Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Loving

When I was a kid, the hip thing to do for Mother's or Father's Day brunch was to fry eggs in the toast. You were meant to use sliced bread, and make a heart-shaped cutout into which you would drop the egg. I haven't had sliced bread (not that kind...) in ages, and the loaves I eat aren't big enough to accommodate a heart-shaped cutout, but I still enjoy the occasional egg-fried toast.

It's lovely for breakfast and brunch, if that's your thing. I, on the other hand, am rather partial to eking out as much sleep as I can in the morning, so I prefer this dish for a light lunch or dinner. Topped with a handful of veggies (garlic scapes, radishes, greens and peas are my current favourites), it is a quick and lovely way to fill your belly.

No recipe required. Just cut out a slice of bread. Fry one side in a bit of butter; flip it over, add a little more butter if needed. Drop an egg in the cutout, and let it cook over low heat. If you want the yolk to remain runny and the white to be barely set, cover the pan with a lid, and leave it be for a minute or two. Season to taste, and top with sautéed vegetables.

Bon app'

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

500 Days of Summer

When I think of all the things that need to get done in the garden, I momentarily wish that summers in Montreal were endless; that I had more time to crouch amongst my vegetables beds to pick out every single weed. But if summers went on forever, I probably would not enjoy the briefly intense gardening sessions I snatch minutes before I dash off to work; in the dying daylight after a lunch shift; or under the porch light while fending off the mosquitoes in the dead of night. No, indeed, if I had all the time in the world to do my garden chores, I am quite sure that they would never get done.

And I wouldn't appreciate the little things: like the first peas from my garden. While I am mentioning them for the first time today, rest assured that the peas above are not actually the first peas from my garden. They're merely the first ones to make it to the kitchen! I've been munching on my peas for about two weeks now, along with lots of rapini, roquette and other greens. 

Last week, I received the first delivery from my CSA farm. In the basket, there were green onions; baby spinach; mesclun; Asian greens; and asparagus. You needn't join a CSA to enjoy the bounties of summer, but I do highly recommend it. And it's not too late to join, some farms still have openings, and would love nothing more than to share their harvests with you.

Other goodies that you may find in the CSA baskets or at the market are garlic scapes and the first of the new season garlic. The scapes are more piquant than pungent, so you can get away with serving them on their own, as a featured vegetable. The heads of garlic, on the other hand, are still rather mild, and might not have quite yet formed individual cloves, so you will most likely be using more garlic than normal. But it's all good, since garlic is very good for you. The first green beans are also trickling in at the market; they're still stick thin -just the way I like them- and very tender.

I mustn't forget the strawberries! The cool and wet spring had delayed the harvest a bit, but they are here in all their glory. The sun and hot weather are making up for lost time, and now there is a bit of a glut at the market. It is the perfect time to be stocking up on homemade jam. If you are buying berries for jam, make sure that you choose an even amount of dead-ripe berries (for flavour and colour) and slightly under-ripe fruit (for the pectin boost). The recent deluge that fell over many parts of Canada has resulted in juicy, though not overly sweet berries, which is fine for jamming.

It is the time for wild salmon and Atlantic mackerel. From California all the way up to Alaska, the Pacific salmon are running upstream. This early in the season, you will mostly find Pinks, Chubs, and Keta. These salmon species are paler in colour, and somewhat smaller in size than the later varieties, but they still make for a scrumptious meal. I did notice that Sockeyes were also coming in: they are on the small-ish side, but they have the deep orange flesh that has become the marker of wild salmon. Cohoes do not usually run up until late summer. 

I do not know if the Atlantic salmon fisheries will be revived in my lifetime, but if you have a hankering for wild Atlantic salmon, you will have to cross the pond as they are still being caught in Scotland and Ireland (though who knows for how much longer). I vaguely remember eating wild Atlantic salmon in my childhood, but I couldn't tell you if it was delicious or not, however some salmon lovers claim that the Atlantic salmon is the king of all salmon. Here's to hoping that the fish makes a comeback soon, so that the argument can be settled once and for all. 

