Monday Musings

I feel that I must point out that no ants were harmed in the production of Saturday’s post. I picked up Tiger the pre-swallowtail with a handy twig and then used said twig to poke at the ant until it gave up in frustration. dropped to the ground and scuttled away. In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that yesterday I unilaterally awarded myself 10 bonus points for using the word “umbel” in a sentence. One doesn’t get such an opportunity very often and one must make the most of it!

The kitchen is currently gearing up for St Ignatius Day, celebrated on July 31. Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Jesuits and the author of the Spiritual Exercises which form the basis of many of our retreats. On a more mundane plane, it means the kitchen staff are serving dinner to 100 Jesuits – who are the best educated, most well-rounded, well-traveled and most discerning crowd that you would ever tremble to presume to cook for! Fortunately for our nerves, they are also completely charming and kind – at least all the Jesuits that I have ever met are. Uniformly funny too. When I was new to this job, I remember gushing to a visiting Jesuit “You are all so nice!!”. He replied (completely straight-faced) “Yes, we take courses in it.” Three years later, I have not yet figured out if he was teasing me or not.

Patty and I have just finished making 13 fresh peach pies. That entailed blanching, peeling and slicing over 100 peaches (Ontario grown, of course!). A somewhat tedious job, but entirely worth it when you taste the pie. Even the uncooked filling is yummy. We had an unexpected bonus as well … as the peaches were sitting blanched and naked in a bowl waiting to be sliced, they wept just enough for Patty and I to enjoy a full glass each of peach nectar. Life doesn’t get much better than that, it was like a glass of the essence of summer.

Spiced Peach Pie

Mix into a smooth paste …
3 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp melted butter
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract

You will need enough peaches to make 5 1/2 cups of slices, processed as follows …
Make a small slit in the skin, then dip the peach in boiling water for 10 to 20 seconds followed immediately by a cold water bath. Let it cool completely – this won’t take long since the whole point of the exercise is to cook the skins so they slip off easily but leave the flesh of the peach raw. Slice into attractive, bite size pieces.
Toss slices gently in the sugar/spice mix and pour into a 10 inch pie shell. You can either top with a pastry top or with a crumb topping. Bake at 350 F until the filling is just bubbling and the pastry is cooked. The filling must come to a simmer for the cornstarch to thicken, but try not to overcook. Let cool completely before serving.

Hello world, too!

Well, Kate is enjoying a couple of well-deserved days off – she is probably at the Hillside Festival right now, as are most right-thinking Guelph people – so I thought I would sneak in a post or two.  I’m susan, kitchen manager here at Loyola House.

Today I spent some time in our kitchen herb garden, something I haven’t done enough of recently.  I dead-headed our chive border, harvested some sage and tried to persuade the mint that it didn’t need to take over all the available space….  I was about to trim back the dill before it seeded itself in inappropriate places when I noticed at least 5 pre-butterflies (sounds more picturesque than caterpillars, n’est pas?).  Looking closer, I saw a sixth one writhing on the ground – which even to an indifferent entomologist such as myself didn’t seem like optimum behaviour.  It must have fallen off and was being attacked by a large red ant.  I bravely fought off the ant – which was fully 1/800th of my size and placed the caterpillar on the highest dill umbel I could find.  If it thrives, we’ll have a naming ceremony on Tuesday (when Kate gets back with her camera) and follow its progress.  I think it must be a black swallowtail.  Time will tell.

I was mainly after mint to make up a large batch of Tabbouleh for Saturday’s supper.  This group of retreatants includes several who are gluten-sensitive, so we make the salad with quinoa instead of couscous. It is tastier and more nutritious, although more expensive.  Tonight I took the extra time to rinse and toast the quinoa before cooking it, curious to see if I could detect a difference in flavour.  I do think it is worth the extra time but for heaven’s sake, no matter what the Joy of Cooking says, 2 cups of liquid to 1 cup of quinoa is TOO MUCH!  It came out gluey and the delicate structure of the grain was lost, alas.  I add really extravagant amounts of well-dried, chopped parsley and mint so that leavened the texture somewhat.  It was darn tasty though and all that chlorophyll is so good for you!  I will try it again next week and append the recipe when I get it just right.

What we did get right tonight was a wonderful batch of cookies for the gluten and dairy-free diets.  Try them, you will not believe the texture!

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

Mix until smooth….

