Simmering in the Summer.

That title sounds good, but today’s recipe takes no simmering at all.  This will be welcome during summers in less comfortable kitchens than the Loyola House Kitchen.  We like to joke that the kitchen is the coolest part of this house in midsummer – thanks to our amazing Director of Operations, Lisa, who upgraded the heating/cooling unit for us to something near miraculous.  That, plus our astonishing view, plus our wonderful co-workers PLUS the inspirational and congenial folks who make their way here from all over the world combine to make our kitchen a happy place indeed!  The recent rush of fresh produce from the farm only intensifies our joy … is there anything more wonderful than a crisp sugar snap pea just hours off the vine? Or burying your beak in a bushel of basil?

After such sweetness … a little balancing tartness.  This is my personal favourite of the dressings that we make.  Blueberries and lemons are a “gestalt” combination … the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  It is great in baking and I love it in this dressing.  I must confess though — part of my affection for this dressing is for the dramatic colour!

blueberry dressing 3

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Blueberry-Lemon Vinaigrette

Slice and remove seeds …

2 whole lemons

Put  in a cuisinart or blender, then add ….

3 T  Dijon mustard

2 c frozen blueberries

½ c white wine vinegar

½ c lemon juice

2 T sugar or honey

1 t pepper

½ t salt

(dash of Tabasco)

With machine running, add in a VERY slow stream…

1 c veg oil

With machine running, add steadily, but in a faster stream…

1 c veg oil

1 c extra virgin olive oil

1/2 c apple cider or juice

If it gets too thick – add a little more apple juice to thin it down. Remember that it will thicken up in the fridge as the olive oil gets cold.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Store in fridge.

You can substitute raspberries for a change of flavor and a different but equally dramatic colour…

We are in the midst of our busy retreat season … back to back to back eight day retreats, usually full, so not much news to report.  If you are planning to attend our third and final Taste of Diversity dinner ( A Return To Italy), I advise getting your ticket NOW.

I leave you with an amazing thing that I found in a perfectly ordinary box of mushrooms this week.  The world is full of wonders … find them and celebrate them!monster raw mushroom

And take care of each other and yourselves…<3

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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!  ❤

Whee! We made it!

veggies-dec-2016Happy 2017!  It sounds like a science fiction story … aren’t we supposed to all have flying cars and inter-planetary holidays by now?  I’ve just gotten back from a holiday in BC where it is mild and rainy so while I am delighted to be back at work … actually getting to work through all this wind and cold and white stuff is a bit of a shock.

Naturally, my mind turns to thoughts of something warm and comforting to enjoy as a reward for yet more shoveling and I was surprised to notice that we have not yet featured one of our staple entrees …

RATATOUILLE

Sautee briefly

1 large red onion, sliced

1 bulb fennel, sliced

2 T minced garlic

¼ c olive oil

 Take off the heat and add …

6 cups canned whole tomatoes

Wash, cut into large, attractive chunks…

4 c zucchini

Toss with salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil and 1 t oregano and roast in a 350° oven for 10 minutes

Do the same with …

4 c multi-coloured peppers – but roast for 15 minutes, stirring once

Do the same with…

up to 4 c eggplant – but roast for 30 minutes, stirring several times

Add all of the vegetables to the tomato pot along with

2 T puree of fresh basil (or 2 T dried)

2 T lemon juice or red wine vinegar

2 T sugar or honey

Salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste

Bring to a simmer and let simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over pasta or rice or with a good, crusty bread.

 

This will bring back memories of mid-summer and the vegetable bounty of those fleeting months.  Even mid-winter, our farmers have ways of making us happy though … look at the wonderful radishes they grew this year and passed on to us in December!

purple-radish

Don’t you now wish you had bought a CSA winter share?

Enjoy the nascent year … 2017 is going to be a great one!  Let’s be careful out there and take care of each other!  ❤

 

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

 

 

 

Nooo …. not November already!!

beets

Where did this year go … and do I say that every year?

