Thursday, June 28, 2007

Culinary Christmas

DH and I finally got to pick up our first Nanoose Edible's produce box yesterday after completing a parade of meetings, errands and work. Our pick-up location was the fabulous Nanaimo Sausage House. They make a wide range of dried and smoked meat products right there on the premises and they also sell local cheeses and eggs. There's also an honest-to-goodness made-from-scratch pie shop adjacent to them! It's a dangerous place for DH and I to go to ;)

With a bag of various sausages and proscuitto and a boxful of organic goodies, we wound down our day and headed back home.

This is what we got in our produce box:

I don't know that they managed to fit all of that into the box!
As I pulled out each of the items, my head spun with all the wonderful things I could do with them.

My evening got eaten up with gardening. I did some weeding and general refereeing between the crops. There is a lack of order in my kitchen garden which is the way I like it but sometimes the plants do get a bit unruly and you have to send them back to their corner for a 'Time Out'. After that threw down a bunch of straw for mulch and repotted some of my herbs that I picked up from Hazelwood Herb Farm. Next thing you know, my belly is rumbling.

With the skies painted in an ambivalent grey, I fired up the BBQ and prepared a mid-week First Produce Box of the Year feast. I boiled up a couple cups of organic whole grain spelt from the Peace River for our starch. For a salad, I chopped up some of the cucumber and threw on some tomatoes I got from the Cedar Farmer's Market. The dressing is nothing more than a couple glugs of olive oil, a glug of red wine vinegar, a handful of finely minced herbs from my garden (mint, parsley, oregano and basil) and a couple of moroccan olives. Salt and pepper to taste.
As the salad marinated in it's herb dressing, I threw a selection of sausages onto the BBQ. I sliced up some of the fennel into 1/4 inch slices and quartered and deseeded the bell peppers. I brushed some olive oil onto them, sprinkled a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper and threw them onto the BBQ. I grilled everything up over med-high heat.
I made sure that the pepper laid skin side down so I could get that wonderful charring of the skin.

The fennel I grilled for about 3-4 minutes on each side until they start getting tender. I love grilled fennel. It's sweetness is brought out and it retains a bit of it's crunch.

I saved the green fennel stalk & fronds for chicken stock. The wispy fronds are also great stuffed into the cavity of a chicken or fish that's being roasted whole. It imparts a sweet, slightly anise aroma and flavour.
Fennel can be sauteed, braised, blanched, stir-fried or simply raw. It's great in a stew. One of my favorite stews is a pork butt, fennel bulb and butternut squash stew. All the ingredient get thrown into the crockpot with a cup of liquid (crush tomato, chicken stock, white wine, whatever you have on hand) and just let it do its crockpot magic.

It's texture is very much like a large celery with a crisp, clean anise flavour. It's outer leaves can get a bit tough but if you cut them thin and crosswise, they are perfectly fine. For salads, I prefer to removed the bottom core and slice it paper thin. You can use a mandolin if you have one. The fronds can also be used raw in salads.

One of my favorite fennel salads is what I call my "Very Green Salad" It's composed of thinly sliced fennel bulb, cucumber, green apple and young spinach leaves tossed in a parsley pesto dressing. The tart apple, the anise flavoured fennel, clean crunch of cucumber and the green punch of spinach are all pulled in together nicely with with savory dressing.

With the a scoop of the spelt, grilled vegetables and salad, I made a quick lunch for today. Leftovers are great fodder for experimenting with different flavours, textures and their dynamics.

I nuked up the spelt for 30 seconds in the microwave, tossed in the leftover grilled vegetables and salad. All of that got tossed with some greens from the produce box. For a dressing, I made a strawberry vinaigrette. It's a sweet and subtle dressing that can be dressed up in many ways.

Here's my basic Fast & Dirty Strawberry Vinaigrette:
1 cup fresh or frozen ripe strawberries
2 tablespoons of one or a mix of the following vinegars: balsamic, rice, red wine, apple cider or other fruit vinegar.
1 pinch of salt
several good grinds of black pepper
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Throw everything into a blender and blend until smooth. This dressing can be stored in the fridge for a few days.

I use Marley Farm's blueberry vinegar made with locally grown blueberries. I picked it up, along with a Kiwi vinegar from the Northgate Liquor Store in the north end of Nanaimo last summer.

I threw on a couple slices of Nanaimo Sausage House's proscuitto into the salad which provide just the right sort of savory counterpoint to the sweet, tangy dressing. Leftover chicken, ham, turkey or even a handful of chickpeas nicely will turn this salad into a full meal.

This dressing goes very well with spinach, romaine, belgian endive or similar greens. It's also a great dressing for beets & carrots salad. It's slightly tart flavour matches up nicely against raw fennel too! It's sweet enough to be used for a fruit salad. Or drizzle some over BBQ grilled figs or peaches or whatever other fruit that can hold up to the bbq grill.

From this basic dressing you can do the following:
-go asian with rice vinegar as your vinegar and toss in some crushed black sesame seeds
-you can dress it up with poppy seeds
-add fresh herbs like tarragon or mint
-for a bit of an edge, add a teaspoon or two of whole grain mustard & /or minced garlic clove
- add a bit of smokiness with a couple pinches of chipolte powder
-balance the sweetness with a crumbling of blue cheese (my vote is for Hilary's Yoo Hoo blue cheese)

Or whatever else you want to experiment with. I know, initially that pink dressing looks a bit odd and so different from what most folks think of when they think of salad dressing.

Along with dinner last night and lunch today, there was bread from Mon Petit Choux , the new bakery beside the Downtown Library. The bakery is from the same folks that run the Wesley Street Restaurant. They focus on using local ingredients when they can. Though most of their local produce comes from the mainland, they are using some island products like berries from Gabriola Island and pork from Sloping Hills and local wild seafood. They're bread is made with organic flour and their focus is on quality, not mass production of mediocrity.

Happy Eating!


Join the 100 Mile Diet Challenge!

No comments: