29 March 2007

Savour the Season: Parsnips

Parsnips (Pastinaca savita), elicit either love or a polite, yet patient smile. Boiled, mashed, fried or roasted, parsnips are versatile pale golden, carrot-like veggies that are winter staples.

Parsnips are native to western Asia and Europe and have been eaten there for more than 2000 years. Wild parsnips are small, woody and inedible, but perhaps because of their natural sweetness and parsnippy scent, they may have been used as a flavouring agent. Over years of cultivation, farmers tweaked them to be larger…and, well…edible.

The Roman Emperor Tiberius had them brought from the Rhine to Rome, where encouraged farmer to cultivate them. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to truly gauge how they were used in Classical cooking as Greek and Roman writers used the term “pastinaca” for both carrots and parsnips. As with many things of a certain form, Ancient Romans imbued them with aphrodisiac-like powers.

Mediaeval Europeans found two important uses for parsnips—they served double duty as a starch and a sweet substitute for the more expensive sugar and honey. Parsnips were preferred for their flavour, nourishment and were eaten with saltfish during Lent’s meatless fasting periods.

As sugar became readily available and less expensive, coupled with the potato’s introduction the parsnip’s popularity decreased. Apart from northern Europe and Great Britain, worldwide consumption is relatively small.

The English word “Parsnip” can be traced to pastinaca, with the “nip” added to indicate that it was like a turnip.

In Ontario, the principal commercial varieties are All-American, Hollow Crown Improved and Harris Model. They are all similar in size, taste and colour. The parsnip’s tough, wiry root, tapers from the crown to the root. Its tough and furrowed stem can grow from 30-60cm high with 20cm-long leaf-stalks; the leaves divided into several pairs of leaflets, each 2.5-5cm long and about 1.5-2 cm wide. Leaflets are fuzzy, especially on the underside.

Not everyone likes parsnip’s flavour and many have troubles pairing it with food (but it goes nicely with salty dishes such as ham or salt cod.). Its flavour is a sweet, nutty, spicy and sometimes peppery taste.

Parsnips do well with long cooking techniques such as casseroles, stews, or even oven-roasted on its own. The veg can also be microwaved, steamed or boiled. Classic preparations include mashed parsnips topped with buttered bread crumbs, glazed, creamed or in soups. The Dutch use them in soups, while the Irish make a type of beer with them.

Select firm, moderately-sized veggies as large ones can be woody. Their surface should be relatively clean and free of surface blemishes. Avoid ones that are limp, shrivelled, or spotted. Store them, refrigerated, in a plastic bag for up to two weeks.

So…do you love them, hate them, or simply indifferent? If you want to declare your feelings towards this root,
Dave Walker can help...yes, that Dave Walker.



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26 March 2007

SHF #29: A bread pudding for my mummy

"Hi Mummy! It's me!"
"Oh Jasmine! How is Beanie?"
"Beanie thinks he's starving."
"Of course he does--because you don't feed him. How's little Hagia?"
"She's okay. She has night duty, so I don't see her that much."
"And Zeusie?"
"I think he's okay. I haven't seen him in a couple of weeks."
"How are things there? How's Daddy?"
"It is so hot here. During the day it is 85. I have to bath so many times. Daddy is only coughing a few times at night."

"Well, that's better. I have a question. Do you have any of those cocoa beans left?"
"Oh yes. Go downstairs into the basement. Go into the room under the kitchen. The are in the near buckets. NOT the far ones."
"Okay, thanks."
"Why, what are you going to do?"
"I wanted to make a pudding."
"Oh, I ground some beans and put them in the kitchen. Use that. It's easier than grinding them yourself."
"Oh. Okay. Where did you put them?"
"In the cupboard."