One Atlantic fish that is still considered sustainable is the lowly mackerel. This fish is still grossly under-appreciated, yet it is very inexpensive, highly nutritious, and makes for the best summer eating. Its high fat content (read high in omega fatty acids) makes it ideal for barbecues, grilling over an open fire, and eating raw when very fresh. It is usually sold whole; for those who are not faint of heart, the innards, head and bones are a great addition to the compost heap: it might raise a stink, but it breaks down fairly rapidly, and your plants will love you.

Bon app'!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Radish Encore

I think this might be my new favourite way to eat radishes, when all I want is radishes: en carpaccio. It's pretty, simple, and it's always nice to fuss over one's dinner every now and then... I recently heard an interview with a cookbook author who was extolling the virtues of cooking for one. I can't remember the radio show, nor the author's name, otherwise I'd post a link to the podcast. However, the author's point was this: "If you can't be bothered to cook well for yourself, when are you ever going to cook well?" 

Which reminded me of a family friend who passed away not too long ago. As far as I can remember, she had always been single and was a lover of good food. She had once told my mother that she made a point of setting the dinner table, and pouring herself a glass of wine whenever she ate at home, because she was her single most important dinner guest. 

It makes sense of course: if you don't care about how and what you eat, who will? We all feel harassed by time, and sometimes, life just seems to throw more hurdles and hoops at us than we can handle, but eating well must not become a daily stress. So sit down, sip a glass of wine, and enjoy your meal.

Radish Carpaccio
Serves 1

3 good sized radishes
½ lemon juice and zest
a pinch of sea salt
a drizzle of hazelnut oil

Top or tail the radishes, and proceed to slicing them as thinly as possible. This process is easiest if you have a mandoline.
Display the radish slices on a plate, sprinkle with the salt and lemon zest, then drizzle the lemon juice and hazelnut oil. 
Set aside.
Meanwhile, set the table, put on some mood music; sit down, and enjoy!

This carpaccio is actually a variation on the instant sweet pickles. So if you are slightly pressed for time, you can simply mix everything in a bowl, and enjoy it as a salad. It's quite pretty that way too. Also, you needn't limit yourself to the seasonings I listed: substitute another citrus juice or vinegar for the lemon, and switch the oil: almond oil or toasted sesame oil are lovely too, though I would steer clear of olive oil for this recipe.

Bon app'!

P.S. A reader had mentioned that she was somewhat dissatisfied about following this blog by RSS feed, and was wondering if it was possible to follow by email instead. Well folks, if you would also prefer following the Foodie's Quest by email, now you can!
In the right hand column, right under the search box, you can submit your email address, and you should get a reminder in your inbox whenever I post something new.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Summer is literally around the corner. I finally got a good part of my tomato seedlings in the ground, gave away a few, and promised the rest to others. The garden is taking shape, and looking rather lovely. The bees are abuzz, and the flowers are blooming. Many of these pretty things are edible and flavourful.

The chives blossoms are nearly done in my garden. They were at their best when it was raining and unseasonably chilly. While they are now a little too far gone for eating in a salad, they are still fine for making flavoured vinegars or oils.

Thyme is usually thought of as a savoury herb, even though it is actually quite lovely in sweets. The blossoms are a great way to test the waters, as they are much milder than the leaves, and delicately sweet themselves. They are a favourite of all bees, so do leave some for our pollinating friends.

These yellow blossoms are towering over my wild roquette 'shrub'. From its yellow-four-petaledness (I am aware that it's not a real word!), the blossoms announce their allegiance to their cruciferous family: the mustards and cabbages. These pretty flowers add a gentle pepperiness to salads and other savoury dishes, and give off a pleasant popping sensation when you chew them.

In my humble opinion, arugula has one of the prettiest flowers, with their slim, cream petals and maroon veins. It has a decided spicy punch, so you might have to go a little easy on the sprinkling about the first around. When arugula goes to seed and sends out its flower stalk, the leaves become hot. Too hot for some -although I rather like them- these older leaves are particularly suited to cooking, especially wilted in a bit of oil, with salt, no pepper. Pick the flowers for a rocket zing in salads, but leave a few to go to seed: you'll get a second, later harvest of arugula.

