Summer cooking

Tisane

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Most of the herbs I grow on my deck are for cooking or eating. There is always a good supply of basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary and chives. It’s wonderful to step out of the kitchen and pick a handful of herbs to add to a dish. I also have a bay tree. I’m a big fan of bay leaves, I can’t boil a potato without a bay leaf. Most of my herbs die over the winter, but if I’m lucky the chives and thyme return in the spring. My rosemary and bay trees get special attention, they spend the winter indoors, in my stairwell where it is bright and cool. Oh, to live in a climate where they could stay outside all year.

Another herb I nurse through the winter is lemon verbena. Its leaves have a potent aroma and almost overpowering lemon flavour so only a small amount is needed. As the leaves are rather tough, I use a sprig when flavouring a custard, or syrup then I can remove all the leaves before serving. Lemon verbena’s power also makes it perfect to balance the intensity of quinces. However, my favourite way to enjoy this herb is as tea, or tisane in French.

A pot of it sits right now on my window ledge as I write this post.

Dinner for a hot night

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This is only my second post for August. I blame the weather. I’m not complaining about it, the heat is better than the cold, even when it’s humid. However, by mid-afternoon my brain turns to mush and I find it difficult to focus. I end up dozing, which doesn’t improve my mental powers, or playing sudoku which can help but usually just frustrates. So that’s my excuse.


The heat not only muddles the mind, it dampens the appetite. Luckily the abundance of fresh vegetables at my local farmers markets inspires. Simple quickly cooked meals, laden with vegetables will lure me into my non air-conditioned kitchen on the hottest days.

Usually I start with bacon, duck fat or olive oil, add chopped shallot or onion then whatever I’ve bought at the market. Broad beans or favas, depending where you live, diced red pepper and a little vegetable stock. Cooked orecchiette were added to the mix and a little pecorino grated over the top. Then out  on my deck with a chilled rosé, a perfect summer meal.

Morels and peas have reappeared in my market. The morels  from British Columbia are too beautiful to resist and the peas and baby potatoes are local. I’ve been making a stock with the pods. Simply simmer the pods with a little onion for a light, flavourful, and very useful stock. I was inspired by a recipe from my friend Annie Wayte’s Keep It Seasonal: Soups, Salads, And Sandwiches.

Same method, cook the potatoes separately in that stock then add them to the mushrooms and peas. No cheese here, but if you have any truffle oil a few drops will enhance this dish.

Sorrel

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I love the refreshing lemon taste of sorrel. You can buy small bunches in gourmet stores, but anyone who has cooked sorrel knows you need more than a bunch.
In Riga, Latvia you can buy sorrel by weight and I made my first sorrel soup using smoked bacon and thick, rich sour cream. My friend Ilze, who has serious Latvian credentials, told me if I got sorrel started in my garden it would grow like wildfire, so I went searching for seeds. No luck.

Then my friends Bruno and Karen, who live in Poitiers, France and keep a patch of stinging nettles just so they can make pasta, sent me French sorrel seeds, which I planted at the end of last summer. Now I have two flourishing plots of sorrel, one in my deck planter and the other in my garden, where so far it has only been attacked by a few slugs as passersby fail to recognize it.

Sorrel is delicious with bacon, a natural with eggs, in a salad, or melt the leaves in butter to create a creamy purée.  Now that the heat has arrived I am  making cold sorrel soup, which has a wonderfully refreshing lemon acidity. My recipe is an adaption of Margaret Costa’s. You might be tempted to use chicken stock, but I think it overpowers the soup, so I use a vegetable stock made from simmering pea pods and mint.

Cook a chopped onion in butter, then add 250g of peeled, diced potato (about 2) and 1 litre of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a pinch of sugar. Simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are cooked then remove from the heat.

Add 250g of sorrel leaves, having removed any thick stems and stir in. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. (It is a good idea to cook this soup in a deep pot so you don’t end up wearing it). Add more salt to taste, I add about 1 1/2 teaspoons, chill the soup until you want to serve it, but don’t serve it ice cold.

Red Currants + Raspberries

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This is the time to make summer pudding, as both red currants and raspberries are in the markets or ripening in your backyard, if your lucky. Many people throw any combination of berries into summer pudding, but it is best when made with only raspberries and red currants in a 3 to 1 ratio. It requires little heat, so perfect for a hot summer day. Make it a couple of days before you want to serve it. It keeps for several days in the refrigerator and also freezers well, but remember to line the bowl with plastic wrap first if the pudding is destined for the freezer.
You’ll need bread, I like egg bread or challah, but any quality white bread will do, not too fresh, I always check the day old bin at my local bakery. A bowl, my ceramic pudding basin is perfect and holds my mixture of 600g raspberries, 200g red currants off the stem, rinsed, and 200g sugar. Place the damp berries and sugar in a frying pan over low heat and stir from time to time until the berries soften and the sugar is dissolves. Meanwhile, cut the crusts off the bread, and line the bowl with bread and set the bowl in a pie dish to catch any drips.
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Fill the bowl with the fruit mixture, reserving any left over syrup. Top the pudding with more bread.
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Pour over the remaining syrup allowing it to soak into the bread. Cover with plastic wrap, top with a plate, weight down (yet another use for my homemade sauerkraut) and refrigerate at least 24 hours. Remove the weight and plate.

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When ready to serve, turn out onto a plate and carefully cut into servings with a bread knife. It’s good with whipped cream but doesn’t really need it. Once cut the pudding looses its structural integrity and will start to sag, Putting the bowl back over it will help hold it together if you have any leftovers.

Why is it called summer pudding? Because of its resemblance to a steamed pudding.

And while we are on names why is making an irreverent sound with your tongue and lips called a raspberry?  In the nineteenth century English rhyming slang “raspberry tart” is rhyming slang for a fart.

Corn on the barbecue

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I always boiled my corn. Removing the husks and silk then dropping them into boiling salted water, before draining and slathering with butter, adding nothing more than sea salt and freshly ground pepper. The pepper surprised my husband who, until he met me, only added salt. Then, like many who read food magazines, I began the torturous task of peeling back the husk, attempting the impossible task of removing all the silk before rewrapping the cob in its leaves and soaking the whole thing before barbecuing. Superior taste and flavour was the promise. False. It was simply a tiresome way to steam the corn. Even worse, it tasted just like boiled corn.
My husband, the real corn lover in the family, decided to barbecue it, taking his inspiration from the street vendors in Toronto’s India town, where grilled corn is a popular snack. After several attempts he has now perfected his method. The naked cobs are brushed with a fat and spice mixture. Lard, goose or duck fat, whatever is in our refrigerator, is blended with salt, cayenne or chili powder, garam masala and paprika. He brushes the cobs all over with this flavoured fat then cooks them over medium high, turning four times. When you here the corn popping and see some crisp burnt kernels, it’s ready.