"Uh huh. In which cupboard?"
"The one next to the stove, on the top--you'll need the stool. You can't reach it."
"Uh-huh. And how did you put it up there?"
"I used the [step]ladder."
"You know, I wanted to tell you something."
"I haven't been able to eat anything yummy because of the diet the doctor put Daddy on."
"I'm like Beanie. I see all that chicken, but I'm not allowed to have any. Have you made him some chicken? You know he would like some."
"No, I haven't made him any chicken lately."
"There's some in the freezer. Take some and make it for him."
"Yeah. I think he's fine with the cat food. Anyway..."
"Oh yes. Where was I? I decided to make bread pudding. I haven't had anything nice in so long. I thought if you were here you would eat it with me."
"Yeah--it's so nice--"
"--with that yummy crunchy top. Yes. Listen. I got the eggs and the milk and the bread. I got everything, and you know what?"
"You realised Daddy isn't supposed to eat eggs while he is takes his medicine?"
"No. Don't be silly. The pudding is not for him. It was for me. And you, if you were here. No, I forgot one thing. Just one little thing"

"What? Butter? Vanilla? Sugar"
"I forgot the oven."
"You forgot to set the oven."
"No. Listen to me. I forgot I had no oven here [makes a melodramatic fake crying noise]."
"How could you forget you didn't have an oven?"
"I don't know. I just forgot."
"Well...you have a microwave, why don't you use that."
"Don't be silly. You can't get a nice crunchy top with that microwave."
"But the one you have here can be turned into a normal oven--"
"No. Daddy bought this one and I can't do anything with it."
"I see."
"I really wanted that pudding. It was going to be so nice and crunchy and sweet."
"I know, Mum."
"Oh, and how are you doing?..."

That was a conversation I had with my darling little Mummy a couple of weeks ago, when I found out about Emily's SHF theme: Raw Chocolate. My heart went out for her. I mean, I know what it's like to get so far down that process only to have a crucial item not be there. And my mummy does like her bread pudding...

So, instead of making the chocolate mint pudding I wanted to make with the cocoa beans she has in the basement, I decided to make a bread pudding. The more I thought of it, the more I started craving Nutella. Don't ask me why. I just did. So...I decided to make a Nutella bread pudding with a chocolate custard made from the cocoa beans my mum ground up.

The sandwiches were slathered with butter and Nutella--easy peasy. The custard was made of five egg yolks, half a litre of cream (1 1/2c heavy cream and 1/2c water), a rounded tablespoon of sugar and a big heaping serving spoon of cocoa powder. Pour the custard over the bread and let it soak in a bit. Bake at 180C/350 F for about 30-40 minutes.

I know the picture may not look like much, but trust me...it's nummy.



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20 March 2007

Bits and bites

Yes, my busy bees are back--any and every excuse to bring them back...

Beanie updated you a bit as to what's going on over here on my side of the screen--he can be such a good boy sometimes.

Well, until I can get a "real" post up, here are a few things for you think about

Dorie Greenspan has a blog! Okay, I'm probably the last person in foodbloggerdom to know this. It's not totally food related, so it gives you an idea as to what she's been up to. If you're not sure who she is or why I'm happy to have found her blog, here's my review of her latest tome.

SHF #29: Raw chocolate approacheth...Emily of Chocolate in Context is hosting this month and she's picked a great theme: unrefined chocolate. Not sure what that's all about? Read her post to find out. Participation deadline is 26 March.

I need to live vicariously through someone...but not just anyone. No, the person I'll live vicariously through is someone who will take a cooking course in Italy with Faye of Fayefood the week of 21-28 April. She emailed me today about an open spot for a couple of people interested in a week of cooking, eating and sightseeing in Cortona, Deruta and Assisi...yes ITALY. She had last-minute cancellations and is looking for people who may be interested in attending. Classes will take place at the local bakery, an olive oil tasting, dinner at Villa La Macchia, the home of the Scarpaccini family, and four Italian cooking classes by Faye, great tour guides, and of course a whole lot of fun. The regular price is 1050 euro pp (excluding airfare and transport), but she's offering a 25 per cent discount. If you or someone you know may be interested, email her at fayehess at earthlink dot net (you know what to do). Quite honestly, if I weren't so up-to-my-eyeballs, I'd probably see if I could swing it myself...but I can't...if someone reading this ends up going, please let me know and let me know how it goes.

Okay...that's it....I need to write an essay...well...research an essay...think about researching an essay...eat some chocolate cake...that's it...eat some chocolate cake...


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18 March 2007

A message from Mr. Bean

Hello all you luvly humman-cats

My humman-cat has been so busy lately she hasn't had the time to talk to you. So lucky you--you get me to tell you what she's been doing -- and what she hasn't been doing...

