29 May 2011

Roast Vegetable and Tuna Salad

The sun, I fear, is nothing more than a myth. A rumour. A figment of some deluded soul's imagination.

I honestly don't know how much rain has fallen here since the beginning of April. I don't know how many days of dreariness we've had. Sun beams that actually reached the ground in two months? I'll guess three. The final numbers aren't out yet, but I won't be surprised if 2011 turns out to be one of the wettest, if not *the* wettest since they started keeping such records in this area.

It's rained so much that I see thin strokes of fuzzy green on the pavement. With indoor humidity at about 83 per cent according to the wall gadget, the air seems thick and chilly. My Monet print umbrella is my most prized possession. More valued than my kitchen scale, more used than my merlot-hued patent leather near-stiletto boots, more needed than my Blackberry.

That said, the grass is lush and green and my dahlias, irises, bleeding hearts and indigo are thriving. But those are the only real positives I can think of. Oh...and I didn't have to wash winter's salt off my car.

I usually don't moan about cloud or rain, but enough is enough. Really, it is.

It would be nice to feel the sun's warm for more than an hour or so every so many days...or weeks.

The problem with weather like this is I'm still mentally stuck in wintery foodish themes. I'm still roasting meats and making stews. This just doesn't seem right for late May in the northern hemisphere.

I just can't get excited about frizzy salad greens or light broths...not when it's as grey as slate and the sound of rain coming down the chimney reminds me of Jacob Marley's clanging chains.

In hopes of kickstarting my summer cooking, I've taken one of my usual winter staples -- roasted Mediterranean vegetables -- and hoped to coax back the sun with the simple addition of another Mediterranean item: tuna.

Generally I roast a good quantity of vegetables (sometimes adding courgettes (zucchini), or fennel) and keep it in the fridge as a side to go with roast birds or beast, as an omelet stuffing or in wraps, but this time I'm using the same mix, cold, for a salad base.

I prefer to roast the vegetables (well, fruit) separately as I don't want the tomatoes' juices to run into the aubergines, but if you'd rather roast them together, that's fine. I don't pay attention to how much of anything I add to the vegetables--it's totally to taste.

The salad itself is quite adaptable--I use tinned tuna out of convenience, but you can use grilled or seared tuna. If you don't want to use fish, you can use poached eggs, grilled pork or chicken, tinned chickpeas or even cheese such as feta or halloumi.

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Tuna
Serves 4-6

For the tomatoes
3-4 ripe tomatoes, cut into slim wedges
olive oil
red wine
balsamic vinegar
dried basil
chilli flakes, to taste
1 red onion, cut into slim wedges
6 garlic cloves, with papers left on

For the aubergine/eggplant:
1 medium aubergine (eggplant), skin on, diced into 1.25cm (0.5") pieces,
olive oil
ground coriander
dried basil
garlic powder
onion powder
chilli flakes, to taste

2 Roasted peppers, sliced
red wine vinegar
canned tuna (see notes)
black olives
black pepper

Line two cookie sheets with tin foil and set aside. Preheat oven to 170C/350F.

For the tomatoes
Mix the tomatoes with olive oil, red wine, a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, dried basil and chilli flakes. Let sit for at least an hour if you can.

Scatter the tomatoes onto the other tray and nestle in the onions and garlic. Pour the macerating liquid over the lot.

For the aubergine
Mix all the aubergine's ingredients together with the fruit (yes, it's a berry). and tumble onto one of two trays.

Put both trays into the oven and roast for 30-45 minutes, until cooked but not burnt. One tray may take longer to cook than the other, if so take out the trays as they are ready

Allow to cool a bit and combine the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers with a drizzle of red wine vinegar. Give it a stir and let cool to room temperature

To serve, portion onto plates, top with tuna, scatter capers and olives over top and lightly dust with pepper.

- I prefer tuna packed in olive oil, but if you can't find it, use the type packed in spring water or broth. You can also use grilled tuna instead.
- If you'd rather not do this with fish, try poached eggs, grilled chicken, grilled pork, or chickpeas instead.

I'm a quill for hire!

23 May 2011

Happy Victoria Day! Bleu cheese stuffed burgers

It's the end of the world, as we know it...and I feel fine.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who had REM's music trilling through their brain yesterday morning as we (*gasp*) awoke and found life to be business as usual.

For those of you who don't know, or have forgotten, an end-of-the-world obsessed Harold Camping (an American radio evangelist) rejigged his calculations (notice the "re") and pronounced 21 May 2011 as the beginning of the end. Along with this was something like 200 million "true believers" were to be welcomed to the afterlife, and a tsunami-inducing earthquake was supposed to hit somewhere in the Pacific.

