Corn Chowder with Bell Peppers

26 07 2010

Corn Chowder with Bell Peppers, made with fresh corn and sweet summer peppers.

When I was a kid, one of my favourite soups was corn chowder.  My mom made it using canned creamed corn, green peppers, onions, potatoes and milk.  It was simple, delicious and comforting.  I took the basic concept and dressed it up a little with fresh corn and added some red peppers, a hint of jalapeno, some garlic and fresh thyme.  It’s a great way to use up corn on the cob and can be a summery starter or a hearty meal on its own.  You can add some protein such as shellfish, chicken or ham if you’d like.  It can also be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock in place of chicken in the base. Serve the chowder with fresh bread or biscuits.

Click here to get the recipe from Suite 101.com: Corn Chowder with Bell Peppers.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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Baby Red Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

16 07 2010

Potato salad made with baby red potatoes and a mustard vinaigrette is a delicious change from mayonnaise-based salads.

I love potatoes.  I grew up in an area that was originally settled by the Irish and potatoes were the main starch that accompanied most of our meals.  I tend to think of them as a winter vegetable because they can be stored year round but new baby potatoes are a special summer treat.  They are sweet, tender and have very thin skins.  New potatoes can be prepared very simply – just steam or boil them and top with a bit of salt and pepper.  They also are great in potato salads and don’t require a lot of work to prepare.

For a great mayonnaise-free potato salad that is full of zesty flavour, check out my recipe on Suite 101.com: Baby Red Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Farmers’ Market Report – July 8th, 2010

8 07 2010

Zucchini blossoms are a rare and delicious summer treat.

Welcome to my first Farmers’ Market Report for Summer 2010!  The markets are at their peak for the next couple of months and this week’s offerings did not disappoint.  In fact, growing conditions in Southern Ontario have been so good this year, there were a few surprises.  Here is a rundown of some of this week’s highlights:

Corn

Corn has arrived at Ontario markets earlier than usual this year.

I was a bit stunned to see the first local corn at the markets already.  Speaking with some farmers, I learned that’s about two weeks earlier than normal this year.  I bought six ears to experiment with, crossing my fingers the quality was going to be decent. The ears were on the small side but the kernels were very tender.  It wasn’t as flavourful as I’d hoped but because it’s so early, I’m sure later harvests will be sweeter. My favourite way to eat corn is boiled, rolled in butter and then topped with salt and pepper. However, if you’re looking for something more elegant, try my recipe for Corn with Red Pepper and Herbs.

Peaches

Like corn, peaches are also early this year.  I didn’t buy any this week but we’ve been having a heat wave so hopefully that bodes well for upcoming weeks (peaches love hot, dry weather).  Peach Tiramisu is an elegant, no-bake dessert that showcases fresh peaches beautifully.

Apricots

Apricots were abundant at this week's market.

I often find raw apricots kind of bland with a bit of a mealy texture but the ones I bought today were pretty tasty.  They had a nice sweet-tartness to them so I ate a few out of hand.  I chose ones on the smaller side but the farmers were selling larger ones as well.  Apricots are ideal for both sweet and savoury recipes; why not make some Spicy Apricot Glazed Grilled Shrimp?

Herbs

Fresh herbs were in abundance this week including basil, mint and dill.  I keep an herb pot during the summer for day-to-day herbs but if I decide to do any large batch pickling or pesto, I’ll head to the farmer’s market to buy large amounts at a good price. To make use of summer herbs, check out my recipes for Pesto Sauce and White Bean Dip with Fresh Herbs.

Summer Squash

Pattypan squash and baby zucchini.

I have a feeling that zucchini are going to take over many gardens this summer, judging by the number and size of them at this week’s market.  Many of the yellow and green zucchini on display were already getting a little big for my taste (smaller ones tend to be less watery and are better for most recipes).  Pattypan squash were also abundant this week. You can make the most of summer squash by making Zucchini Pie with Fresh Basil or a moist Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting.  I was also excited to find zucchini blossoms at a local grocer this week.  They are fragile and rare but will occasionally turn up at local markets.  To use them, try my recipes for Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms.

I discovered another summer squash this week that I was not familiar with: vegetable marrow (see photo below).  I asked the farmer about them and learned that they are very similar to zucchini and are often stuffed with a ground meat mixture.  It seems to be a popular vegetable in England.  You can find a recipe for stuffed vegetable marrow here: Recipe for Stuffed Marrow with Sausage Meat.

Vegetable marrow are similar to zucchini and are delicious stuffed.