This year we have had a stroke of luck with the recent balmy weather.  It has certainly widened the possibilities when it comes to the available produce from our organic farm.  Normally we would be down to root crops – carrots, beets, potatoes and the eternal Black Spanish Radish.  Not that I would complain, mind you, given the tremendous quality and variety of each of those items.  Above, you can behold the symphony of colours on the beet salad we made last week!

With this latest warm spell though, the farm has been offering some amazing produce … tiny perfect baby kale and tat soi, plump Napa cabbages, brilliant parsley, broccoli and the astonishingly fractal Romanesco (or broccoflower to the uninitiated).

broccoflower3

It’s been nice to stretch out the “green” season this year.  Nice, that is, for the cooks – the farmers may have other opinions! I fear it won’t last though … so let’s turn our attention to an excellent fall/winter dessert…

Sweet Potato Pie

Roast whole sweet potatoes in the oven, turning once or twice until just soft – usually an hour to an hour and a half, depending on their size.  Let cool, then peel and measure.

Puree until smooth …

2 c roasted sweet potato (you could also use pumpkin or squash … but sweet potatoes are SO GOOD!)

1 c apple cider

1/2 c brown sugar

1 T lemon juice

1/2 t each of ground cinnamon, ginger and coriander, sea salt

1/4 t each of ground nutmeg and cloves

(I like to push this mixture through a wire strainer, just to make sure it is absolutely silky.  A soup ladle makes a good “pusher.)

Beat well and strain …

3 large eggs

Add the eggs to the sweet potato mix and stir until completely incorporated.

Bake in a fluted pie shell (yes … we buy ours), no top is needed.  This will usually take about 50 minutes on the bottom shelf… the pastry should be fully cooked, and the centre of the pie filling should be just barely solid, not shiny and beginning to puff up a bit.  Serve hot or cold … with or without decadent whipped cream.

Sometimes we bake this filling in a glass pie plate without a crust so our gluten-free friends (as well as our dairy-free friends) can enjoy it.  I think it’s just as nice that way.

Brace yourselves … winter is (probably) coming…

Take care of each other!  ❤

 

Our favourite time of the year …

 

 

 

chives 2Late last week came the time that Loyola House cooks have been dreaming wistfully about all winter … the first produce from our organic farm is here!  The asparagus started slow but this warm, wet weather will accelerate it into full swing this week.  Now is the time to take a couple of hours and fill the freezer – after a few good gorges, of course!  There really isn’t anything like an organic vegetable that’s only a couple of hours out of the ground.

At the same time, our kitchen herb garden is springing to life.  The clever chive border that we put in as protection from insects is a handspan high and showing signs of graduating from border to hedge-hood this year.  The perennials are starting to leaf out … and the mint … of course the mint is back.  Now is the time to explain to the mint (with trowel in hand) that it can’t have the entire garden this year either!

One of the recipes we like to dust off for the warm weather features both asparagus and fresh herbs and that is the Loyola House interpretation of the classic French dish “Salade Nicoise”.   This is a main-course salad that features (among many other things) green beans but this time of year we slyly substitute asparagus and it is all the better for it.  Traditionally, this is a “composed” salad – carefully and artistically arranged patterns of separate ingredients complementing each other in shape and colour. This doesn’t work so well on a buffet line for 40 people who only have an hour for lunch!  Invariably someone will steal all the hardboiled eggs and after the first couple of people serve themselves, any artistic arrangement is only a fond memory. So we toss all ingredients together and stand back …

 

Nicoise Salad

Whisk together …

2 T grainy Dijon mustard

1 t chopped garlic

1/4 c lemon juice

1/4 c white wine vinegar

Whisk in very slowly …

1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

Stir in

2 T olive brine

1 t black pepper

up to 1/4 c chopped fresh herbs as your garden (or farmer’s market) provides. I am particularly fond of chives (cut on the diagonal of course!) and basil (purple if you can get it – both for its beauty and the intriguingly spicy flavour).  Other good candidates are parsley, chervil, thyme (if you have the patience for stripping all those tiny leaves you will be well rewarded with taste and health benefits), tarragon and dill.  Our kitchen herb garden has a well established lovage patch … TOO well established, maybe.  While lovage gives an earthy celery flavour with a useful touch of bitterness (my new favourite flavour), only the very young leaves should be used … and those sparingly!