I'm not going to mention the dearth of reports mentioning people beamed up for their one-on-one with whomever they believe to be their maker. I've not read any evidence supporting a one-day more than 10-fold increase in average daily deaths on the 21st. I won't even hint that the earthquake's target area is known for regular seismic activity and the two *small* earthquakes that did happen didn't trigger tsunami warnings.

Really...It seemed like a pretty normal kind of day.

So while the nonagenarian preacher (with what I think of as an unhealthy obsession with the obliteration of the Earth) is "flabbergasted" that the end of days didn't come (or maybe he's just bewildered, that if it stealthily occurred, why the rapture didn't save him or apparently anyone he knew) the rest of the world ticks on...

And for those of us in Canada, it means getting on with our Victoria Day long weekend.

Victoria Day is Canada's unofficial start of summer. Those with cottages travel out to open them up for the season, gardens are turned, annuals are planted, and barbecues are fired up.

Well, just because I don't have a cottage, I've already taken care of my garden, the dahlias are in, and I don't have a barbecue doesn't mean I can't partake in the first long weekend of the season in appropriate fashion...

I suppose if I actually believed Saturday was the end of everything I may have planned a more appropriate menu...but really...if it's my last meal on Earth, I wouldn't have changed my game plan. I wouldn't have stopped eating red meat and bleu cheese and I wouldn't pour the gin down the drain.

For a last meal, why would I meander too far off my You Are What You Eat list? Why should I take on uncharacteristically trendy foodish airs or make a wholesale change in what I do in hopes that these last-minute changes in the final fleeting moments would change the inevitable?

So for this Victoria Day (or end of days day or not end of days day), my beginning of summer offering is a burger stuffed with bleu cheese and topped with red onions and fried mushrooms.

To me the key to a good homemade hamburger patty is to keep it as simple as possible.

Use ground chuck, fully speckled with flecks of white fat (regular ground beef, not lean or extra lean), salt and pepper. That's it: no eggs, no dried onion soup mix, no panade. For a bleu cheese-stuffed burger, look for a medium-firm cheese--I used Australia's King Island Dairy's Roaring Forties bleu--if you go with a softer cheese, you run the risk of it melting out of the burger while it cooks.

Top it however you wish. I chose dijon mustard, fried mushrooms and red onions. I will say if you happen to have any leftover bourgignon sauce in your freezer (as I tend to have) that works well with this burger.

Bleu cheese-stuffed burgers
Yield 4

500g (1lb) ground chuck, or medium ground beef
0.25tsp salt (or to taste)
0.5tsp pepper (or to taste)
4tsp medium-firm bleu cheese
four buns (hamburger, ciabbata, foccacia, etc)

Condiments and toppings (to taste)
Fried Mushrooms
Sliced red onions
Dijon mustard
Garlicky dill pickles

Mix the salt, pepper and meat together. Divide into four equal portions.

Take each portion and form a ball, then push on one side to make a bowl- or a well-like shape. Add one teaspoon of cheese to the bottom of the well and close up the meat around the cheese. Press and form into a patty. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Fry or grill until done. Serve on a bun and top as you please.


I'm a quill for hire!

08 May 2011

Mango-ginger muffins with cashew-coconut streusel

We've all heard of drunk dialing and drunk texting...but sleep dialing?

The other night My Dear Little Cardamummy gave me a call. Nothing truly out of the usual...except she's currently back in India and our usual routine is to chat on Sunday mornings, unless something's wrong.

No, nothing was wrong.

She told me of the trip to the Ashram, how uncle was doing, visiting the book store, how My Big Strong Cardapoppy parked under a tree and the car was covered in copious amounts of bird poo.

I couldn't get a word in edgewise. I didn't expect to, so I just listend.

From her voice I could tell she wasn't quite awake, but awake enough to dial me. It was about 7am her time, so she probably rolled out of bed and reached for the phone.

At the end of her 15 minute one-woman show she asked me how things were. I wished her a happy Mother's Day. She thanked me and launched into a shorter soliloquy about mangoes.

"There are so many mangoes in our trees. They are falling everywhere."

"And falling on your head?"

"And making me grow short."

So there you have it. Mum's ever-shrinking stature is now being blamed on over-ripe fruit hurtling towards the ground, with only her own self cushioning their fall.

Needless to say I'm not spending Mother's day with My Dear Little Cardamummy, but I am thinking of her. Those ripe mangoes, squelching with sweet juices--along with the flavours that compliment them so well-inspired this week's breakfast baking.

