Friday, June 21, 2013

DISH | tis the season: strawberry shortcake

As soon as that warm summer sun makes an appearance, we here in Nova Scotia get excited. Sure the arrival of our short beach season is reason enough to be ecstatic but for me and many others it marks a sudden jump in the variety of local produce. First the rhubarb hits and people go mad. I even acquired 12 lbs of the tart stuff from Noggins in Alderney Landing, my local 7-days-a-week market a mere 5 minute walk from the house. We are one lucky community. With a new juicer occupying prime counter real estate, some of that rhubarb got juiced and canned. I see many a rhubarb cocktail in my future.

Lately it's the local strawberries that are all the craze. Last year we went strawberry picking in Truro, scoring well over 20 lbs. In fact, we only just finished the strawberries in the freezer though many a jar of jam remains in the cupboard. Anyone up for some jam? I'd be happy to tradsies.

This season, however, some U-picks may sadly stay closed. The news came out several weeks ago that two strawberry viruses teamed up to deliver a big blow to this year's crop. Devastating I know. I chatted with Chris Webster of Webster Farms in Kings County who, like many others, had no choice but to destroy much of their fields in an effort to stop the spread. Apparently, strawberry mild yellow-edge virus and strawberry mottle virus are relatively common and generally harmless when only one is present. But put the two together and strawberry plants become weakened, producing tiny fruit or none at all. We can thank our lucky stars the viruses don't affect humans. What's most interesting though is an outbreak like this hasn't been seen in Nova Scotia for years, well at least the 60 years Webster Farms has been operating. Most research to date has attributed the spread to the strawberry aphid though nothing has yet to be confirmed. What is certain is that we will see less strawberries this season and our strawberry farmers will be stuck with the financial burden. Damn aphids.

Despite the loss of more than 40% of our harvest, the berries are now gracing market shelves across the province including my very own Noggins. As the official dessert of summer, I'm pretty sure everyone immediately starts making strawberry shortcake the minute a pint is acquired. It's even the token dessert at many a lobster supper. So obviously what was I to do with my first pint but make some. But you know me, no plain ol' shortcake was going to suffice. Not that I don't like kicking it traditional with biscuits, berries and whip but my moms had recently-ok not so recently-given me some cool mini cake pans and I finally knew exactly what to do with them. And so I give you the eathalifax strawberry shortcake: mint & honey macerated strawberries + lemon olive oil cake + clotted cream.

Yes I did.

Strawberry Shortcake

mint + honey macerated strawberries

1 pint strawberries, sliced (Noggins)
2 tbsp fresh mint, chiffonade (Riverview herbs)
drizzle local honey (Ash Hill Farm)

First things first, combine the mint, honey and berries. The longer you leave them the more the juices will be drawn out of the berries. We left ours overnight thus the dark green strands of mint and soft, crimson berries. I wish I had taken the photo the same day. Live and learn.

lemon olive oil cake

1/3 cup milk + squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 + 3 tbsp sugar
rind of 1 lemon
1 egg
2 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil (Liquid Gold)

lemon syrup

1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar

English clotted cream or whip cream

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour six mini cake pans of your choice. Combine the milk with the  lemon juice and let sit. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, being sure to mix well. No one likes the taste of baking powder ok. Whisk together the sugar, zest, and olive oil. Add in the egg and milk. Combine the wet with the dry, making sure not to over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake 15-18 min or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let cool several minutes before inverting on a wire rack.

Combine the syrup ingredients in a pot and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. When the cakes are cool, brush with the syrup.

Totally going against tradition, we ate ours with some clotted cream that the lovely Aimee left at our place after the first HFXFB meet up. If you haven't tried this stuff, head on down to Pete's or your local specialty grocery store and grab a jar. It's pretty much butter that tastes like cream. How can that be wrong?

Not too sweet with the added awesomeness of mint and lemon, this shortcake was everything I had hoped it would be. So this strawberry season, whatever way you shortcake, head to your nearest farmers market and send some love our farmers' way.

Monday, June 17, 2013

happy birthday to me: mushroom ramen

In case you haven't heard, my birthday has recently come and gone. I generally welcome each birthday, celebrating the happiness of the past year while looking forward to all that's to come. I'll admit, however, this one was different. Remember that cross roads I had mentioned? Well, currently my days are spent trying to figure out my next move, what career path to take before we can make our resto-cafe dreams come true. Needless to say, it's been taking its toll. So when the big day drew near, I wasn't the least bit excited.

