling with people, new aromas, and spilling produce, this exciting area of most major cities is a feast for the eyes.

Here in Toronto, tucked a few blocks over from the central China Town is a small but wonderful Japanese store. After refilling my wasabi prescription, I gaze along the long aisles of offerings. Included are various teas, Hello Kitty Pocky sticks, every shade of miso, enoki mushrooms and of course, noodles.

Wheat, rice, green tea, tofu, ramen, udon and soba noodle varieties ready for any dish the Far East has ever created.

How elated was I to discover that soba is the name for buckwheat in Japanese?
For those of you who weren’t sure, like me, buckwheat is neither a grass or related to the wheat family. It’s a flowering plant which produces the seeds for great things like pillows and yes, buckwheat flour.

Asian noodle soup has to be in my top list of most amazing meals. The simplicity of them makes them satisfying and perfect. The noodles and broth create a host bowl for just about any combination imaginable.


Continue reading Soba 101

Vegan Pastry Dough


The versatile, baking staple of pie dough is not as intimidating as you think.
I remember when dough was on the board in culinary school. I had a quirky pastry chef who liked food science and instructing with the help of charts and graphs which for pastry helped in removing the great fear of the “Pate Frisée”.

The explanation given around achieving the flakiest crust was not about how much butter was used, but why.
Finally I understood why you’re not supposed to touch it much, it’s not that it’s overly sensitive, it just doesn’t like hot little hands. I figured with my poor circulation and ever frozen fingers, I was a shoe in for an “A”.

Butter in pastry is not a mandatory, yes, like most things, it makes it taste oh so rich and lovely but it’s just the fat that’s needed; so vegetable shortening works perfectly well. It was explained that the larger the “fat flakes” were before finally adding ice water to bind the dough, the larger the flakes in the pastry. When the shortening is added to the flour, it’s cut in, usually with a pastry cutter, a fork, by hand or with a food processor. The object of doing this coats the soon to be tiny pea sized pieces of fat with the flour that, when baked, will melt, crisping the flour, leaving lovely, gaping FLAKEY holes.

Tada.

BASIC PIE PASTRY

Single Crust

1 1/4 Cups Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Frozen Vegetable Shortening
3 – 31/2 Tablespoons ICE Water
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Granulated Sugar, optional

Whisk flour, salt and sugar.
Either with a food processor or a pastry cutter, add the shortening to combine with the flour.
Work into pea sized pieces, which will resemble a coarse crumb.
Add ice water, beginning with only 3 Tablespoons, mixing enough only to form a ball.
Wrap and chill the dough until ready to use; at least a half hour before rolling out.