Humans are not the only animals attracted to the colour blue: while we find it appeasing, bees equate this colour with a good source of nectar and pollen. True blue flowers are actually rare in nature, but several herb flowers come close enough to the shade to make them a favourite of bees. If you only have space for a couple of plants in the garden, make sure you make room for at least one herb plant, like this sage. The flowers definitely taste of sage, but are less pungent, making them perfect for summer meals, which are generally unsuited for heavy, camphor accents.

Elderflowers are the queen of edible flowers. The giant shrubs (my three year old elder is towering over my neighbour's garden shed!) grow wild just about everywhere in temperate climes. The scent is enveloping and sweet, perfect for desserts. Each flower umbel is full of fine pollen, so if you are susceptible to seasonal allergies, you might have to ask someone else to harvest them for you. However, pollen is extremely nutritious, and some naturopaths actually recommends its consumption to alleviate allergies. If you find an elder bush, do leave some flowers behind so that you can reap elderberries later in the summer.

Bon app'!

Calling for a Moratorium

If you live in the Province of Quebec or in the American North East, you've probably heard about shale gas and the controversy it entails. In Quebec, the shale gas industry is still in its infancy, but it has raised the ire of many. Unfortunately, the provincial government is set on moving the projects forward, despite  evidence that the mining process is unsafe and un-ecological.

The general consensus is that industrialized countries need to cut back drastically on their use of fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gases, so one can only wonder why a government that likes to tout its 'green' credentials would want to develop a environmentally destructive industry, instead of encouraging innovations in green alternatives. 

If you live in or near Montreal, there will be a demonstration this Saturday (June 18) demanding a moratorium on all shale gas development. For more information, please visit the Équiterre website.

Join the movement! Let your voice be heard!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gather Ye Radishes

In my last post, I seemed to imply that I had been living off a two-week supply of pasta with radishes. The statement was a bit of an exaggeration: I had actually been alternating between pasta and bread. Until I ran out of bread. And tortillas. And crackers. And eggs.

What I am trying to say is that radishes are wonderful in egg salad. It might not be news to you, but I've seen, and eaten, so many boring renditions of egg salad, that I thought I would make the announcement here: there is no need to live with humdrum egg salad. Chopped radishes add zing to any egg dish, but especially so in salads. For those who can't figure out how many eggs to boil: three large eggs will provide enough filling for two generous sandwiches. However, egg salad can keep for up to five days, so make some extra for cravings and late night snackings.

Zingy Egg Salad
Yields enough for 2 sandwiches

3 eggs
3 heaping Tbs mayonnaise
6 radishes, with tops if possible
1 green onion/scallion, optional
3 pickled onions or mini gherkins, optional
salt and pepper
1 Tbs chopped parsley, or other fresh herbs, optional

Fill a small pan with enough cold water to just cover the eggs. Bring up to the boil.
When the water is boiling steadily, turn off the heat, cover with a lid, and let sit for ten minutes.
In the meantime, thinly slice or finely chop the radishes, and tops, if using.
Chop the green onion and pickled onions, if using.
Combine radishes, onions, parsley and mayonnaise, and set aside.
When the eggs are done, plunge in an ice bath until cool.
Peel the eggs, and roughly chop.
Add to the dressing. 

Bon app'!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Radishes, Simply

For a while, those six, sad looking radishes were the only vegetables left in my refrigerator. I would momentarily panic every time I opened the door, thinking I would starve. (My kitchen is actually very well-stocked. However, a good part of my staples are unsuited for midnight snacks -dried beans, and other bulk food items...) Nevertheless, those radishes were lifesavers. I had hesitated in buying them at first: the bunches were huge, and came in lots of two, which seemed a little much for just one. But they were so inexpensive (a dollar a bunch!!!), that I felt silly passing them up. They've kept me fed for close to two weeks!