Cucumbers

My husband loves cucumbers and often eats sliced cukes with a dash of salt and pepper as a snack.  They also add a fresh note to sandwiches and salads.  A crisp Asian Summer Slaw makes a great no-cook dinner.  Some of the stalls were selling dill alongside baby cucumbers – one-stop shopping for pickle makers.  Pick up some smoked salmon to make a Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad that is accented with fresh dill.

Cherries

Both sweet and sour Ontario cherries were abundant this week.  While sweet cherries are imported from the U.S. each spring, sour ones are harder to find.  My grandmother had a sour cherry tree in her yard so they were the only kind we ever had when I was growing up.  They’re not very good raw but once cooked and sweetened, they have a tartness that is addictive.  For a classic sour cherry pie recipe, check out this one from Epicurious.com: Classic Sour Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust.  If you have sweet cherries, why not make a Cherry Clafouti with Almonds or a simple Cherry Almond Bread?

Asparagus

I was told that this is probably the last week for asparagus this year.  Usually by the end of the season, asparagus is starting to look tired but not this year.  The stalks were thick, robust and vibrant.  This was an exceptional year for asparagus and I enjoyed it in a variety of dishes.  Check out the Asparagus Archives for some delicious ideas ranging from Sesame Noodles with Asparagus and Mushrooms to a rich and decadent Roasted Asparagus Lasagna.

Until next week,

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Asian Summer Slaw

7 07 2010

Beat the heat with a refreshing salad of seasonal vegetables and an Asian-style dressing.

We’re having a major heat wave in Southern Ontario, with high temperatures and humidity not seen here since 2007.  While this is good for growing things such as peaches, tomatoes and grapes, it can be a challenge when trying to decide what to eat for dinner each night.  No one wants to run a hot oven when the temperature is soaring so we look for things that are fresh and cooling.

So what should we eat?  Salads, of course!  Salads are a great option at the peak of summer because a lot of local produce is now available at the market.  A vibrant salad packed with fresh vegetables and lightly tossed with an Asian-inspired dressing is the perfect dish for dinner. It pairs well with grilled meats and rice dishes or you can add some grilled shrimp or chicken to make it a substantial main dish on its own. Cooked whole-wheat spaghettini or chow mein noodles would also be a nice addition.

The prep work for this salad takes a bit of time but none of it is difficult.  You could use bagged shredded coleslaw mix in place of chopping the cabbage and carrots. The dressing can be made in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.  However, don’t dress the salad too far in advance or it will get soggy and limp.

Asian Summer Slaw

Makes 4 to 6 side dish servings (can be made as a main course as well, see above)

(VEGETARIAN)

Dressing:

  • 1/2 cup Hellman’s/Best Foods style light mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, if you prefer a bit of heat)
  1. In a small bowl, add all ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined.  Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Salad:

  • 3/4 cup snow peas (about 15), trimmed
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 small or 1/2 a large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 4 green onions, chopped (white and light green parts – save the dark green tops for garnish)
  • 1 cup sliced cucumbers – cut about 1/4″ thick (about 1/2 a large cuke)
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 2 cups shredded Napa or green cabbage
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
  1. To blanch snow peas: Prepare a bowl of cold water and add a few ice cubes. Set aside.  Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add snow peas and cook for 1 minute.  Drain peas and plunge them immediately into the ice water to halt cooking.  Drain and dry them once they cool and add to a large salad bowl.
  2. Add the red pepper strips, carrot, green onion, cucumber, bean sprouts and cabbage to the bowl.  Use salad forks (or spoons) to toss all ingredients until combined.  Add dressing to the salad a little at a time and stir to coat the vegetables, making sure you don’t overdress the salad (you probably won’t use all of the dressing. Extra dressing can be kept covered in the fridge for a couple of days).  Stir in sesame seeds and garnish with green onion slices.
  3. Serve as a side dish or add some protein and noodles as described above.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





A Few of My Favourite (Canadian) Things…

2 07 2010

Maple syrup in a maple leaf bottle

A belated Happy Canada Day to all of my Canadian readers!  I must admit that I started to write this yesterday (Canada Day) and got distracted by various holiday celebrations, including a great fireworks display over Lake Ontario.

