Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eat Global, Buy Local

That's the theme of my ladies gourmet night tonight.  Inspired by a book my sister bought me years ago on a trip to New York (The All Around the World Cookbook by Sheila Lukins), and the abundance of incredible produce available locally right now, I settled on a menu of dishes from around the Mediterranean, created using what is fresh right here, right now.  It's not a stretch.  Tomatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, peppers, peaches and more...  All in available right now.  

The book has inspired me ever since I first opened it.  There are no glossy pages full of food porn type images.  Instead there are stories.  Wonderful stories.  Stories of breakfasts eaten around the world, of a dizzying array of appetizers and soups and salads, of a myriad of ways to prepare meats and seafood, each inspired by a specific memory of a wonderful place...  I freely admit that I pick this book up often, just to read it.

So after thumbing through the pages and browsing the internet, I settled on my menu.  There are 8 ladies coming.  Each brings a course.  Appetizer, soup, salad, main, two sides, dessert and, in tonight's case, a cheese plate (instead of a bread course, as there is crostini with  the appetizer).  Here is the menu...

I like that the menu expands the Mediterranean from just Italy, Greece, France and Spain to include northern African and Turkish recipes.  I am really looking forward to trying each of the dishes.  The slathers come from France and Greece, and are more like thick spreads than dips.  They are meant to be "slathered" over the toasted crostini.

Now if only the weather cooperates.  We'll be dining al fresco under the gazebo on our new patio.  So long as we don't get rained on, stormed on or blown over.  Otherwise we'll be crowding around a table at a friend's house, since I do not currently have the space to serve 9 in my own home.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Such a lovely day!

I love weddings.  Especially weddings that so totally reflect the personalities of the couple.  Especially when the couple has no idea what's in store for them, beyond saying "I do."

We went to my first ever "surprise wedding" today.  Our friends dearly wanted to marry, but honestly did not have the time or energy to plan such an event at this point in their lives.  Enter an amazing friend of the bride, who volunteered to take over all of the details, from the decor to the food to the invitations and other assorted details.  The brides dreams were discussed and a team was created to put feet to the plan.  I was honoured to be a part of that team.

The wedding would be a relatively simple afternoon tea affair, with lovely tea cups and saucers for each person to use for beverages and then take home.   The decorations were in pink, green and metallic grey, and wonderfully soft and beautiful.  The food was divided into three parts.  The main course, which was a dizzying assortment of crudites, fruits, dips, sandwiches, pastries, rolled treats, hot hors d'oeuvres and assorted other edibles.  The cake, as per the bride's dream, was really a 3 tiered structure, decorated in colourful cake pops.  Then there were the desserts.  Along with the pastries on the main table, there was a book shelf loaded with canisters and containers and bowls of candy.  Every colour of the rainbow.  And that's where I got to help out.

If you remember my post, Of Strawberries and Artichokes from this past June (click here), I made soft and fluffy strawberry marshmallows for this same friend's bridal shower.  It was decided then that I would make more as part of the surprise for her wedding.  Those who follow me on Twitter or are friends on Facebook read this week about me making up assorted flavours.  I started with peach, using the same recipe from June, but with fresh peach puree.  A little food colouring brought out that lovely peachy hue.  Then I made the strawberry ones (but with a brighter splash of colour).  Then I eyed some leftover coffee in the pot.  Hmmm, I wonder...  Can I substitute coffee for the fruit puree and still have the marshmallow turn out?  Indeed I could!  And here's how.

Crazy Easy Mocha Marshmallows

2 envelopes gelatin
1/2 cup cold coffee
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
3 tbsp cocoa powder

1/2 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup cocoa (for dusting)

Line a 20-cm (8-inch) square dish with plastic wrap and oil lightly.

In a large bowl, sift the sugar and cornstarch together. Set aside.

