Farmers’ Market Report – June 5th, 2011

5 06 2011

The first day of the 2011 East Lynn Farmers' Market, Toronto

The farmers’ markets are underway for another year! Last week marked the launch of weekly farmers’ markets in Toronto. While there are a handful of markets that run through the year, the pickings tend to be slim between December and April. Now that there is locally-grown produce available, we can enjoy getting it straight from the farmers for the next five months or so. For a list of Ontario markets, check out Farmers’ Markets Ontario. (If you live elsewhere, a quick google search should point you in the right direction).

There isn’t a whole lot available right now but things should pick up considerably in about a month. Here were some of the highlights of this week’s markets:

Asparagus

Asparagus at its peak

It’s June and that means asparagus is at its peak! It seems to be a very good year for asparagus – the spears have been sweet and flavourful. The tables at the market Saturday morning were piled high with bundles of asparagus of various thickness (I prefer thicker ones but many people enjoy the delicate thin spears). It’s extremely versatile and can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I whipped up a simple egg white omelet for lunch the other day and threw in some steamed spears (see Asparagus 101 for cooking tips). I added some chopped ham, finely diced onion, chopped chives and a tiny bit of cheddar cheese. Served with a simple green salad, it was the perfect spring lunch. Eggs pair very well with asparagus: try a Crustless Asparagus Quiche. It can be dressed up with a bit of ham, cooked crab or lobster, your favourite herbs, different cheeses (swiss is nice) or diced red peppers.

A simple egg white omelet filled with steamed asparagus, fat-free ham, diced onions, chives and a bit of cheese is easy, nutritious and delicious.

Strawberries

Ontario strawberries are finally in season!

I was excited to finally see strawberries at the market. They are a little bit late this year, likely because of the cool, damp weather we had for most of May. The few I tried were on the tart side but still had more flavour than imported berries. As the weather warms up, hopefully the berries in coming weeks will be a little sweeter. For breakfast, I like to add a few sliced strawberries to my cereal. If you’re feeling a little more decadent in the morning, Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce are sure to be a hit.

Rhubarb

There was no shortage of rhubarb at the markets this week. It’s a bit of an acquired taste (I know quite a few people who don’t care for it) but properly sweetened, it can be quite refreshing. Vanilla Cheesecake with Rhubarb-Ginger Compote is a great make-ahead dessert for a spring meal. Or start your evening off with a rhubarb-based cocktail such as a Springtime Kir or a Rhubarb Refresher.

Onions and Herbs

There were a few fresh herbs available this week, including mint which pairs beautifully with strawberries in Strawberry Mojitos. I also saw garlic scapes and picked up a few baby onions. Chives are also starting to blossom (in my herb pot – I didn’t see any at the market) and are delicious in stir-fries or coated in a tempura batter and fried: Chive Tempura Blossoms.

Chive blossoms: pretty and edible!

Bon Appétit and Happy Marketing!

Get updates from The Seasonal Gourmet on Facebook and Twitter.  Join the conversation today!

Advertisements




Vanilla Cheesecake with Rhubarb-Ginger Compote

30 05 2011

Rhubarb at the market

The first local fruit to hit the markets where I live is rhubarb. After a long winter of apples, apples and more apples, it’s refreshing to see something new. Rhubarb is remarkably versatile and can be used in both sweet and savoury recipes. In desserts, it pairs very well with ginger, vanilla and of course, strawberrries.

Cheesecake is always a popular dessert and is a great choice for entertaining because it can be made in advance. It’s also surprisingly easy; don’t be intimidated by the length of the recipe, it’s very simple if you take it step-by-step. Be sure to use a springform pan so you can easily remove and cut the finished cake.

Once strawberries come into season, you can always add a few to the rhubarb compote (a compote is basically a sweetened fruit sauce). Try a ratio of half strawberries and half rhubarb and sweeten to taste.  The cheesecake base is pretty neutral so you can top with other favourite fruit sauces if desired.

