Delight of the Day – The Most-Loved Recipe

recipe

Here in Toronto, we don’t often have a lot of events akin to the car boot sale or flea market. (We have flea markets but they’re posher things with a mix of antique dealers, local artisans and food trucks.) People wanting to get rid of stuff, especially if they live in flats, tend to either have a yard sale or, during the warmer months, just leave their unwanted stuff out at the curb with a big “free” sign on it.

A few weeks back, Greg was walking home from somewhere and came across a collection of cookbooks on the edge of someone’s lawn. They were old and dusty, but he grabbed a vegetarian gourmet cookbook from the early 80s that he thought I might like, or would at least get a laugh out of. When we dusted it off and opened it, this handwritten recipe for Cocktail Cheese Crisps fell out.

Obviously much-loved and regularly used, the recipe calls for butter, a type of processed cheese, flour, cayenne pepper, worchestershire sauce, tabasco and… rice krispies. And once the brain gets past the pseudo-weirdness of this combination, it starts to sound really good. I mean, look at that piece of paper… somebody really, really loved these cheese crisps. So much so that we worried that the owner of the cookbook this recipe had been slipped into might be missing it. We actually discussed taking this stained, crumpled, torn bit of paper back to where Greg had found the book and sticking it in the mail slot.

If I can track down the Imperial cheese (one I hadn’t ever heard of, but Greg knew of it), I am more than a little bit inclined to make these just to see what all the fuss is about. But if your name is Michelle and you recently put out a stack of cookbooks in the College & Dovercourt area and you want your recipe back, give me a shout.

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Book Review – A Treasury of Great Recipes

pricebookA Treasury of Great Recipes
Mary and Vincent Price
Dover Publications; 50 Anv edition, 512 pages

You’d hear stories about people finding copies in used book stores. Or thrift shops where an unknowing relative had dumped the belongings of a deceased loved one, never knowing what an actual treasure they were giving away. There was a small re-pressing in 1974, but for decades, people talked about it with a bittersweet awe, for only a lucky few would ever possess it.

Until now.

Last month, A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price was republished in all its original 1965 glory.

Yes, that Vincent Price.

It seems the actor was a great gourmand, and along with his wife Mary, an enthusiastic home cook. Both were avid travellers who enjoyed trying new restaurants. Together they toured the world, eating in the best bistros and cafes, convincing chefs along the way to share their recipes, and writing a number of cookbooks together. Because if you were a chef in the early 1960s and Vincent Price showed up at the door of your kitchen, wouldn’t you give him a recipe when he asked for it?

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Market Mondays – Pumpkin/Squash

It’s the week before Halloween, which means that many people will undoubtedly be carving up that Halloween Jack o’ lantern. But of course, in the food world, we’ve been eating pumpkins, and other types of hard winter squash, for weeks now. Indeed, if I see one more recipe for pumpkin cheese cake, I might… well, I’ve already screamed. That might just be because I’m more of a fan of pumpkin pie than cheesecake, but it seems to be ubiquitous this year.

In any case, pumpkins; members of the squash family. Related to softer summer squashes (zucchini), as well as gourds (the smaller inedible varieties of squash) and distantly related to melons. Squashes are native to North America, most likely Mexico, where they are traditionally grown alongside corn and beans in a symbiotic system known as The Three Sisters. Pumpkins and squash were introduced to Europeans by Christopher Columbus, and their cultivation was mostly due to Spanish and Portuguese explorers.

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Market Mondays – Brussels Sprouts

The poor, maligned, misunderstood Brussels sprout. Was there ever a vegetable so loathed?

It’s too bad really, because with astronomical amounts of vitamin K and vitamin C (273% and 161% respectively of the daily recommended intake) they’re a nutritional powerhouse. And that’s not counting the high levels of folate, Vitamin A, manganese and fibre. They count as those darky leafy greens that we’re all supposed to be eating more of, since they’re full of sulforaphane, a nutrient believed to have anti-cancer properties.

Brussels sprouts really did originate in Belgium, although a forerunner of the plant was known in Roman times. They made it to North America around 1800 when French settlers brought them to New Orleans.