It is useful to make this dressing the day before serving so that the flavours can mingle and get ready to party on your tongue!  It will keep very well in the fridge – although the lemon juice may leach the colour from the herbs.  Of course, the olive oil will solidify in the cold – this is how you know you have a good olive oil – so bring it to room temperature and shake well before using.

for the salad, toss gently with 1 c of the above dressing …

2 c boiled potato – you can use left-over ones or boil minis in their jackets, then quarter and toss with a little of the dressing (you did make it ahead of time, didn’t you?) and leave to cool in the fridge overnight.

1 c calamata olives (pitted is nice if you have the time)

2 c asparagus – cut in bite-sized pieces, lightly steamed and cooled immediately in cold water, then drained well

1 c tomato – a beefsteak-style cut in chunks or use Elmira’s Own grape tomatoes – a very tasty local product

2 cans light tuna – well-drained

Serve on a bed of greens (if desired) and garnish with hardboiled eggs in quarters.

nicoise2

Enjoy – on the patio, if possible – and join me in waiting, semi-patiently, for the next installment of nature’s bounty.  And take good care of each other!

A New Year Dawns!

cauli salad1 - cropped

2015 is starting with some (quiet) excitement for Loyola House!  We have a new 34 day silent retreat going on … mostly made up of a wonderful bunch of Jesuit novices from Canada and the United States.  The only frustration is that we don’t get to talk (and listen!) to them for another two weeks.  These long retreats are a bit grueling for a relatively small kitchen staff and 23 days into the retreat we are getting to the point of muttering to each other “But they’ve had that already!  What can we make that they haven’t already eaten?!”.   So far, though, no one has complained …  (a little silent retreat joke there).

We had a request from a past attendee for the recipe for a soup that they had enjoyed while at Loyola House.  I am excited to share recipes but this one is so simple that it is embarrassing to publish.

 

Parsnip Pear Soup

Saute in 2 T coconut oil …

2 c rough cut onion

1 c sliced celery

When the vegetables are limp, turn down the heat and let them cook low and slow, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to colour.

Add …

6 c parsnips – peeled and sliced

3 c water

3 c apple cider

Bring to a boil, lid and simmer until the parsnips are very soft (about 25 minutes).

Add …

3 c peeled pear pieces

Simmer a further 5 minutes.

Cool slightly, then puree until the texture is silky smooth …. adding more water or cider if necessary to thin it out.

This soup won’t need much flavour adjustment, but you can add as desired…

1/2 t salt

2 T lemon juice

2 T maple syrup

1/2 t nutmeg

a dash of hot sauce (not enough to taste, just enough to stimulate the taste buds)

 

We are using more coconut oil for cooking these days.  It is extremely temperature resistant so that it doesn’t break down under heat as some other oils do – with possible carcinogenic results.  It does have a more pronounced flavour than other oils, but it is perfect for this soup.

We use frozen pears for this recipe.  During the year, if we get pears that are damaged or simply too ripe for the fruit basket, we quarter and peel them, drop them briefly into a water bath with a couple of spoons of lemon juice added (to prevent the pears from browning) and then pop them into the freezer on a tray lined with parchment paper (the cook’s best friend).  When the pears are frozen, they can be bagged and they come in very handy for baking, sauces, soups or even a quick dessert.

The first of our three special “Taste of Italy” dinners is coming up in quickly.  It will be held on February 11 and the theme is “Carnivale!“.  Luckily I have the help of some amazing experts on Northern Italian culture and cuisine to guide me … I will share some of their insights next post.

Hope to see you there … take care of each other!  Ciao.