I don't know what I've been up to lately... Well, I do, but I don't understand how it has taken over my life, and sucked out all the air in the atmosphere. The build-up to Grand Prix week-end in Montreal is an adrenalin-fuelled, mad dash to the finish line. I usually take it all in stride, but it was all a-jumble this year. Here we are, practically halfway through June, my tomato seedlings  still waiting their move to a permanent home, and nary a blog post lined up for publishing... Obviously, extenuating circumstances beyond my powers (namely, the uncooperative weather) have conspired to push me into a time warp. Work barely registered on my stress meter; the untended garden had the sirens blaring in my head. What little spare time I had was spent debating whether I should go to the market or attend to the vegetable plot. The garden won.

Thankfully, the garden returned the favour in full. Despite having had little time to plant much, the garden is brimming with edible volunteers. Combined with the radishes -roots and greens- I was kept well-fed. I finally conceded to marching to the grocery store after I finished the last of my pasta stash.

I am not really the kind of person who will eat the same thing day-in day-out, I tend to like a little variety, even with left-overs. But pasta with radishes just might be my new favourite dish. There is no need for a recipe per se. Just a brief sketch, and everything else is a free for all.

You will need a fat of some kind, whether olive oil, butter, or even bacon fat. To which you add a few slivers of garlic -at least two cloves per person- and sliced or julienned radishes. Season with salt and pepper. Add a couple handfuls of washed and roughly chopped greens. Any greens will do: radish tops; arugula, especially if it is too hot to eat raw; mustard greens; spinach; left-over cooked kale; swiss chard; or even lettuce. Stir about until wilted, then add cooked pasta. Any pasta will do, short or long, but it needs to be under-cooked (shave off two or three minutes from the recommended cooking time). Add a ladle or two of the pasta's cooking water, and let simmer until a sauce forms at the bottom of the pan. Serve immediately, with an optional grating of cheese.

One last thing about radishes: when buying bunches with tops, make sure you remove the leaves as soon as you get home. Wash them in several changes of water; spin them dry, removing any tired bits; and keep them in a damp cloth or a plastic bag. The roots will easily keep for up to a week once separated from their tops, but the greens should be eaten with three days.

Bon app'!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

June Bugs and Other Pests

It's finally beginning to look like summer is just around the corner. Early spring has been quite positively horrendous: cold, overly wet, and windy. The grass and spring flowers don't seem to mind, but the honey bees have been holed up in their hives straight across the country; wild bees having a little more temerity could be seen buzzing about in between showers, but just barely. Expect fruits to be delayed or just plain absent; the price of local honey will likely hit the roof. Southern Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta are still under water, but are thankfully beginning to dry up. Meanwhile, the northern reaches of British Colombia and Alberta, and southern Yukon are under a pall of smoke. That's just what is happening in Canada, I can even begin to enumerate the chaos in the United States.

This year will definitely be remembered for its extreme weather (frost warnings! In June!), and disastrous crops: all those flooded lands are in prime farm country. Fields of corn and wheat that are as of yet unsown, and might not even get seeded this year. Experts had predicted another hike in food prices, but I'm sure that no one foresaw a food shortage. While the effects are little more than annoyances in Western countries, they can be devastating in poorer countries where grains and other farm crops are not covered by government subsidies. One cannot help but think how immediate the effects of climate change can be, and how important it is for us to think seriously about feeding ourselves and protecting our resources.

And yet, the shelves in our supermarket are still overflowing with food. Let's re-think how and what we eat.

The asparagus season is stretching out a bit due to the cool, wet weather. However, in the case of Quebec spears, there are obvious signs that things are not as they should be: although the prices are sensibly the same as last year, the bunches are much smaller, and fewer farmers are displaying them this year. Do encourage local growers, and gorge on asparagus while they are still available.

A membre of the thistle family, artichokes are the immature flower buds of a tender perennial. They are currently coming in from southern reaches, but they will shortly be in season in the warmer Canadian micro-climates.
In Quebec, and other cool provinces and states, artichokes are grown as annuals, and will not begin to flower until late August.

