A bit of foolery for April.

TOD march room

Last Wednesday saw us all dressed up for the first of this year’s Taste Of Diversity dinners …

TOD march menu trialThe evening was sold out … as these dinners tend to be … and was enjoyable all around.  What could have been a stressful evening became fun with the combined efforts of our stalwart staff (Patty, Shirley and Todd) and some valiant volunteers (many thanks to Regan, Christine, Julie and Cecilia).  Oh, and I was there too …TOD march susan trialThat is what remained of a whole hip of beef from the local food heroes at Thatcher Farms ( http://www.thatcher-farms.com ) … just enough for a couple of sandwiches for staff…

TOD march appto be chased down with a healthy veggie shot!  Of course, some people like to go right to the source …TOD march toddThanks to everyone who came out and remember, there are still two more such extravaganzas this year.  Except next time … Let’s go Dutch!

Of course, I wouldn’t be allowed to escape this post without a recipe … so let’s try a very seasonal one.  Rhubarb and asparagus are the first two fresh items we get each spring – and asparagus doesn’t make a very good cake.  Once you try this cake, though, I think you will find it deserves its name …

Fabulous Rhubarb Cake

 Cream well (until light in colour and texture)  …

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

Add while still beating slowly …

1 egg

1 cup applesauce

1 T vanilla extract

zest of one orange

Mix together well …

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. soda

2 cups flour (I use half whole wheat and half all-purpose)

1 t ground ginger

1/2 t ground nutmeg

Add and toss well to coat …

1 1/2 cups raw Rhubarb cut fine

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just mixed through and no bits of flour are showing.  This can be baked in a 9×13 inch cake pan for about 30 minutes at 350 F (or until done).  We like this one in a bundt pan though and that takes a little longer to bake – maybe 50 minutes.  Remember that the cooking times are approximate – they depend on a lot of factors.  The best way to know if it is done is to gently touch the centre of the cake.  It should be as firm as the outside of the cake.  For those without Teflon fingers … insert a toothpick into the centre and make sure it comes out clean – with no wet batter sticking to it.

This is a very moist cake, so a strip of parchment paper in the bottom of the cake pan or a handful of crumb topping in the bottom of the bundt pan can save you the grief of the cake sticking and tearing.  It really doesn’t need icing – an orange glaze might be nice but I find what this cake needs most is a great deal of self-restraint!

Until next time, take care of yourself, each other and the crocuses!  ❤

The Flowering of May

april TOI

The first Taste of Italy fundraising dinner has been successfully served … to a sold-out crowd as usual. This time we were celebrating the cuisine of Naples and surrounding area.  Many, many thanks to Christine Clementi for all her help, ideas and calm cheerfulness!  More thanks are due for her splendid cooking … people are still talking about her Pasta Puttanesca and a luscious Eggplant Parmesan (I think she may be after my job).  My apologies to those who were not able to attend – there are still tickets available for the June 15 and September 28 dinners, although possibly not for long!

The appetizer platter was photographed by Emily – one of our new kitchen staff treasures, who is revealing diverse unexpected and welcome talents. It featured Christine’s seasoned, roasted peppers; a tedious, sticky thing to prepare but well worth it …especially when someone else is doing it!  In homage to the abundant seafood of the area, I made a calamari salad with arugula, artichoke hearts and white beans.  Mushrooms a la Greque saluted both the amazing lemons of the area and the subtle Greek influence on culture and cuisine.  Finally olives – no platter would be complete without olives and plenty of them!

For dessert, we did a variety of  fruit and a brace of cakes; a Lemon Polenta cake and a Torta Caprese.  These were chosen to compliment each other in taste and texture.  The lemon cake was very lemony and had the pleasant grittiness of cornmeal in contrast to the decadent richness of the torte.  It is a surprisingly fun cake to make and I highly recommend it!

Torta Caprese

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees Farenheit (sorry, Dad).  Grease a 10 inch spring form pan.  Line the base with a circle of parchment paper for added insurance against sticking!

Melt and allow to cool to almost room temperature …

200 g butter

In a food processor, grind …

250 g of almonds – I made sure not to grind them too fine to add interest to the texture

then …

200 g of good dark semi-sweet baking chocolate – again, don’t grind it too fine or too long lest it start to melt!

Separate 4 large eggs.  Beat the yolks until thick and quite pale with …

1 1/4 c sugar

3 T good vanilla extract

Fold together the yolk mix, butter, chocolate and almonds.

Clean the mixing bowl very well before tackling the egg whites!  Rinse with very hot water to remove all vestiges of fat and then cool. Whip egg whites until they form soft peaks, then fold them into the rest of the batter.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until just barely done – about 45 minutes.  Run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the edges of the cake, then let it rest in the pan for half an hour before removing to a serving plate.   This keeps well if wrapped tightly and HIDDEN VERY WELL!

I added a square of unsweetened chocolate to each recipe to give a slightly bitter edge. After such a rich meal, the last thing one would need is a too-sweet dessert and  I am still convinced that bitter will be the next new flavour fad.  You read it here first … thanks for reading and take care of yourself so you can take care of others!

pear plate

 

 

 

An Ode to August

purple peas1

‘Tis the time of year cooks love … all the hard work of our wonderful farmers and farm interns is now (literally) bearing fruit … and vegetables and herbs and a bewildering variety of greens!

It is such a privilege and a joy to work with ingredients that you know were picked that morning and conveyed down the hill by a friend.  This year we have the added pleasure of poetry with our produce …

Hey Susan, a purple and yellow pea poem for you:

For you we’ve grown these wonderous peas,
Like our children, they’ve grown so fast.
Sunshine and Sunset, their colours will make you freeze,
But if we harvest them any later than next week, their time will probably be past.

So to you, I hope that you will have reason to use
these marvelous twenty feet of delicious, if I may.
Just keep in mind that, thanks to plant-cues,
We may just harvest them Friday.
El Patricio (senior farm intern)

and my reply …

Oh Homey mine,

A thousand, thousand blessings upon your nappy head,

I beg you – quickly, quickly – pluck them from their loamy bed!

For I will surely serve them, with grandeur and with glee,

Upon the very instant you deliver them to me.

 

And if it would facilitate this so-long longed-for day,

I could even come collect them as I pass you on my way

Into my kitchen kingdom where I work (seems more like play)

To do the utmost justice to the treasures that you grow,

Enhance their subtle flavours and set retreatants all aglow!

Susan Sprague – Kitchen Manager and Queen of Doggerel Poetry

But enough frivolity for one post … here is a lovely, easy, gluten free cake that we like to make…

BLACK BEAN CHOCOLATE CAKE

Process in a blender or a food processor until free of lumps …

1 c well cooked black beans

3 eggs

1/2 c sugar

3 heaping T cocoa powder

1 orange – blossom end and seeds removed

1 t baking soda

1 t vanilla extract

pinch of salt

Pour into a parchment-lined loaf pan (or double the recipe and bake it in a 9 inch (sorry, Dad) springform pan).  Bake at 350 F until just done (approximately 35 minutes).  Let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then gently remove it to a cooling rack.  This is a rather delicate cake – so be careful!

If we are feeling decadent, we make a ganache to ice it with by heating a good semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler until just melted and then stirring in an equal amount of almond milk.  If it is too thin to spread, let it cool (stirring occasionally) until it reaches the proper consistency.

When eating this cake, it helps to chant the mantra “Black beans are the most nutritious of all beans”.  This will allow you to contemplate a second slice.

Until next time, take care of each other!  ❤