Perhaps you have seen pasta made with vegetable juice. Muted green from spinach is the first image that comes to my mind. I've always found the colour in these pastas also reflected the flavour - equally as muted.
So what is a method for intensifying the colour and flavour? Cook your pasta in vegetable juice.
Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a night and put up a few jars of jam. It was at the crossroads during summer where so many local fruits are ripe and just begging to be preserved. Some are enjoyed fresh, of course (usually with cream and in a variety of pastries), but the abundance all at once means some have to be put away to be enjoyed later. Strawberries, black currants, blueberries, raspberries, black caps, and sour cherries made an appearance and now that we're into August the peaches, apricots, and elderberries are ripening on the trees. It's sort of a blessing in disguise the tomatoes are slow to ripen this year (same with the corn) as the beans, beets, cucumbers, and everbearing fruits are keeping me busy enough.
When people see my selection of preserves they usually comment on the 'different' flavour combinations I have available. They way I see it, so many other people have 'regular' jam available for sale. Sometimes they make it themselves but more often than not they have someone else do it for them and slap their label on it. That being said, many of the businesses that do this give their own produce to the canner to use. With so much competition on the market for selling jams and preserves, I have to be different. Jars aren't cheap and neither are kitchen rental rates. Combine those expenses with the actual cost of the food such as premium produce (frequently hand-picked), exclusively locally sourced, often organically grown and you can see why it's much more economical for folks to make it themselves.
For those who are DIY'ers, here is the recipe for Raspberry Anise Jam. It's a combination of sweet and tart with a hint of liquorice flavour that comes from crushed anise seeds. For those who appreciate the craft and taste of small-batch preserves but don't have the time to put up their own, send me an email for prices and shipping rates.
I shared this picture on the Elgin Harvest facebook page last week after finding a stash of photos in a Julia Child biography. This was taken in early 2001 at the end of a pastry class while I was in chefs school. (As an aside: I went out for ice cream with a friend last night and he thought this was recent. I'd like to think I've changed somewhat but I'm okay if someone thinks I look 23.)
I make it no secret I'm not sure what direction to move in when the fall arrives. I have been back in the Elgin area off and on for the past 9 years and in that time I've done what I can to alter the perception and knowledge regarding high quality cuisine. Has it changed at all for the better?
I have no desire to be a line cook in a place that serves Caesar salad with Kraft salad dressings. I think french fried chips should be reserved for food trucks and diners and not served as a side option to every meal in the county. I refuse to purchase or use frozen pastry that came off a Sisco truck. Meat does not have to hold the largest piece of real estate on the dinner plate, nor does it have to come from industrial farm factories. I think some people spend too little money on food because they have been taught that food should be cheap. They have two cars in the driveway less than 3 years old, each have Iphones for themselves and children, 4 tv's in the house with cable and Netflix, go on vacations to Disneyland yearly, use the dryer during the daytime, buy soda pop, go clothes shopping once a month, but complain their food bills are too high. This map published yesterday outlines just how much - or little - each country spends on food each year and it's staggering to note the differences.
I do my best to support local producers whenever I can, much of it organic and sustainably produced. That often means I pay 50-400% more for some items than what you would pay in the grocery store or what a restaurant would pay for things ordered from a food distributor. My costs are higher, which means the prices for my goods should be higher, but it's an uphill battle when only a small percentage of the population (but an incredibly loyal & hungry percentage!) knows the difference between Pillsbury or not, including many of the area chefs - and price becomes the determining factor. "Such and such place is cheaper, I'm going to buy from them. It's what I know. It's what I'm willing to spend." Some people simply don't care either.
Well, why am I here if I am unable to find work where my skills are required and get paid a living wage?
Because of Elgin County farms like HOPE Eco Farms, Dancey Family Farm, and Our Little Farm.
What's a unemployed girl to do when she is starving without a culinary home? She sells off unneeded treasures to thrifty bargain hunters, purchases a former jewelery cabinet from a second-hand store, and calls the manager at the community complex to ask about "fridge space".