In a saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin on the coffee. Let soften for 5 minutes. Add the sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Pour the coffee mixture, corn syrup and cocoa into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you could do it with a hand mixer, but your arm may fall off first).  Beat on high until the mixture has cooled to room temperature and forms stiff peaks, about 15 - 20 minutes, wiping the bowl occasionally with a
damp cold cloth to help remove the heat (I've found that a fan, aimed directly at the bowl, lessens the beating time considerably!). Spread evenly in the dish and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 3 hours.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the icing sugar and remaining cocoa.  Lightly dust a clean surface with the icing sugar mixture. Unmould the marshmallow. Using a knife with a lightly oiled blade, cut the marshmallow into 4-cm (1 1/2-inch) squares. Roll each square in the icing sugar mixture in the bowl. Shake off any excess (a sieve works well for this). Place the marshmallows on the cookie sheet and let warm to room temperature. If necessary, roll a second time in the icing sugar mixture.

The marshmallows can be stored in a zip top bag for several days at room temperature.

Monday, August 8, 2011


So, it's August.  I'll admit that this might be my least favourite month, just because by this point the heat and humidity has begun to wear me down.  But this isn't going to be an entry of complaints.  Because what gets me through this month is the amazing bounty that is ripe for the picking.  Tomatoes come into their own this month.  So do peaches and plums.  There are late season strawberries, a second flush of raspberries, amazing greens, soy beans, blueberries, cucumbers, herbs, garlic, onions....  In short, August is a month of abundance.  And for me that makes the continued stretch of hot weather very close to worth it.

I've got a few events on my plate.  This weekend a dear friend gets married.  I'm making marshmallows for her reception.  If you read my "Of Strawberries and Artichokes" post back in June you saw the insanely simple recipe that I use.  I pureed and froze some strawberries for the sole purpose of making these again.  And just the other day I peeled and blitzed some just barely past prime, overripe peaches with the intention of trying a peachy variety of pillowy goodness.  A test batch with sour cherries taught me that in high humidity these treats will not turn out.  So if I have to put a dehumidifier in the kitchen, I will.  I am determined to have a few platters of these ready for the happy couple and their guests.  I will not tempt fate by attempting to also make Turkish delight style gummy candy, however.

In a couple of weeks I'll be hosting my ladies gourmet group here (weather permitting).  We'll be dining al fresco under the light of my freshly painted $5 Kijiji find chandelier, in the gazebo, on our newly laid patio (many thanks to hubby and his father).  The nine of us will be dining on a menu I'm calling "Eat Globally, Buy Locally."  Inspired by what's in season right now, I'm preparing a meal that circles the Mediterranean.  Thick spreads from France and Greece, a grilled vegetable salad from Tunisia, a sweetly spiced tomato soup from Morocco, leeks, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, fresh herbs... all starring in dishes that will showcase amazing food from an amazing part of the world, made with amazing ingredients from our own area.  And for dessert?  I'm thinking of a free form peach galette.  Happily the way these evenings are set up mean that each person brings their assigned dish and the hostess only needs to provide the space and the drinks, so it's not as much work as it sounds like.

During the Civic Holiday weekend I smoked an 11lb pork "butt" on my grill.  It came out wonderfully, and I have a large container of it in the freezer now.  It's too good not to share , so we're going to have some friends around on the Labour Day weekend, not for pulled pork sandwiches, but for carnitas tacos.  I'll take the unsauced meat, crisp it up a bit in a pan and set it out with fixings for a make your own taco bar.  I've recently become a huge fan of lacto-fermented salsa, and I'll make more for the party.  I'm hoping to try my hand at a lactic-fermented tomatillo salsa verde too.  I may make guacamole, though I don't know.  I've never made it before.  I am seriously considering making the corn and flour tortillas myself, though, if we can find my tortilla press.

For anyone who knows me, you can understand how big all of this entertaining is.  I'm something of an introvert, and having people over can be a bit of stress for me.  I really enjoy it once we're in full swing.  It's the actual inviting people that I tend to trip over, so gourmet night is perfect.  And my husband, who doesn't bat an eye at inviting friends round, is a huge help.  He doesn't have my issues.  LOL