Squelching Happily into June.

asparagus outside1It’s here! The first of our farm’s produce has been delighting us for the past week.  Asparagus is wonderful in and of itself but also as a harbinger of everything to come in the following months.  It has been very welcome in what has been another grueling month for the kitchen.  In May we were producing meals on 30 of the 31 days which stretched our relatively small staff … and they came through valiantly!  So props and respect to Patty, Todd and Shirley and to our stalwart volunteers Virginia, Jerome, Regan and Greg.  We can’t forget Theresa who is the entire Housekeeping Department all by herself and calmly works as hard as anyone I have seen!

It’s been a month full of fascinating and wonderful people.  Well, ALL our visitors are fascinating and wonderful … but so many of our clients are here for silent, contemplative retreats that we don’t get a chance to interact with them.  They are here for a purpose – and that is not to amuse the kitchen staff!  When we get workshops and conferences with groups like the Women’s Songwriting Workshop, Guelph Community Health Care or Unitarian ministers from all over the continent who fill the house with talk and laughter, there’s a different vibe to the house.  “A change is as good as a rest”  some people say …

Asparagus (like many vegetables) is versatile and plays well with others.  After you’ve had your fill of eating it plain (steamed or roasted), you can have it as a soup, as a salad, on the BBQ or as the highlight of a quiche.  Quiche is a staple here at Loyola House.  We love it, clients love it, it’s nutritious, attractive, keeps well and especially good for using up that last little bit of whatever you had last night. We have a good source of pre-made pastry shells too, so that makes it easy to whip up.

Basic Quiche

Thaw a 9 inch unsweetened pie shell.  If you like, flute the edges – this makes it easier to serve and less likely to spill as you move it in to the oven.

Whip together …

5 large eggs

2/3 cup 10% cream

Strain this in to another bowl.  This will remove the strange gooey bits of the egg attached to the yolk (called the chalaza, in case you ever wondered).

Whisk in …

1/4 t salt

1/4 t pepper

pinch of nutmeg

dash of hot sauce (more if you like it spicy but the aim here is to have just a touch of undetectable heat to stimulate the taste buds)

Smear the bottom of the crust lightly with Dijon mustard and sprinkle with grated cheddar.  Arrange the fillings and then carefully pour the custard over all.  Sprinkle again with grated cheddar.  This will melt and produce an attractive glaze while protecting the eggs from forming a less palatable skin.  Bake at 350 until it starts to puff and the centre is completely firm – about 50 minutes.  This is one dish I like to bake on the bottom shelf of the oven to make sure the pastry is completely cooked.  Allow to sit 10 minutes before slicing.

Fillings?  well just about anything that goes with cheese!  Often we use meat – bacon or ham or chicken or sausage … even salmon.  Vegetarian is good too – broccoli, spinach, peppers, tomato, onions (caramelized or not) … and yes, asparagus!  One of my favourites is a 3 (or 4 or 5) cheese variety sprinkled with fresh chives.  Let your imagination (and your leftover shelf) be your guide.

For your gluten-free friends, this is even easier!  Simply smear a pie plate or pan with coconut oil, pour in the custard then proceed with fillings, top with cheese and bake … and proudly call it a Frittata.

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I’m back to the kitchen … trusting you to take care of yourselves and everyone around you!

PS – Thanks to Mike-the-farmer (a man of many talents) for the first evocative, lovely photo!

 

 

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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!