Vanilla Cheesecake with Rhubarb-Ginger Compote

Makes one 9″ cheesecake

Crust:

  • 5 oz. (140 g) gingersnap cookies (hard ones, not chewy ginger cookies) – will yield about 1-1/2 cups of crumbs
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a food processor*, pulse the gingersnaps until they become fine crumbs. (*if you don’t have a food processor, place the cookies in a sturdy bag and crush until fine with a rolling pin or wine bottle). You should have about 1-1/2 cups of crumbs. Place the crumbs into a medium bowl.
  3. Melt the butter (it can be done in the microwave in about 45 to 60 seconds). Pour into the gingersnap crumbs and stir until the crumbs are completely coated.
  4. Press the crumb-butter mixture into the bottom of the springform pan, making sure it’s in an even layer.
  5. Bake the crust for five minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool while preparing the cream cheese filling.

Cream Cheese Filling:

  • 3 X 8 oz. (250 grams) packages of cream cheese (regular, not low-fat), at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sour cream (regular, not low-fat)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • The seeds from one vanilla bean (split the bean in half lengthwise with a sharp knife and scrape out the tiny seeds. Discard the empty pod)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 large eggs
  1. With a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, vanilla, vanilla bean seeds and salt until smooth.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  2. Turn the beater speed to low and add the eggs one at a time. Mix until smooth. Tip: Crack the eggs, one at a time, into a separate bowl before adding to the batter to ensure no shell pieces get into the filing.
  3. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the crust. Bake the cheesecake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until just set in the centre, about 40 to 50 minutes.
  4. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool slightly. Refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.
  5. To serve: Top with rhubarb compote (see recipe, below). Run a knife between the pan and the edge of the cake to loosen it before unhinging the springform pan.

Rhubarb-Ginger Compote:

Makes about 2 cups

  • 1-1/2 lbs. (24 oz. / 680 grams) rhubarb (before leaves and roots are trimmed), will yield about 4 cups of rhubarb once trimmed and cut up
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar (or more/less, to taste)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch + 2 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  1. Trim any leaves and root ends from the rhubarb and discard. Chop the stalks into 1/2″ chunks.
  2. Place the rhubarb pieces into a medium saucepan. Add the water and bring to a gentle simmer on medium heat.
  3. Cook until the fruit begins to soften, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the sugar, salt, ginger and vanilla. Stir to combine and continue to simmer until the rhubarb is completely soft. Use a large spoon or potato masher to crush the fruit.
  4. In a cup, add the cornstarch and water and mix well until smooth. Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the rhubarb mixture and turn heat to medium-high.
  5. Cook until the mixture begins to thicken, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the butter until melted. Remove from the heat and let the compote cool completely before using. Extra sauce will keep in the fridge for a few days.
  6. To finish the cheesecake: Spoon the cooled rhubarb compote over the cheesecake, spreading it in an even layer. Serve extra sauce on the side.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Vanilla cheesecake with rhubarb-ginger compote and a gingersnap crust

Get updates from The Seasonal Gourmet on Facebook and Twitter.  Join the conversation today!

Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.





Seafood Salad with Avocado-Buttermilk Dressing

25 05 2011

Shellfish at the market

As the weather warms up, many of us are looking for fresh meal ideas. A simple salad of chilled seafood topped with an easy avocado and buttermilk dressing makes an elegant lunch or light dinner. It can also be served in smaller portions as a starter course. Many fish markets sell lobster, shrimp and crab that have already been cooked which makes this a snap to pull together. Make sure you select an avocado that is very ripe – I often plan ahead and buy my avocados a few days before I need them because the ones at my local store are usually under ripe and as hard as rocks.

About Buttermilk

Traditionally, buttermilk was the liquid that was left after making butter. Today, most buttermilk sold in supermarkets is made by adding lactic acid bacteria culture to pasteurized milk. Buttermilk is tangier tasting and slightly thicker than regular milk. Full-fat and lower-fat options are available in the dairy section of most grocery stores and it is sometimes sold as a powder in the baking section. However, if buttermilk is not available, a decent substitute is to stir one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice into one cup of milk. Let the mixture sit for five minutes and stir until smooth. Sour cream or plain yogurt will also work – mix with a small amount of milk to thin it.