When confronted with unharvested sprouts, most people don’t recognize them, assuming these “little cabbages” grow in the ground individually, when in fact they grow along a long thick stem with large cabbage-like leaves at the top. While they taste similar to cabbage, sprouts are, in fact, milder. They get their reputation of a bitter, sulphurous taste mostly from being overcooked. Steaming or boiling for 6-7 minutes is usually enough, and the standard of cooking them to mush has undoubtedly ruined an otherwise fabulous vegetable for a lot of people.

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Market Mondays – Sweet Potatoes

We’re in the Thanksgiving stretch now, and in our house it’s not Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes. However, sweet potatoes are a nutrition powerhouse and should be part of a varied diet all year round. With this much Vitamin A (262% of your recommended daily intake) in 1 77gr potato, it’s hard to go wrong with this tasty root vegetable.

Native to Central America, the sweet potato dates back to prehistoric times. Carbon-dated relics found in Peru are thought to be over 10,000 years old. Columbus took sweet potatoes back to Europe with him on his first trip to the Americas. Sweet potatoes are also grown in southern Pacific countries like Phillipines, New Zealand and the Cook Islands, but it is unclear whether they got there via Spanish travellers after Columbus, or whether they made it to Polynesia directly from Central America.

There are over 400 varieties of sweet potato, varying in colours that include white, yellow, bright orange and even purple, and ranging in shape from typically potato-shaped to long and thin. There are  firm, dry varieties, and some that are softer and moist. Ironically, the sweet potato is not related to the potato, nor is it related to the yam, although in many places, the name is used interchangeably. General theory is that the Taino (Bahamian) name for the vegetable was batata, which sounds an awful lot like “potato”. The sweet potato earned its “yam” moniker from African slaves in the Caribbean and southern US where the soft, moist (usually orange) sweet potato was often used in place of the yam in traditional African cuisine.

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Market Mondays – Apples

Is there any fruit that typifies September and the Fall harvest better than the apple? Boy Scouts apple day, an apple for the first day of school, a roadside produce stand groaning with different varieties… we love us some apples. And despite what your supermarket might have you think, they come in more types than red, green and yellow. 7500 varieties, to be specific, with the fruit originating in Western Asia and showing up throughout history in Norse, Greek and Pagan mythology. One theory about the apple being the unnamed “forbidden fruit” in the Bible is based on the fact that the Book of Genesis was written by Romans at a time when the Christian church was trying to convert pagans. Since the pagans revered the apple, making it evil or forbidden contributed to the number of new converts.

Apples now grow in almost every part of the world. Here in Ontario, growers have focused on about a dozen common varieties, but there are over 100 heritage varieties that can be found at local orchards and pick-your-own farms. Apples are typically harvested from late July until October. Growers’ associations like the one in Norfolk County provide storage facilities for area apple growers in a climate-controlled, low-oxygen warehouse that allows Ontarians to have local apples year-round. There’s no reason to be eating apples from China (where 35% of the world’s apples are grown), when we have a great year-round variety right here.

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Market Mondays – Pears

Pears are the less glamorous cousin of the apple. In the same family as the apple, along with roses and quince, pears have been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia, are referenced in Roman and Celtic texts and are thought to possibly date back to the Stone Age. Popular in Britain and France where they were beloved for their use in perry (pear cider), the first pears were cultivated in North America in 1620. Pears were originally eaten cooked, not raw (they were probably closer to a quince), until the 18th century when they were cultivated to have the soft, juicy and buttery flesh that we know today.

There are over 130 varieties of pears grown in Canada, but here in Ontario, there are five major varieties that are grown for sale; Bartlett, Clapp’s Favourite, Anjou, Bosc and Flemish Beauty. Growers hope that a new variety, Harovin Sundown, will eventually be added to that list, although it will be 2015 before the pears will be widely available in stores.

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Market Mondays – Spinach

I’m a little late to the game with spinach – it probably should have made my list earlier in the year, seeing as it’s considered a spring vegetable. But it’s definitely still going strong at the markets, so better late than never.

