Monday, May 25, 2009

Spring's ground infantry

Asparagus is a sure sign of spring. Its brave pointed heads soldier up from cold, moist soil. The season for asparagus is the same season that you find sad, cracked, baby-blue robins’ eggs in the grass. On my parents' farm in Manitoba, two rows of it grow right down the middle of the garden. Those rows have been producing, year after year, since I was little.

As kids, we were sent out to the garden fifteen minutes before suppertime, with a bowl and a knife. We knew how to look for them (the fat ones, a day or two old, just peeking out) and how to cut them (well below the soil, always at an angle).

Then my mother blanched them and we ate them with loads of butter.

When I was about ten, I got into big trouble. It was August, and the asparagus had grown to its full potential; thick woody stems with full, fluffy wisps, speckled with orangey-red berries—Christmas in August. The plants were so soft, and thick, and taller than I was. And nothing in the world was more fun than throwing myself into them one afternoon, over and over, until I had flattened the entire patch.

In University, I took a botany class called "Economic plants" — basically, plants humans use to eat, to feed its livestock with, to make medicine, to make clothes, to get high on. Each student was assigned a plant to study Others got strawberries, wheat, cotton, carrots. I got asparagus.
In the days that I was writing the final essay, I remember waking up from a very fitful sleep in a panic. I had dreamt that I was asparagus. And that I could feel my roots growing deeper and deeper underground with every year. It was all very weird. Thinking back, I should have looked into what that dream meant.

Anyway, now its 2009, and I certainly haven’t settled my roots perennially the way asparagus does. But I have been eating a hell of a lot of asparagus, like I always have this time of year.

Simple roasted asparagus
While I still like my asparagus doused in butter, my favorite way to eat them nowadays is to roast them in the oven. If they get a little charred, all the better. This isn’t exactly a whiz of a recipe, but it’s the best way to enjoy asparagus for what they are.

1 lb local, fresh asparagus (if possible, buy asparagus that is store with it’s cut stems in water— they’ll be less woody)
A good drizzle of olive oil
Fresh ground pepper and salt, to taste.

Preheat the over to 450 F. Trim the woody ends. In a shallow baking dish or a cookie sheet large enough to accommodate all the asparagus, side by side like little soldiers. Drizzle them with oil. Salt and pepper them, and slide them in the oven, uncovered. When they are glistening and wrinkly, and browned on the bottom (ten minutes or so), take them out and turn them over, using a fork. Leave them in for an additional ten minutes.
They’re great as is, but you can dress them with lemon juice, or shaved parmesan. Or even some crispy pancetta.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fiddle-dee-dum, not dead yet

There are few things I get nervous about in the food world. And, mostly, these things are avoidable deaths: Don’t feed your dog chocolate, don’t eat rhubarb leaves. And cook your fiddleheads thoroughly.

Well, undercooked fiddleheads aren’t fatal, as far as I know. They’ll just make you sick.

But tonight I cooked my first fiddleheads, and I think I’ll live. More than that, they were rather quite good. Tender, and buttery, they’re a lot like mild, just-out-of-the-ground asparagus.

I sprinkled them with mizithra—a salty, Greek sheep’s cheese. It’s dry and crumbly, and it can almost be used as a hefty substitute for salt.

Ah, yes, and a helluva lot of butter.

That’s it.

Fiddleheads with butter and mizithra
½ lb fiddleheads
1/4 cup salted butter
1 or 2 tablespoons crumbled or grated mizithra

Wash and trim the brown ends of the fiddleheads. Bring water to boil in a large saucepan. Boil the fiddleheads for 4-5 minutes. Drain. In a frying pan, melt the butter and add the fiddleheads.

Sautée for an additional 4-5 minutes, or until tender like asparagus. Serve with mizithra.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Excuses won't do

Before you say anything, I know haven’t been updating very regularly. And I do apologize, sincerely. I’ve had the word "blog" scratched into my agenda everyday. It just hasn’t been crossed out.

Today is a day to get back on track. Today is Saturday, a good day. Things have been so busy, with a great CBC internship on weekdays, and with my new job at Good Egg (link) on the weekends (more about that, later).

Oh, and I have more excuses! When I left Montreal, I also had to part with the school camera. Since then, I’ve been struggling to take good pictures with my pocket camera.

Because it’s been two weeks since I last posted on La Cuisinette I have so many things to tell you about:

Good Egg
I started a part-time job at a shop called Good Egg. It’s a lovely way to spend my weekends. It’s a food bookstore / cooking emporium in Kensington Market.

Good Egg is packed with cookbooks, food politics essays, biographies of famous chefs, books on foraging, books on fancy chicken breeds and on picking mushrooms. And books on anything else related to food (including "Kama Sutra in the Kitchen" and children’s books on poop). It’s also full of kitchen nicknacks, like bibs, peanut shaped erasers, rubber chickens, and lapel pins shaped like shrimp. You know, the kind of thing you might not know you need, but you do.

My mum sent me a parcel. It was full of goodies: jars of preserves that my Grandma, Marge, made the summer before she died; a packet of arugula and spinach seeds from my parents’ back porch planter; and, to go along with those seeds, two small bags of sheep shit compost.

You know your mother loves you when she ships shit half-way across the country.

Tinga de pollo
Adapted from a Diana Kennedy recipe

Also, here’s a recipe. I can only preface it by saying that I just finished a pile of tinga tostadas, and they were grand. This recipe is the closet thing to the ones I used to eat with Emma, in Coyoacán Market, Mexico City.

Tinga is sloppy, smokey tomatoey meat, usually pork or chicken, eaten on tostadas or in tacos.

180 grams (3 links or so) chorizo
½ cup chopped onion
2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups shredded green cabbage
4 tomatoes, finely chopped (or even pureed, if you have time)
3 canned chipotle peppers in adobo
2 tbsp sauce from can of chipotles
2 medium chicken breasts, poached and shredded (or 2 to 3 cups of shredded left-over

roast chicken)
1/3 cup of the poach water from the chicken (1/3 cup chicken broth)
salt to taste

Skin and crumble the chorizo sausage. In a large skillet, cook on low heat until cooked through, but not brown. Discard any excess fat. Add the cabbage, onion and garlic, and cook on medium-low heat until the cabbage is soft and onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, and turn the heat up to medium. Add the chipotle chilis (whole) and the chipotle sauce, and cook until the tomatoes are fully cooked and the skins have curled. Add the chicken and the broth. Adjust the salt. Serve on tostadas with sliced avocado and crème fraîche.

This week:
The photo of the mountain sheep is only linked to the tinga recipe in the sense that I took it in Mexico City, at the zoo, probably after having eaten tinga. I can’t bring myself to post the pictures I took with my point-and-shoot.

I will practice.