Baby beets will be a little late coming in. While beetroots are tough and easy-going plants, they do require sunlight -something we've been a little short on- to trigger the swelling of their roots. Also, beets seem to recoil from wet soil, so it's been a little hard going for this lovely root vegetable. However, beet leaves are already showing up in salad mixes: highly nutritious, they are milder than their twin sibling, swiss chard, and to my taste buds, much more enjoyable to eat.

It might not quite feel like it, but it is strawberry season!! The berries in my my garden are plumping up, but those in New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, and other states in zone 6 or warmer are already ripening. Break out the pots of cream and jam making equipment!

We no longer have a true sense of the seasons (something I am hoping to change...), but there was  a time when fresh, unripened cheeses were only available from late spring to the end of summer. The cheeses are made from milk left-over after the spring's youngs are weaned from their mothers, and are consumed unripened. Some of these cheeses are ripened and are transformed into aged cheeses, but generally, they are in a class of their own. Commonly known examples are ricotta, cottage, and Quark cheeses. Unripened goat cheeses are growing in popularity in North America, so larger dairies have resorted to using frozen stocks of goat's milk.
European law requires that all artisan, unripened cheeses be made only during spring and summer from fresh milk, but there are no such laws in North America. However, there are a few artisans who work on this seasonal principle. Enjoy these cheeses while you can, because come winter, they will no longer be around.

Figs are lovely trees. If you are lucky enough to live in a fig-friendly region, you are blessed with two (yes! two!) fig seasons. Where winters are mild and short, fig trees will carry over unripe fruits into spring, and give a first flush sometime in June, before getting ready for its main crop later in the summer.
For you lucky folks, may I suggest tree-ripened figs slathered with unripened goat cheese? My taste buds are jealous.

Salad Greens, and Other Leaves
Leaf lettuces of all shades, roquette, baby spinach, radish leaves... and that's just what I have on my balcony garden. The market stalls are filled with a lot more. So there are no more excuses for boring salads!

Herbs and Flowers
Chives, sage, lavender, thyme are all sturdy perennial herbs that will withstand Canadian winters, and still give a pretty show of edible flowers. The chopped herbs should be liberally sprinkled over every -and any- thing to awaken your senses after our long winter slumber. The flowers are also very tasty, and make beautiful garnishes for salads and other sundries.

There were no fresh North-Atlantic shrimps to be had this year, but the lobsters are plentiful. The prices are pretty much the same as last year's, which is great for consumers, but not so good for the fishermen. However, every penny counts: each lobster you eat will support an Atlantic fisherman.

I can feel it in my bones! The pea wave is moving up the coast: pretty soon, Montreal will be awash with local peas. Super fresh peas can be eaten raw, straight out of the pod, just like candy -even kids can't resist them.

New potatoes have arrived! I still haven't puzzled out how potato growers in Southern Quebec manage to eek out tubers this early in the season -my potato plants are just barely poking out of the ground- but I don't question it, I just eat them! Come June, most of us have grown weary of the winter standard, starchy potato, so  new potatoes are a welcome change. Waxy and crisp they are delightful simply boiled and smothered in butter or olive oil with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, but are also lovely roasted or pan fried.

Local radishes have been available for the past two weeks, and they are simply crunchy goodness! The cool and wet weather has resulted in mild roots, perfect for those who are still on the fence about these potential fire bombs. However, if you prefer your radishes peppery-hot, then you need to start wishing for heat and dry weather!
Everyone knows about those ho-hum slices of radishes in salads, and the occasional appearance on a platter of veggies and dip, but if you want real radish revolution, you need to try them cooked. Cooked radishes are not actually a new idea. I've mentioned them last year in a few recipes, and I try to foist the concept on just about everyone I meet, but if ever you needed convincing, here is the endorsement I was looking for. If you are just getting your head around the idea of eating radishes -in any form- you need to try them cooked. It's not a far-fetched idea: the Japanese have been eating cooked daikon (a long, white radish) for centuries. I am thinking of making 2011 the year of the radish, so keep your eyes peeled for other radish-y ideas!

Bon app'!

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