Like our friend Popeye will tell you, spinach is a nutritional powerhouse, providing more nutrition, calorie for calorie, than any other food. 1 cup of cooked spinach offers over 1000% of our daily required intake of Vitamin K and 377% of our required Vitamin A. It’s also high in manganese, folate, magnesium, iron and Vitamin C. Spinach may contribute to heart health, better eyesight, better brain function from the high levels of Vitamin E, and better gastrointestinal function. It’s also got anti-inflammatory properties. Cooked spinach also provides energy, mostly in the form of iron.

Thought to have originated in Persia, spinach made its way to China via traders (roughly around 650 AD) where it came to be known as the “Persian vegetable”. Spinach was introduced to Italy and the Mediterranean in the 800s and from Spain made its way to Northern Europe. Catherine de’Medici was so enamoured of spinach that during her reign as Queen of France, she insisted it be served at every meal. Named after her hometown of Florence, to this day, dishes that feature spinach are typically called Florentine.

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Market Mondays – Melons

Sometimes, I’m not so bright. Because when I made up the list of fruit and veg to include in this column, I mostly based it on what would be in season. Which is the point of the whole thing (we’ll start covering meat and dairy and spices and such in the winter after the fall harvest), except for the fact that I didn’t really think too much about recipes.

Or more importantly, that there are a few seasonal items, such as melon, that you just don’t cook with all that much. Think about it – chilled soup, salsa, a few cocktails, fruit salad… maybe some cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. Whoops.

So what I have for you today is two different recipes for watermelon gazpacho, both from fabulous local chefs, and (thankfully) different enough that you can pick which one you’d prefer to make based on the other ingredients. Or make them both and do a taste test.

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Market Mondays – Corn

Poor old much maligned corn. It gets a bit of a bad rap these days, seeing as how it ends up in so many processed foods, and how it’s been genetically modified up the yin yang. And then there’s the whole ethanol issue. It’s too bad, because there’s nothing that says summer more than ears of sweet corn with the silks still wet, shucked, kissed with some boiling water and then slathered in butter. Made better only by the accompaniment of a lobster or two… but I digress.

Maize, as corn is properly known (the term “corn” is an English word for any cereal crop), is native to the Americas where it has been used for some 12,000 years. Maize made its way to the eastern seaboard and Canada somewhere around 1000 AD. Native Americans planted corn alongside beans and squash, a system known as the Three Sisters, as the plants were all complimentary, providing shade, nutrients and support in a system that provided optimum growth potential.

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Market Mondays – Blueberries

Here in the city, we’re lucky enough to have any number of markets where both wild and tame blueberries are available for a reasonable price. But for me, blueberries have the ability to make me really cranky. As a kid we’d trek off into the woods in the suburb of Halifax where I grew up, and fill huge buckets and jugs with the things to make pies and muffins and the famous Acadian blueberry grunt. Covered in mosquito bites, backs aching from bending over the low bushes and that awful feeling in the pit of the stomach caused by worrying that, at any moment, you’d come face to face with a hungry bear, picking was never really considered fun. We’d try anything we could to get out of going blueberry picking, but ultimately, at the first slice of Mom’s pie, it was all worth it.

Blueberries are native to North America and related to cranberries and bilberries. While there are a number of varieties, most are separated into either low bush or high bush types, the first being wild berries, mostly picked by hand, while high bush berries are larger, able to be harvested by machine and in a taste comparison are considered more bland than their wild cousins.

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Market Mondays – Summer Squash

Summer squash (aka. zucchini) can be both a delight and a bane to home gardeners. A delight because zucchini are a fruitful fruit (while treated as a vegetable in the kitchen, zucchini and all squash are technically fruit) – they’re easy to grow and the fruit grows quickly, they’re also a bane because they’re almost too prodigious and home gardeners tend to find themselves with more zucchini than they know what to do with. In the peak of the season some will even take to leaving bags of summer squash on their neighbours’ doorsteps under cover of night just to get rid of some of their harvest.

Curcubita pepo is a member of the melon family, with distant relations to the cucumber. Squash originated in the Americas and was introduced to Europe by Columbus. The zucchini that we know today is a variety of squash that was developed in Italy. While there are a variety of different shapes and sizes of summer squash (ranging in shape from the spaceship-looking patty pan to round fruit the size of billiard balls), they can all be treated as one would a zucchini for cooking purposes.