Seafood Salad with Avocado Dressing

Makes 4 light servings

  • About 16 oz. cooked seafood such as lobster, shrimp or crab (or a mix of all three)
  • 4 cups butter lettuce leaves
  • 20 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • Fresh chopped chives as garnish
  • Dressing (see below)

Avocado-Buttermilk Dressing:

  • 1 very ripe avocado
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 6 Tablespoons 1% buttermilk (or buttermilk substitute – see above)
  • 3 Tablespoons Hellman’s or Best Foods style mayonnaise – regular or light
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons chopped chives
  • Very finely diced shallot
  • Salt, to taste

To Make Dressing:

  1. Cut the avocado lengthwise through the middle and pull the two halves apart. Remove the pit and discard. Scoop the avocado into the bowl of a food processor or processor cup of a hand blender.
  2. Add the garlic, buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, cider vinegar and two teaspoons of the chives to the avocado. Puree the mixture until smooth.
  3. Transfer dressing to a bowl and stir in the remaining chives, diced shallot and season with salt to taste.
  4. Use as a dip or dressing. It will keep covered in the fridge for a couple of days.

Plating the Salads:

  1. Place a bed of lettuce on each of four salad plates or one big serving plate. Top with cherry tomato halves. Set cooked seafood on top of the lettuce and tomatoes, arranging it so it looks attractive.
  2. Drizzle with avocado-buttermilk vinaigrette and garnish with fresh chopped chives.
Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Seafood Salad with Avocado-Buttermilk Dressing

Get updates from The Seasonal Gourmet on Facebook and Twitter.  Join the conversation today!

Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication. This article first appeared on Suite 101.com.





Sesame Noodles with Asparagus and Mushrooms

14 05 2011

Ontario asparagus at the St. Lawrence farmers' market, Toronto, May 14th, 2011

Spring may have officially started back in March but today marks the ‘real’ beginning of spring for me: at long last, the first local asparagus is at the market!  I’ve been waiting patiently for asparagus season to begin and was not disappointed at the St. Lawrence farmers’ market this morning. I also found local fiddleheads, wild leeks and rhubarb so things are starting to get interesting in the kitchen.

Why not make a delicious and simple Asian-inspired noodle dish to showcase new asparagus? Sesame oil can be found at most supermarkets with the soy sauces. It adds a delicious nutty flavour to dishes and complements the asparagus and mushrooms beautifully (although a little goes a long way so be sure to use a light hand with it!).

Sesame Noodles with Asparagus and Mushrooms

Makes 4 to 6 main course servings

(VEGETARIAN)

  • 1 lb. (500 g) dry long noodles such as spaghetti or linguine
  • 12 oz. (340 g) asparagus, cut into 1-1/2” pieces – will equal about 2-1/2 cups
  • 4 oz. (113 g) shiitake or button mushrooms, stems trimmed and sliced 1/2” thick – will equal about 2 cups
  • 2 Tablespoons neutral oil, such as safflower
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
  • Chopped green onion tops for garnish

Sauce:

  • 4 Tablespoons sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • ¼ cup neutral oil, such as safflower
  • 4 large green onions, white and light green parts only
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon water
  1. To make the sauce: In a bowl or large measuring cup, add all sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Set sauce aside until ready to use.
  2. Prepare noodles according to package directions (spaghetti and linguine are usually cooked for about 9 to 11 minutes in salted boiling water).
  3. While the noodles are cooking, stir fry the vegetables. Heat two tablespoons of neutral oil in a large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and mushrooms. Stir-fry until the mushrooms have softened and the asparagus is tender-crisp, about 6 minutes.
  4. Drain the noodles and add to the skillet with the vegetables. Pour sauce over the mixture and use a large spoon and fork to toss the mixture until vegetables are evenly distributed and the noodles are coated with sauce.
  5. Garnish the noodles with toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions before serving.
Additional Ideas: You can make the dish more substantial by adding cooked meat (sliced grilled steak or chicken would be delicious, as would Chinese bbq pork). You can also add other vegetables such as snow peas, diced red pepper, steamed broccoli or sliced zucchini.
Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Sesame Noodles with Asparagus and Mushrooms

Get updates from The Seasonal Gourmet on Facebook and Twitter.  Join the conversation today!

Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication. This article first appeared on Suite 101.com.





Snow Crab

12 05 2011

Snow crab legs and claw (cooked)

Every now and again something will come to my attention and I’ll become sort of obsessed with it for a while. The current object of my affection is Canadian snow crab. It started with a couple of trips to Montreal I took back in April. The snow crab season had just begun and I enjoyed a starter of cooked, chilled crab at a party I was attending. A couple of weeks later, my husband and I had an excellent meal at Le Filet, a new restaurant from the owners of the much-lauded Le Club Chasse et Pêche. (Lesley Chesterman gave Le Filet a lukewarm review in The Gazette around the same time but the kitchen was on its ‘A’ game the night we were there and our dinner was outstanding). The highlight of our meal was an asparagus and snow crab risotto. When I returned to Toronto, I decided to seek out some of the sweet crustaceans and we’ve enjoyed it a number of times since.

Snow Crab (a.k.a. Queen Crab, Spider Crab, Crabe des Neiges, Crabe Araignée) is harvested off Canada’s east coast from April to November. It is usually found frozen at most fishmongers although last weekend I was fortunate to find cooked, unfrozen claws and legs at The Beach Fish House, a great little seafood shop in my neighbourhood.

To thaw frozen snow crab, you can steam or briefly boil the legs/claws. Extracting the meat takes a bit of time but is well worth the effort. I usually set the crab on a clean folded dishtowel to soak up any liquid. You can use lobster crackers or a sharp knife to crack open the claws. The shells tend to be relatively thin at this time of year so I use seafood scissors (see photo) to cut them open. Most cookware shops sell seafood forks that you can use to extract the meat but I just use the forks from my fondue set – they work perfectly fine.

Tools for extracting crab meat: seafood scissors and fondue forks!

Snow crab is very versatile but I feel that the simplest preparations are usually best – let the sweet crab meat shine! Here are a few simple suggestions for enjoying it:

Garlic Butter

Melt some butter in a small bowl. Finely mince a clove of garlic and stir it in. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon if desired. Dip the crabmeat into the garlic butter and enjoy!

Crabby Spaghetti

In a sauté pan, heat a few tablespoons of butter or olive oil. Add a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes, two finely minced garlic cloves, a couple of peeled and seeded diced tomatoes and cook for a minute until the garlic is tender and fragrant (you can also add a bit of minced green onion and finely diced red or yellow pepper if desired). Add a cup of crab meat to the pan and stir to combine. Cook spaghetti or other long pasta according to package directions. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss until the pasta is coated. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh chopped chives, if desired.

Spaghetti with Snow Crab, Garlic and Tomato

Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

These make a great appetizer for parties. You can skip the avocado to make things easier. Get the recipe here: Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes.

Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Asparagus and Snow Crab Risotto

The perfect spring dish, this was inspired by my dinner at Le Filet in Montreal. Follow the instructions for Basic Risotto but use shellfish stock (see recipe below) instead of meat stock (although chicken stock will work in a pinch). Add about 1-1/2 cups cooked crab meat and 4 oz./113 grams of lightly steamed asparagus, cut into 1-1/2″ pieces. Stir in the asparagus and crab toward the end of cooking. Season with fresh chopped chives and two finely minced fresh basil leaves. Finish with a generous amount of butter and garnish with a crab claw (optional). Note: Italians do not usually serve seafood dishes with cheese but you can add a bit of parmesan if desired.

Snow Crab and Asparagus Risotto, garnished with a crab claw

Shellfish Stock

This makes a great base for all kinds of seafood dishes from risotto to pot pie to chowder. I usually save any shells from shrimp, lobster and crab in a bag in the freezer until I have enough to make a batch of stock. Leftover stock can be frozen.