She's been talking about sumthing called "wurk" and sumthing called "skool" a lot lately. I don't know what they are but she comes home later than normal and then spends too much time with her computter and her books and her papers and not enough time with ME. I even sprawled across her computter to make her pay attention to me and she just moved me...harrumph!...I'm so neglected. Hagia told me she tried the same thing too and all she got was a quick scritch and then back to that tapping thing she does.

She's keeps telling me that she has so many ideas to tell you about--and she started riting these things down, but she hasn't had a moment to finish anything. She knows she has anuther "Savour the Seasons" thing to tell you about and she still has those saucy sauces to tell you about too. She also has a few fotos that she likes very much. None of them are about chicken, so they aren't very interesting.

Everything has been very strange this week. I don't know what's going on. I'm being fed an hour earlier--I like that--so I guess I shouldn't complain...except that I'm not getting any chicken.

Today was quite exciting. She made this big cake that was chocklit and it was coverd in this fluffy white stuff that looked like a giant cloud. I could tell it was very sweet. She also made some ribs and something that smelled sorta like gramma's cornfritters. In fact, she called gramma in India today to find out how to make them. I got to talk to her. She was so happy to talk to me. I miss her. She feeds me chicken and scritches me and she always believes everything I say. I miss grampa too, but he doesn't feed me as much chicken as gramma does...

The humman-cat that looks after me when Jasmine isn't around -- she calls him the exbf--was over and so was that other humman-cat--you know him as TFE. I ran into Mount Catmore because I still am not sure of that TFE fellow...he cuts into my petting time. Anyway it sounded like they were having a little party. I hurd a song and that went "happee burthday to you" and it had the exbf's name in it. I came up after everyone left and you know what? NUTHING was left for me. Not one scrap of meat. HOW MEAN IS THAT? I could smell those ribs--they smelled so good...Don't you think I should have had some of those piggie ribs? I do...

She promisses she will tell you about all of this when she has a moment. She had an essay to give to her teecher today and then she has anuther one for next Sunday. Right now she's looking at me and telling me to stop so she could go to bed.

As usual...please tell her to make me some chicken (a little one will be okay for me). I will luv you even more and I promise not to sneeze on you.

Mr. Bean (aka Beanie)

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13 March 2007

Time change trauma

Can someone please explain to me why we go through this ritual of moving clocks forwards and backwards every year?

Better yet, could someone please explain why we had to do this "Spring Forward" nonsense earlier than before? I know certain national leaders who come from provinces or states that earn a good deal of income from...say...oil...are pitching this as an energy-saving initiative. But how can this save energy when all we're doing is shifting our usage from one part of the day to another? Then again, I suppose having all this extra sunshine will encourage people to get out and enjoy the sunshine and weather more...and possibly take extra, or longer, day trips which in turn may increase our ...ummm...gas consumption.


Don't mind me...I, like many of my friends and colleagues, am just really tired and not adjusting to losing an hour of sleep very well. I've never seen such a large group of people so tired and grumpy. We are all pointing towards the time change.

One of the radio stations I listen to actually suggested people take a nap when they get home from work...yeah...probably a recommendation made by a guy who has no responsibilities and probably no life. I know when I get home from work I have a number of things to do and napping will just make me stay up later to finish what needs to be done.

It almost makes me want to move to Saskatchewan.


So, here we are, day three of the new chronometric regime and I'm too tired to forage for myself. McDonald's to the rescue...until it catches up with me.



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11 March 2007

Cheese, Gromit! Cheese...

My shopping habits swing between two extremes: buy the brands and flavours I know or buy things I've never had before. What determines my shopping mood is usually my busy-ness, stress, and fatigue--I just don't feel like getting creative when I'm not in the mood ... you know.

Okay, there is an exception to that rule: if it's a new-to-me cheesy treat, I'm there.

Yesterday I went to my favourite local gourmet shop. Its cramped aisles were nearly impassable for all the bodies squeezing around one another. All I wanted was a good sandwich, those really hot potato chips I love (a must with roast beef sandwiches, I think), and Portuguese olives. Because of the crush of people I shuffled off to the side to peruse the shelves while I waited for my number to be called by the deli girls and found my self in front of a supplier table.

A CHEESE supplier table.