2 cups smooth peanut butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar … ok, we use organic cane sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

(optional, 1 teaspoon ground ginger)

Shape into balls of about 1 heaping tablespoon each and place 2 inches apart on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Flatten cookies with a fork – dip fork in coarse sugar in between so it doesn’t stick.

Bake at 350 F for 10 – 12 minutes or until puffed, golden and beginning to brown around the edges.  Cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes before attempting to move them.  Hide them well if you want any left tomorrow!

Cucumber and Watermelon Salad

photo by Kate Hendry

In the hot and humid days of summer we have been experiencing, a cool and refreshing meal is always something I look forward to eating. And this salad featuring watermelon, cucumber, and lavender is always a top pick!

The dressing is a lavender vinaigrette. If you have lavender in your garden, I highly recommend making a vinegar with. Rice wine vinegar has a subtle flavour in the vinegar world, and will really let the lavender shine. Just cut some of the stalks and flowers, wash them to ensure they are free of dirt and bugs, and cover them in a jar with the vinegar. Let it sit it the fridge for at least a few hours, but preferably longer. Our kitchen is continuously stocked with lavender vinegar so it is ready to use at any time.

As is often said, we eat with our eyes first. When composing dishes it is important to consider its visual appeal. I love the look of this salad, especially when I take the time to cut the cucumber and watermelon with care. I like to remove the seeds from the cucumber and cut them into moon shapes. And the watermelon I cut into triangles. I cut up enough of each so there are equal amounts of both.

According to my cooking textbook, the ratio of oil to vinegar for a vinaigrette is 3:1. I prefer the flavour of the vinegar to stand out more, so I use less oil. If you prefer a milder taste, increase the oil. It’s as easy as that!

For a lavender vinaigrette, whisk together:

Lavender vinegar
Dijon mustard
Honey
Salt and Pepper

Adjust the amounts until the flavours are balanced.

Slowly whisk in vegetable oil to emulsify the dressing.

I do this in a large mixing bowl, and then add the watermelon and cucumber. Mix everything together and let it sit to absorb the flavours. If available, garnish with lavender flowers and enjoy!

Dilled Mushroom Salad

photo by Kate Hendry

Mushrooms. They are certainly one of my favourite foods. But it wasn’t always the case. Before getting to the simple yet satisfying recipe for our Dilled Mushroom Salad, I would like to share a mushroom story with you.

When I was a young girl, I hated mushrooms. And when I became a not-so-young girl, aka an obnoxiously opinionated teenager, I thought anyone and everyone who enjoyed mushrooms were crazy. And stupid. (Thank You God for letting me grow through those teenage years!) My mom would periodically prod me to try them again to see if my taste buds had matured, but I always stubbornly refused.

Fast forward to the summer after my first year of university. I had decided it was high time I become an adult, and in my mind that meant learning to eat mushrooms. I didn’t have hopes to love them, or even to like them. My goal was to be able to politely tolerate them when served. I started by ordering the Portobello Sandwich for lunch at The Bullring on campus. And when visiting my parents I would ask my mom to put mushrooms in the pasta.   I ordered mushrooms on my pizza, which was previously a cringe worthy idea. I can’t quite place when it happened, but soon my disgust bypassed tolerance completely and I discovered a new culinary love.

photo by Kate Hendry

Last fall I bought the above Portobellos at the Guelph Farmers Market. Aren’t they exquisitely beautiful?!? And while I’m no longer my know-it-all teenage self, my mushroom journey reminds me the impossible is often possible, and to never stop opening myself to new experiences and tastes!

Dilled Mushroom Salad

This salad is one of the simplest salads we make, and it is so delicious. It tends to fly off the table each time it is served.

I should also mention that I’m not one for precise recipes outside of baking. I think it’s really wonderful to develop a sense of when a dish is well-balanced. So, most of my recipes will have approximate amounts. Also, since we tend to cook for a crowd – I made this salad for 50 people last night – you’ll probably want to adjust the amounts anyway!

To make the salad, I whisk the vinaigrette together in a large mixing bowl, adding the oil slowly at the end. I taste and adjust if needed. Then, I wash, slice, and add the mushrooms to the bowl. Finally, I chop and add the dill, mix everything together, and let it sit for a while so the mushrooms can absorb the flavours. And try not to eat the whole bowl while I wait.

As a side salad to feed 50, I used approximately:

1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1 Tbsp of grainy Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp of honey
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of pepper
1/4 – 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
4 lbs of button mushrooms washed and sliced
1/4 cup of dill

What is your favourite mushroom recipe?