While it’s tempting for home gardeners to let their zucchini grow huge (and they will get massive if you let them), the squash actually taste and cook best when picked at 20cm in length or less. Overly-mature fruit can be both fibrous and watery.

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Market Mondays – Plums

We’re still in the family Prunus as we move from last week’s cherries to this week’s plums. Plums are eaten from Asia to Europe and are well known for their variety and flavour – from the first tart yellow plums to red, black and the purple varieties most popular in Italian cooking. Worldwide there are over 2000 varieties of the fruit with about 100 available in North America.

Plums are a versatile fruit; they can be made into jam or used in desserts, but can also be made into wine, pickled, dried and salted, or dried into prunes (although the black prunes available in stores are from a specific type of plum). They even work well on pizza with cheese and prosciutto in place of the traditional figs.

Considered one of the world’s healthiest foods, plums are high in anti-oxidants, Vitamin A, Vitamin B2, fibre (prunes are a recommended treatment for constipation) and potassium.

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Market Mondays – Cherries

Most years, we’re savouring the first cherries right around now, as they normally ripen locally by the end of June. But if you’ve been frequenting the farmers’ markets, you’ve been eating cherries for weeks, since the sweet cherries, like most other seasonal produce, have come a full two weeks early.

The cherry is the fleshy stone fruit of the Prunus plant and comes in a range of sweet and sour varieties. There are over 1000 varieties of cherry but only about 10% of those are grown on a commercial scale. Most common are the sweet Bing, the sour Montmorency and the yellow-fleshed Rainier, although some Ontario farmers grow many more. If farmers’ don’t have their cherries labelled by variety at market, ask, because there are actually many varieties that are better tasting than those bland Bings.

The history of the cherry dates back to prehistoric times, and was introduced to England by Henry VIII. In North America, while wild cherries were native to the continent, the more traditional varieties we know were brought by French and English explorers and settlers. Prime cherry-growing regions include Southern Ontario, Michigan and British Columbia.

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Market Mondays – Peas

I eat my peas with honey,
I’ve done it all my life,
It does taste kind of funny,
But it keeps them on my knife. – Anonymous

Most commonly found in mixed frozen vegetables, the humble pea is one of the most versatile vegetables out there. Eaten fresh, dried, frozen or canned, peas  can be used in soups, stews, pies, risotto or curries, or fried and served as a snack.

The pea is actually a fruit, but is considered a vegetable for cooking purposes. There are many varieties of peas from sweet peas to snow peas or sugar snap peas, with some growing as vines and others low-growing plants suited to field cultivation. In Ontario, peas are at their peak in June and July.

The use of peas dates back to the Middle Ages when they were part of the typical diet along with broad beans and lentils. Peas are eaten throughout the world from Asia and India to Europe and North America.

Peas are an excellent source of folacin (Vitamin B9). They are also a source of Vitamins A and C, fibre and potassium. A half cup of cooked peas is only 70 calories.

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Market Mondays – Fava Beans

We’ve all heard the old joke from The Silence of the Lambs, but fava beans go with more than a nice Chianti. Vicia faba, also known as the broad bean, tic bean, field bean and bell bean is a versatile spring vegetable.

Known for the long thick pods lined with a soft fluff, splitting open a fava bean is like opening a jewel box to find your dinner presented on a bed of velvet. For many dishes the skin of the beans itself needs to be removed (making them slightly unpopular with impatient cooks), but it’s worth the effort. Some people experience a reaction to the raw or uncooked beans, so favas should always be cooked completely.

The plant is a hardy one, able to withstand cold temperatures and salinity in its soil. They grow quickly and have lush foliage, making them an ideal cover crop. Favas are also considered nitrogen fixers, adding this important nutrient back to the soil.

Favas are eaten in many cultures from Asian to the Middle East to Europe and Northern Africa. They can be fried and served as a snack, added to soup and stews, tossed with pasta or served as a topping on bread or toast. The most famous fava dish has to be the Egyptian dish ful medames, where the dried beans are stewed and mashed and then blended with lemon, olive oil and spices and served with bread and an egg, typically for breakfast.

