September 25, 2009

2 Simple Salads

Mmm....apples! Both the air and the apples are getting nice and crispy these days and I'm ecstatic because it's coming around to baking season once again, if only just. Lovely 'Indian Summer' weather has been keeping things simple in the kitchen and the new chest freezer (recommended beyond anything else for anyone who wants to attempt a bit of self-sufficiency-it's our life-saver) is gradually being filled with bags and bags of organic home-grown tomatoes, perfectly ripe and promptly preserved peppers and kale, chard and purple French beans, and lots and lots of grated zucchini- prepared and ready for use at any time should the urge hit me to bake a zucchini cake or muffins for a tea-time snack.

For the moment though, there's a lot of fresh produce to be picked or bought at the farmers' market in the midst of all the awesome autumn bounty. Next year I've set myself a challenge to sample all of the different produce available at the market, to widen my cooking field when I'm most at risk of only cooking with the relatively limited, although tasty, produce from my garden. A few goodies I bought last week were winter savoury (a gorgeous herb tasting and smelling like a combination of thyme and sage but looks more like long sticks of thyme), golden beets- the sweetest variety available and they don't stain, tomatillos for their zesty flavour and firm texture, some excellent super-fresh apples, and a bag of sweet rainbow carrots that range from yellow to orange to purple with orange in the middle!

With my pantry full of fall goodness inspiration was fast to follow. A quick tapas-like lunch and an impromptu dinner created these two easy and tasty salads:

Zesty Carrot and Apple &
Melon and Pear salad

For the Carrot and Apple salad:

2 grated carrots- the fresher and more local the sweeter they'll be
1 grated dessert apple (not tart)
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp of ground sea salt
1/4 cup of roasted cashews crushed with the back of a knife
a sprinkling of sesame oil

Grate the apple into a bowl and quickly add the lime juice, followed by the grated carrot. Add the salt and stir. Then add the crushed cashews and the sesame oil. Transfer to a small serving dish. Note: You may want to double this recipe if serving as the main salad. Alternatively, this size makes a great tapas-size salad.

For the Melon and Pear salad:
1" or bite-size cubes of cantelope (or orange) melon
1 slightly crunchy/green pear cut lengthwise, with core removed, and cut in bite-size chunks or long 1/4" thick pieces
2 spring onions (aka green onions or scallions), finely chopped
1 small salad turnip (a small, white turnip resembling a radish), grated

Use equal quantities of pear and melon, or slightly more melon. There's a trick I was taught that helps to remove the 'smelly breath' factor from spring onions/scallions/green onions. After chopping the spring onions place them in a bowl and sprinkle them with a very generous pinch of salt. Next, pour boiling water over them, then strain and rinse under cold water to remove the salt. Add to the cubed melon and pear, then divide between the salad bowls. Garnish the top of each salad with the white salad turnip and serve with either a Balsamic crème or Balsamic vinegar.

September 15, 2009

San Francisco Highlights

Yes, I know, it's about time right? I've been back from San Francisco for over a week now. I would have blogged earlier but we were taken hostage by my garden. Upon our return we were greeted with the full onslaught of the harvest season. Always a pleasure, but a little overwhelming given the overly ambitious scale of our garden this year, we spent hours picking vegetables- mainly peppers, zucchini, lots and lots of tomatoes (yippee!), and beans. Then we rolled up our sleeves and brought out the canning equipment and proceeded to spend many, many hours preserving. Being very diligent however we wrote down all the ingredients and respective weights, so that if one, or hopefully all, of the 3 varieties of salsa we produced work in our favour and withstand the test of time, then we can happily recreate the recipe in the coming years.

The tomatoes in the first picture were being sold at the Ferry Building Farmers' Market- one of the best markets I've ever been to. The tomatoes were some of the sweetest I've ever tasted and, for your future reference, the variety is actually called 'Early Girl' (I hope they go by the same name in Canada?). A woman dressed all funky-like (standard for San Francisco- there's great shopping everywhere including a 3-storey Williams-Sonoma- very dangerous!) was handing them out on a skewer and I gladly accepted several.

Now, I'm not kidding about how wonderful this market is. The main farmers' market is outside only on Tuesday and Saturday (and definitely worth organizing a trip around) but the incredible selection of food is also mind-boggling on the inside. Cured meats (charcuterie), gelato, wine, a patisserie, mushrooms of all sorts including 'Lobster' mushrooms- as big as you'd imagine, a cooking shop, Californian olive oil, amazing chocolates, and the list goes on and on. We actually woke up after only 4 hours of sleep the night before (our lovely friends were getting married) and drove 3 hours back up to San Francisco in order to visit the market. Luckily our determination paid off and we were not disappointed. An endless number of stalls featured such a vast selection of local, and mainly organic, produce and there were countless options for lunch- one offering (see the menu above) - the grilled salmon with shaved fennel- was absolutely gorgeous! And we could have eaten so much more... There were, however, plenty of opportunities to sample most of the produce on offer, and even the cured meats venture offered take-away slices of a mixture of meats (orange and fennel salami was one thing I tried) arranged for easy-eating from a cone. I got some stares of course when people realised I was wandering around eating slices of meat, but it was definitely worth it.

The other two photos above are of the Hot Cookie outlet/bakery in the Castro area. Risqué and proud of it! This is the district of San Francisco where gay rights were achieved through the work of the community and most notably Harvey Milk roughly 30 years ago, and I have to admit it was one of my favourite places in San Francisco. I guess because there was so much good food, good wine, organic/health stores, eco-product shops, and great coffee on offer. The community seemed very progressive in many more ways than just one, and not to mention it felt like one of the safest parts of the city in which to live. We even found a type of coffee that was labelled 'Sooo Good' (this led to some initial confusion when asking for a recommendation) it went like this: "Do you have a coffee that tastes more like chocolate than berries?" The Barrista: "Oh, that's Sooo Good" .....and you see what I mean...

Coffee aside, I wholeheartedly recommend a food-focused visit to San Francisco. There are many excellent restaurants and bakeries that have incredible reputations, and I visited a few, but there are just so many that, if you're only visiting the city for a few days, it really is worth making the food your major sightseeing destinations. And you won't have any trouble getting great dining recommendations from the locals; I've never met so many friendly people in one city before.

I have one recommendation to leave you with: the Hidden Vine. A great, low-key and casual, wine bar with a very funky/bluesy, hotel-basement, dimly-lit type of atmosphere. It offered an excellent choice of wines in a variety of flights for a really good price, or you could just share a bottle or two with friends, with the option of ordering some superb tapas. Directions: on Cosmo street, off of Taylor street, near Union Square. We tried some incredible local red wines (from the Napa Valley mainly and Santa Cruz) and sat there for over an hour talking and sipping, savouring and slurping, and never felt hurried in any way. Who could ask for more?