These mango-ginger muffins topped with cashew coconut streusel are easy to pull together. You don't need fresh mangoes for these and can use frozen or tinned fruit (in fact, unless you live in an area where they grow, you may be better off to buy frozen or tinned). Serve them warm with a bit of butter and a hot cup of tea.

Mango-ginger muffins with cashew-coconut streusel
Yield 12 muffins

for the streusel topping
50g (125ml/0.5c) chopped cashews
25g (60ml/0.25g) shredded coconut
50g (60ml/0.25c) brown sugar
35g (60ml/0.25c) all purpose flour
2Tbsp (30ml) soft butter

for the muffins
210g (375ml/1.5c) all purpose flour
1tsp (5ml) baking powder
1tsp (5ml) bicarbonate of soda
0.75tsp (3ml)ground ginger
0.25tsp(1ml) salt
100g (125ml/0.5c) sugar
55g (0.25c) butter
3Tbsp (45ml) flavourless oil
60ml (0.25c) yoghurt
1 egg, beaten
225g (250ml/1c) diced mango

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line a 12-bowl muffin tin with papers.

Make the streusel by rubbing the butter into the rest of the streusel ingredients. Set aside.

For the muffins, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and salt. Set aside

Mix together the sugar, butter, oil, egg and yoghurt. Mix into the dry ingredients until about half combined--there will be clumps of flour and clumps of wet. You just want to get the mixing process started. Fold in the chopped mango until everything is just mixed. Do not aim for a smooth cake batter.

Divide into the papered bowls. Top with streusel mixture.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the tops are golden and an inserted skewer escapes with a few crumbs clinging to it.

  • You can use fresh, frozen or tinned mangoes. If you are using tinned, use a 398ml tin, drained of syrup.
  • If you don't have raw cashews, but have roasted ones, simply rinse the salt off those and use them instead.
  • You can substitute almonds or pistachios for cashews

I'm a quill for hire!

01 May 2011

Red Prince apples: Apple scones

Disclosure: The apples used in this recipe were provided by the grower.

When my friend Peter of Martin's Fruit Farms told me he had a prince of a prezzie for me, how could I not be intrigued?

What arrived was a series of white hat boxes bound by a festive red ribbon, reminiscent of St. Bride's spire. And inside? A package to help celebrate the marriage of William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge: gilded caramel apple chocolate truffles, apple scones and five gorgeous Red Prince apples.

I've heard a lot about these apples as of late--lasciviously rouged, white flesh and sweet-tart flesh, delicious both eaten out of hand and baked.

So I tried one.

Fabulous red wrap. Juicy. Sweet with a bit of sharpness.

Remind you of anyone?

I must admit while the truffles were nice, I really wasn't enamoured with the enclosed scones. The accompanying recipe promised light and moist treats, but the moistness of the samples were from being underbaked. Not necessarily a good thing.

That said, I could tell the apples had kept their shape, texture and flavour. So I did what any self-respecting home baker would do: I baked up my own batch, based on my go-to recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis..

The results? Lovely, light and golden scones, flecked with red and filled with apply goodness. Perfect warm, slathered with butter or a shwoosh of double Devon cream.

More information about Red Prince apples, including recipes, health benefits and an FAQ can be found on on RedPrinceApple.ca.

Apple Scones
Adapted from scone recipes by Tamasin Day-Lewis and the official Red Prince apple web site.

Yield 9-24, depending upon cutter size

170g (1.66c) baking apple, skin-on, finely chopped (1 apple)
25g (2Tbsp) sugar plus more for sprinkling
1Tbsp lemon juice
1 egg
a splash of milk or cream
450g (3.25c/1lb) all purpose flour
0.5tsp salt
1dspn (2tsp) cream of tartar
1dspn (2tsp) bicarbonate of soda
0.5tsp cinnamon
75g (0.33c) cold, unsalted butter (frozen preferred)
310ml (1.25c) yoghurt

Preheat oven to 210C/425F. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil.

Mix chopped apple with lemon juice and 2Tbsp sugar and set aside.

Make an egg wash by beating the egg with cream. Set aside.

Sift together flour, cream of tartar, bicarb, salt and cinnamon. Grate and then rub butter into the flour mixture. Gently fold in yoghurt and apple pieces, without overworking the dough. Press into a 3.5-4cm/1.5" thick rectangle and cut out rounds of whichever size you prefer.

Transfer rounds to a baking tray, allowing 2.5-4cm (1"-1.5") between each. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Let rise for 10 minutes.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. The scones will be a warm golden colour and the interiors should be flaky and moist, without being damp.

I'm a quill for hire!