Canada Day is the one day of the year when we pull out our flags to celebrate our country and all the things that make it great (or just enjoy a day off in the middle of the week).  Canada is easy to stereotype but there’s a lot more going on here than hockey, moose, Celine Dion and beer (although there’s plenty of those too).  The culinary scene in Canada has never been so diverse and interesting and I’m constantly finding inspiration from local chefs, farmers, producers and writers.  Here are a few of my favourite Canadian food-related things:

Canadian Wines

A selection of Ontario wines

People outside of Canada might not even be aware that we have a number of wine producing regions that are growing rapidly. British Columbia and Ontario lead the way with dozens of wineries, ranging from small family-run producers to larger, corporate-owned vineyards.  Canadian icewines have won international awards and we also produce some top-notch whites including riesling (a favourite of mine in the summer).  To learn more about the largest wine regions of Canada, visit www.winebc.com and www.winesofontario.com

Unique Dishes

A take-out container of poutine

Every nation has dishes that are considered specialties of that country.  Because Canada is so spread out and diverse, a number of iconic dishes can be found across the country including poutine (french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy), donairs (spiced meat wrapped in a pita and topped with a sweet garlic sauce), smoked meat, Bloody Caesars, butter tarts, and Nanaimo bars.  A recent Globe and Mail feature asked what we thought our national dish might be: My National Dish (click through the slide show of Contenders at the bottom).  I’d rather not choose one – I like them all!

Great Products

Atlantic lobsters are served in restaurants around the world

Despite a relatively short growing season, Canada has great produce.  During the peak summer months, farmer’s markets are full of locally grown fruits and vegetables that range from the familiar to more exotic fare such as bitter melon and rapini.  We also have some of the world’s best seafood, fished from both the east and west coasts.  Prince Edward Island oysters, B.C. smoked salmon and Atlantic lobster are served at fine restaurants around the world.  Maple syrup is another famous Canadian export that is readily available at any grocery store across the country. Canadian artisan cheese makers are beginning to make their presence felt in the world with a Quebec produced goat cheese, Le Cendrillon, winning the title of Best Cheese in the World at the 2009 World Cheese awards.  Many provinces are now producing interesting and unique cheeses from goat, sheep and cow’s milk.

Another Canadian product I’ve been experimenting with over the past few months is duck. Brome Lake in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is famous for its ducks and many products are now easier to find in stores outside of the province.  I’ve been testing recipes using confit legs, smoked breasts and duck foie gras I’ve purchased at the St. Lawrence Market and A Taste of Quebec in Toronto.  There is even a store dedicated to duck products on Boulevard St-Laurent in Montreal called  Le Canard Libéré.

For some delicious recipes using Canadian products, check out some of these recipes:

Home Grown Talent

Some of Canada’s food personalities have recently gained more recognition abroad with the launch of the Cooking Channel in the United States.  Although their programs have been airing on Food Network Canada for a while, TV chefs such as Chuck Hughes (Chuck’s Day Off), David Rocco (Dolce Vita), Laura Calder (French Food at Home) and Roger Mooking (Everyday Exotic) will gain a much wider audience in the U.S.  Laura Calder also recently won a James Beard Foundation Award for her program, beating out popular nominees The Barefoot Contessa and Iron Chef America.  Other prolific Canadian food personalities include Lucy Waverman, celebrity chef Lynn Crawford, who recently launched a new tv show and a restaurant, and Michael Smith, who competed on Iron Chef America and cooked for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Local Restaurants

The Au Pied de Cochon cookbook

The restaurant scene in Canada has never been so exciting.  Many of the country’s top chefs are championing the use of local products and creating dishes that are uniquely and distinctly Canadian.  Chef Martin Picard of Montreal’s temple of decadence, Au Pied du Cochon, uses local products to fuel his over-the-top cuisine. The menu features such madness as poutine topped with foie gras, cromesquis (fried cubes of foie gras that explode and melt in your mouth) and towers of Canadian seafood in the summer.  The last time I was there, I watched the chefs plate an entire pig’s head that had been cooked in their wood-burning oven.  Toronto’s Black Hoof restaurant is curing their own meats for charcuterie plates while Vancouver’s C Restaurant is featuring the best of local seafood in artistic presentations.  These are just a few examples – there are many other innovative Canadian restaurants from coast to coast who are shaping the culinary direction of our nation.

Diversity

Le Petit Alep, a Syrian/Armenian restaurant in Montreal

One of the great things about living in Canada in general is the great cultural diversity of our people.  In major cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, you can sample the cuisines from dozens of nations – the world is your oyster, so to speak. You can have dim sum for lunch, sushi for dinner and Lebanese sandwiches as a midnight snack, if you so choose.  Many restauranteurs are using local ingredients in the preparation of ‘ethnic’ dishes (such as Vij’s in Vancouver), creating local/global hybrid dishes that are unique and interesting. As our population continues to grow, the fusion of various influences will only make eating ‘Canadian’ food more exciting.

Bon Appétit and Happy Canada Day!