Apparently, the shop started carrying
Upper Canada Cheese products a few weeks ago and a rep was in talking to people about their products. I've not heard of them before, so we chatted...and I sampled. They have two types: Comfort Cream and Niagara Gold. Comfort cream is a bloomy rind type akin to a Camembert or a Brie; Niagara Gold is a washed rind cheese that's similar to an Oka. They both were on the mild side and had an incredibly creamy mouth feel--and yes, is a very happy golden yellow. I found out the reason these cheeses were so luscious: they use milk from Guernseys (Guernsey milk has higher butterfat than standard Holstein milk).

So I picked up a wedge--which may last a week at most and turned towards the olive counter...and then I found them: Gorgonzola-stuffed green olives.


I've been on a Gorgonzola kick as of late, pairing it with whatever I can--from pears to broccoli I'm in my own blue cheese heaven. Yes, I know they're appetiser/snacky morsels of loveliness, but I'm trying to think of a way to cook with them...Right now, using them as pizza toppings is winning out...that is, if they last long enough to make it to a pizza.


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07 March 2007

Feast: Gung Hei Fat Choy! Part Two

I don't know...perhaps you can think of this and the first 2007 Chinese New Year posts as a study in opposites. Part one was from a local, but somewhat popular Chinese Restaurant, dim sum trolleys, with tasty and freshly-made food.

Part two was from one of a chain of Chinese buffet restaurants. There was some dim sum, but it tasted fatigued. The food was sort of fresh--we kept seeing steamer trays refilled, but the flavours were uninspired and the textures weren't right--the hot and sour soup was very viscous--too viscous. Of course, being a buffet (that included things like prime rib, cheesecake and sugar-free apple crisp), with items that would sit out for a certain amount of time, they had to flavour things to a common denominator. Okay--to be honest, I liked the spare ribs and the lychee ice cream. If I could get the ice cream to go, I'd be very happy. It was popular--we waited about half an hour to get in. It was also very rushed. With all the commotion of people refilling, refilling, refilling their plates, and the legion of waitstaff descending upon recently emptied tables, I found it difficult to actually sit down and enjoy my meal.

I know I shouldn't compare a stand-alone restaurant to a chain,--but I suppose it just made me really appreciate the little gems we have around here...



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04 March 2007

Feast: Gung Hei Fat Choy! Part One

Last week one of my favourite dim-summy places celebrated the Chinese New Year with a special feast. Yes, we know The Year of the Pig began on 18 February, but this restaurant does a two-week celebration. We were lucky enough to get a table (I called 11pm the night before for reservations)--throughout our two-hours of nibbly goodness there were queues ranging from four people to what looked to me of more than 20.

The last four images (as blurry as they are) are of the Lion Dance. The crampt restaurant had a special little dance just for that day--I've never seen one in person. I thought the puppeteer was quite good--he attacked a hanging lettuce head (a symbol of wealth, or so I was told) in a way similar to Mr. Bean and a bowl of left over chicken...At the end, pieces flew everywhere.


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01 March 2007

To drive the cold winter away

I always assume if I know about any sort of storm, it either won't show up or it won't be as terrible as the weather forecasters try to make it seem.

This morning's radio show rattled off a long list of school buses that weren't running, delayed trains and schools that gave their children snow days. Quite honestly, I thought it could go one of two ways: the storm wouldn't be as voracious as the traditionally over-reactive radio personalities would want us to believe, or it would be really, really bad.

Well...the roads got bad. We were told to use our judgement about staying in the office...I made a few calls, changed my voice mail and left a couple of hours early. It's a good thing I did--my usual 15 minute drive took more than 45: trucks were slipping, people weren't able to stop safely.

More-than-ankle-deep drifts tipped into my boots with every step. I've been home for three hours and I've shovelled more than once. Snow made way for tickaticka ice pellets and soon freezing rain will appear. Winds are rattling windows and doors. Tomorrow will not be fun.

This is perfect soup weather.

I'm in the midst of trying out recipes for my next
Canada Eats cookery book review. And I found the perfect soup, in the words of Loreena McKennitt, to drive the cold winter away: bowls of broth, ladened with kale, bok choy and Asian noodles, spiked with chillies and flavoured with nam pla and honey. Served boiling hot, it's a perfect meal.


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