The sun (finally) broke through the snow clouds in April and the between the combination of boredom, excitement, frustration, and confidence, I've been doing my best to shake off the under-employed-cabin-fever-blues that sucked away much of my motivation over the past 4 months.
Caster wheels sourced, chrome polished, doors painted - twice. Lawns raked, rubber stamps designed, bread baked - and burnt. Spreadsheets for costing input, tables stained, succulents repotted, bread baked - and devoured. Applications mailed, cheques signed, furniture moved, pantry restocked, croissants baked - and my pants don't fit. My apron strings are long, thank goodness. Need a bubbling drink dispenser? Two years later I finally fixed it. Wanna buy it?
All this is to say - it's the beginning of another localicious season at markets and farms and I am super-motivated. Beginning this weekend, I'm taking my show on the road throughout the county to sell my baked goods & preserves.
First stop: Diva's and Dude's Day Out. Held at the Saxonia Hall in Aylmer on May 3, this show is open from 10-2 with over 40 vendors. Croissants, brioche cinnamon buns, 5 different sourdough breads, whole grain seeded crisps, berry & cream cookies, salted rye brownies, Kamut & walnut jam cookies, and good ol' fashioned tender, flaky pecan buttertarts are all on the menu.
The following week, May 10, Mother's Day weekend, is the opening day of the 2014 season at the Horton Farmers' Market in St. Thomas. You will find me there each and every Saturday morning from 8-noon smiling and sipping coffee (probably cold because I talk so much) until the fall. I look forward to seeing both familiar faces and tempting new ones with my siren pastries.
In case you need reminding - my mission is local, quality, and made from scratch. I don't use premade doughs from the grocers freezer, nor do I use margarine. I bake fresh, using as many locally sourced and/or organic products as possible including grains & flours, eggs, honey, cane sugar, jams, dried fruits, spices, herbs, vegetables, and lard.
I'm a chef by trade it's not a hobby, it's a passionate style of life.
Sometimes I wish I had more hands. That way I could mix dough and take better photos at the same time.
The pics below are a basic tutorial demonstrating a few techniques I use to make a loaf of bread. In this slideshow, I use locally milled Red Fife wheat (thought to be the oldest wheat varietal in Canada) and a natural leaven - otherwise known as a sourdough starter - to bake a loaf of country style hearth bread. The bread doesn't have a strong sour flavour, but does have a slightly sweet and nutty taste from the use of whole grain flour. The interior is very tender and moist with a mix of large and small holes; the crust is crisp and hearty. The dough makes great bread - but also fantastic pizza.
Enjoy the show!
If you follow me on this blog or on Facebook, you know I have a sweet tooth. And a bread tooth. And a cheese tooth. And a vegetable, fruit, and meat tooth. I focus on preserves and baked goods, but I'm also highly skilled (toot toot) in other culinary arts as well (duck legs are currently curing as I type for duck confit). Always having a fondness for pastry (both eating and preparing), the reason I decided to focus on the dessert side of the menu was because our area was/is severely lacking in high-quality desserts.
Restaurants are ordering their frozen cheesecakes and butter tarts from food distributors shipping out of Toronto. They also purchase buckets of ready-to-bake mixes that take the pesky hassle of actually making their desserts with carefully selected ingredients. As a bonus, diners get wonderful doses of unnecessary additives like artificial food dyes, artificial flavourings, three or four different sugars, hydrogenated vegetable fats derived from genetically modified corn or soy, and environmentally damaging products like palm oils. The carbon footprint left behind from the use of mostly imported ingredients (whatever is the cheapest!), and transportation costs are staggering. Often times they just taste awful.
The imported desserts do nothing positive for a local sustainable food system. Using 0% local and the lack of pride taken in preparing and serving high quality food is what really sours my mouth.
Keeping with the thought "be the change you want to see in the world", I've spent several years, and way more money than I can afford, to push the importance of supporting local. Yes, there are local businesses, and they need support, but
I'm talking about the local businesses that actually use local ingredients in their products. Those businesses have more challenges facing them in an already challenging industry. It frequently costs more because farmers' deserve to be paid a fair price for their work, but so do the tradesmen and women who turn them into value added products.
I've attended a few meetings in the past few weeks centered around local foods. Although I was surprised to find see the number of food-related groups and associations within Elgin County, a few gaps were apparent to me from my chef point of view. First, lack of culinary education. Second, kitchens to work from. Third, Elgin culinary history. Fourth, a formal analysis of Elgin's food cultures. Fifth, good bread.
With all the sourdough experiments taking place in the kitchen over the past several months, there always seems to be a partial loaf of bread waiting to be sliced. In the quest for oven spring, crackling crust, and an irregular gelatinized crumb, my recipe books have become dotted with post-it notes and the freezer full of back up loaves. Whereas I once ate porridge or fruit or eggs for breakfast, everyday now starts or ends with toast & jam. High-hydration bread doughs have changed baking for me.
November is a transitioning month: the clock's have fallen back into standard time, the pumpkins have been tossed to the curb (unless you have a compost pile in your backyard where you like to play pumpkin roulette in the summer), and it is absolutely too early to turn on any Christmas lights (do you hear me, Shedden?? It's too early!) even if it does get dark at 5:00 pm.
In the meantime, we keep the furnace off as long as possible, put the lawn furniture away, harvest any green tomatoes brave enough to attempt a shot at turning red on the vine, and we get cozy.
Some of us get hungry, too.
This recipe for Chestnut & Chocolate Semifreddo is available in the Holiday issue of Relish Elgin magazine. You can pick up a copy (or three) at many local establishments or view it online through their website at RelishElgin.ca.
With so many hot peppers filling tables at the markets I can't help but pick more up each week. The Aylmer Sales Barn is always a great place to source bushels of peppers from sweet bells and shephards to the blackish-purple poblanos and red crimson hots. A few farmers and home gardeners are also trying their hands at growing different varieties of chilis and the variations are all welcome in my larder because just about every global cuisine utilizes heat and spiciness in some way - with flavours and aromas from more than just green jalapeños.
After all the salsa, stuffed peppers, pickled peppers, drying, plastic gloves, can't-fall-asleep-because-my-hands-are-on-fire, chili-steeped vodka, and especially the 'how hot is it?' game, it's nice to play with a recipe that uses a large amount of chilis with only minimal work required. Fermented hot pepper relish has quickly become my new favourite go-to condiment.
Encompassing everything I like in a rustic sauce (salty, fresh, fruity, spicy, smoky & tangy), the relish is a great accompaniment to chicken, sausages, burgers, steak, perogies, nachos, eggs, or spread on a sandwich. Because it is fermented for just a couple of days, the relish retains the fresh vegetal flavours at the same time it matures and ripens.
I would eat this cake for breakfast.
Really, a crêpe is basically a very thin pancake, either sweet or savoury, filled or layered with just about anything you can think of under the Canadian summer sun. If maple syrup flowing over the edges of pillowy soft pancakes is an acceptable start to a lazy Sunday morning, then I'm sticking to my guns (and rationalizing) an entire stack of thin pancakes layered with honey sweetened & vanilla flavoured pastry cream should be just as customary.
Besides, it's the celebratory weekend where it's demanded we show our Canadian pride with anything and everything red, white & delicious. Snowbirds, beaches, farmers' markets, parades, fireworks, bbq's, backyards, beer, and cake!
Mille crêpe is the classical name for this cake as mille means 'thousand'. A bit of an exaggeration but you get the idea of many layers composing the cake. It is quite forgiving to prepare if you need another reason to attempt the recipe besides the stunning presentation.
This crêpe cake can be prepared in stages if it seems overwhelming to complete all at once. Prepare the batter up to a day in advance; prepare the crêpes up to a day in advance; prepare the pastry cream up to 4 days in advance. Assemble the cake up to a day in advance. If you follow along with my work at all, you know I like to share ideas and recipes that can be adapted to whatever seasonal ingredient is available. Could you imagine this cake topped with juicy peaches or blueberries?
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.