Makes about 7-1/2 cups of stock

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups shrimp shells
  • 1 lb. / 500 grams crab and/or lobster shells (cooked and empty)
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup brandy (optional)
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 8 cups water
  • Cheesecloth, for straining
  1. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil on medium-high. Add the shells and sauté until they begin to brown slightly around the edges, stirring frequently (they may stick to the bottom of the pot a bit).
  2. Add the onion, carrot and celery and sauté for another two minutes.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste and add the brandy, if using. Add the thyme.
  4. Pour in the water. Cover and let simmer gently (don’t hard boil) for about 25 minutes.
  5. Line a strainer with multiple layers of cheesecloth and pour the stock through it into a large vessel.  If the stock isn’t completely clear, repeat the straining with more clean cheesecloth.
  6. Stock can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days or frozen.
  7. Note: The stock will seem a bit bland because it doesn’t have any salt in it – season it as you use it so you can control the sodium levels.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Get updates from The Seasonal Gourmet on Facebook and Twitter.  Join the conversation today!

Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.





Roasted Tomato Salsa

5 05 2011

Roasted Tomato Salsa with tortilla chips

May 5th is Cinco de Mayo, which is a great excuse to enjoy Mexican-inspired food and drinks. A simple roasted tomato salsa makes a delicious accompaniment to many dishes, from quesadillas to tacos. Or, just enjoy it with some tortilla chips and a margarita or Mexican beer.

Tomatoes are not in season right now but high quality greenhouse-grown cherry tomatoes are available in the produce section of most grocery stores. I usually use Canadian-grown Savoura brand cherry tomatoes but any kind will do as long as they’re ripe. A quick roast in the oven enhances their sweetness and adds a bit of delicious char. You can add additional jalapenos and hot sauce for a hotter salsa.

Serving Suggestion: Why not make some Crispy Fish Tacos and Mango Margaritas?

Roasted Tomato Salsa

Makes about 1 cup

(VEGETARIAN)

For the roasted tomatoes and onions:

  • 2 cups (400 grams/ 14 oz.) cherry tomatoes, stems removed
  • 1/2 small red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 Tablespoon neutral oil such as canola or safflower
  • A generous sprinkling of salt
  • Parchment paper

To finish the salsa:

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped pickled jalapeno peppers (or to taste)
  • 1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional – a lot of people don’t like it so you can omit it if desired)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Extra hot sauce, to taste (optional)

To roast the tomatoes and onion:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, add the tomatoes and onion chunks. Toss with the oil and a generous pinch of salt until they are coated.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Make sure the paper goes up the sides of the rim so it catches any juices from the tomatoes.
  4. Roast the vegetables for 25 minutes or until they are softened and slightly charred. Carefully lift the parchment paper and pour the contents into a large bowl. Let cool completely.

To finish the salsa:

  1. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes and their skins, leaving the sauce slightly chunky.
  2. Add the chopped jalapenos, garlic, lime juice, cilantro (if using) and salt to taste. Stir together until smooth. Add additional hot sauce if desired.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Get updates from The Seasonal Gourmet on Facebook and Twitter.  Join the conversation today!

Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.





Sour Cream and Chive Noodles

11 04 2011

Chives are easy to grow in a pot and require little maintenance

The first green item of spring has arrived: Chives!  The oniony herb is usually the first thing to appear in my herb garden each spring after a very long winter so I think it’s worth celebrating with a new recipe.

This simple pasta dish only takes minutes to put together and makes a great side dish for chicken or beef. Think of this dish as an alternative to a baked potato with sour cream and chives.

Sour Cream and Chive Noodles

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

(VEGETARIAN)

  • 8 oz. (227 grams) dry egg noodles (equals about 4 cups of dry noodles)
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock or milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup chopped chives, plus extra for garnish
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Cook the noodles according to package directions (usually 5 to 6 minutes for al dente noodles).  Drain the water once cooked and return the noodles to the pot.
  2. Add the butter and stir until melted.  Pour in the chicken or vegetable stock (or milk) and add the sour cream and dijon.  Add the chives and stir until the noodles are thoroughly coated.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with additional chopped chives and serve immediately.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

For more great ideas using chives, check out the Chive Archives.

Sour Cream and Chive Noodles make an easy and delicious side dish

Get updates from The Seasonal Gourmet on Facebook and Twitter.  Join the conversation today!

Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.