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Market Mondays – Strawberries

The time is upon us. If you’re like me, you’ve walked past time huge, hard, tasteless red supermarket strawberries all winter in anticipation of June and Ontario strawberry season. Nothing beats the smell or flavour of an Ontario strawberry, ripe, just picked, and warm from the sun.

Strawberries are a member of the rose family, and while the old bit of trivia claims that strawberries are the only fruit to have their seeds on the outside (which they’re not – cashew fruit and pineapple both have their seeds on the outside) those little yellow things that most people think are the seeds are actually the fruit; the red flesh bit we love to eat is the receptacle.

Dating back to ancient Rome, the strawberry as we know it originated in Europe, and was cultivated in 13th century France for medicinal purposes. The first American species of strawberry was cultivated in 1835 and strawberries grow in every province and every state in Canada and the US. While we normally think of June and July as strawberry season, many farmers now grow a number of “everbearing” varieties that will bear fruit from June until the first frost. Vendors at many Toronto farmers markets (including Nathan Phillips Square and Metro Hall) usually have berries right up until October. There’s been many a year when I’ve had fresh Ontario berries for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. And if you’re wondering why it’s better to buy local berries, consider what happens to berries from California before they get here.

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Market Mondays – Radishes

The first root vegetable of spring is also the most under-used. Besides putting them in a salad, what do you DO with radishes anyway?

Related to the mustard plant, radishes come in several varieties, ranging from sweet to spicy and peppery in flavour and from white to vibrant red, and even grey and black in colour. They are a favourite of the home gardener because they’re easy to sow, grow quickly, and offer an early sense of accomplishment. Cultivation of radishes dates back to Roman times and records suggest that the plants were domesticated somewhere in Europe.

Which begs the continued question – why do we mostly eat them raw in salads? A perusal of the Internet led to me recipes for pickled radishes, roasted radishes and one in which the roots are boiled until tender and then tossed with butter and brown sugar, much as you’d do with carrots or parsnips. Having tried this, I think I know why we prefer to eat the things raw – boiling saps out all of the lovely crisp peppery flavour.

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Bounty Bar Cupcakes

Working on the theory that everything is better with coconut, I came up with these the other day. They’re meant to resemble an inside-out bounty bar. Flavourwise it works, but next time I’ll incorporate more coconut right into the buttercream frosting.

Bounty Bar Cupcakes

1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugar until smooth then add egg and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Blend flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa in a separate bowl. In a measuring cup, mix milk and coconut milk together. Alternate small amounts of  the flour mixture and the milk until fully incorporated and smooth.

Line a cupcake pan with papers and fill each approximately 3/4 full. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

Coconut Buttercream

1/4 cup butter
2 cups icing sugar
coconut milk

Combine butter and icing sugar and enough coconut milk to create a thick but spreadable icing. Spread onto each cupcake and then sprinkle with toasted coconut.

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Market Mondays – Fiddleheads

There’s a phenomenon on Twitter where people will mention or retweet something and create a buzz, but the buzz fails. For instance, a dozen people will mention a food-related event but none of them will actually attend. The same kind of failed buzz seems to be happening with seasonal produce. I’m seeing piles of people squeeing about ramps and fiddleheads, but none of that excitement translating to blog posts showing what they’ve been cooking with these seasonal glories.

In fact, the only mention I’ve seen about fiddleheads in terms of someone having purchased and prepared the things is pickling. No references to the fresh product at all. Which makes me think that maybe people still don’t know what to do with fiddleheads, even though they’re turning up everywhere.

Up until a few years ago, the few people in Toronto (mostly ex-pat Maritimers) who knew and loved fiddleheads were happy to have one small feed of them each June. There was one produce shop in Kensington Market that would bring them in from Nova Scotia and by the time they made it to the store shelves they were already starting to go off. Sobey’s stores (based in Nova Scotia) would sometime get them in as well, albeit in very small quantities.

While the Ostrich Fern is native to Ontario, nobody seemed to pick up on the fact that the things are mighty tasty until a few years ago – probably after having listened to a Maritimer friend bemoan the lack of them one time too many.

So now they’re everywhere – and people are excited – but still… nobody seems to be doing much with them.

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