But, like always, the clouds parted and the sun shone through. This birthday, besides the amazing gifts from the man, I got to spend my birthday with a crew of food bloggers from across Canada. Nothing like a twitter party to lift the spirits and remind you of everything you have to be grateful for. The party celebrated the release of Get Your Grill On with Turkey & Mushrooms, an e-book collaboration between Mushrooms Canada, Turkey Farmers of Canada and ten of Canada's best food bloggers, many of whom I had the pleasure of meeting at FBC2013. I was beyond thrilled when Mushrooms Canada asked me to moderate the party because, if there is one thing I love more than anything, it's talking food. Despite it being the fastest hour of my life, I wouldn't have spent my birthday any other way. Big thanks to the team at Mushrooms Canada, Turkey Farmers of Canada and all the participating bloggers for making my day. Plus, the e-book is nothing short of incredible. I suggest hitting up the Mushrooms Canada and Tasty Turkey facebook pages, throwing a like their way, then getting your download on. These are 20 recipes sure to spices up your summer grilling.

But what this post is really about is the Back to the Roots grow your own mushroom kit. Part of the unbelievable swag at the FBC conference, Mushrooms Canada graciously gave all attendees a kit to take home. Somehow in all the craziness (like the lack of power during registration perhaps), I had totally forgot to snag one. As the weeks went by and the instagram pics started surfacing with the mushroom play by play, I knew I had missed out big time. But, lucky me, the awesome ladies of Mushrooms Canada whom I enjoyed a nightcap with at the conference went ahead and mailed me one anyway so I could get in on the action.

And action is exactly what I got. Both Brent and I became mesmerized, rushing to the windowsill each morning to see the progress. It was as if you could stand there and literally watch them grow. We even harvested at day 9, a day earlier than expected. I don't know what's going on in our house but I can't wait to turn that box over and do it all over again. Uh huh, the kits can magically produce up to four mushroom harvests. You have got to hit up Back to the Roots to order one for yourself. Even better, share a pic of your fully grown mushrooms on their facebook page and they'll send a kit to a school of your choice. How cool is that?

I know right!
I eat mushrooms on the regular so when these bad boys were ready, I could easily have put them in just about anything. These oyster mushrooms, however, were destined for something bigger, something I've been obsessed with lately. If you read my last post - wait, what? you haven't? Stop everything right now and get on that! - it'll be no surprise that I went ahead and made me some ramen.

Needing some key ingredients, I jumped on the new ride (I also got an ol' school bike for the bday) and pedalled my way to an Asian grocery store here in Dartmouth. I was hoping to make my own dashi with kombu and bonito but they carried neither. Looks like it's commercial dashi stock for me. Have I lost you yet?

This recipe may not have the depth of flavor of proper ramen but it's quick and easy and mad delish. It's also one of those things that can be topped with just about anything, including the almighty egg. #putaneggonit

Mushroom Ramen

Serves 2-4

2 tsp sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp ginger, minced
3 cup sliced mushrooms, shitake & oyster
2 cup chicken stock (homemade of course)
2 cup boiling water
2 tbsp dashi
2 tbsp soy sauce
200 g ramen (4 blocks)
1/2 cup spinach, chopped
4 green onions, diced (we also grew these in the windowsill!)
2 eggs, soft boiled
1/2 cup corn, cooked

In a large pot, heat the sesame oil over medium high. Cook the garlic, ginger, and mushrooms about 5 minutes. Add in the chicken stock. Dissolve the dashi in the boiling water. Add to the pot and simmer 10 - 20 min, depending on how hangry you are. Season to taste with soy sauce. If you favour a clear broth, simply strain, reserving the mushrooms for the top.

To soft boil the eggs, boil 6 min. Remove and rinse with cold water.

For the ramen, bring a pot to a boil. Add the noodles and cook til tender. The timing will depend entirely on your noodles. The Rooster brand instant noodles take about 2 min. Drain.

To assemble, pour the broth into two bowls. Add in noodles. Top with spinach, egg, corn, green onions, mushrooms, and as much nori as you like. Some recipes want you to wilt the spinach but why bother when the hot broth will do that for you?

With this being so incredibly easy, no doubt my ramen obsession will be brought to a whole new level.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

FEED | Mr. Noodles meet your match: Truly Tasty Ramen & Dumplings

You know what's been taking the world by storm lately? No not bacon. Not gourmet burgers either (fyi, that trend hit the rest of the world WAY before Hali.) Give up? It's ramen. Not the packaged 50 cent Mr. Noodles of your student days but rather the expertly designed bowls of tender noodles swimming in delicious meat infused broth. Just look at the success of the Momofuku empire and tell me you don't want to slurp those noodles right into your pie hole. And pork belly with my noodles? I'll take two.

Though it may not seem like it, I've lived a rarther sheltered food life.  I do, after all, live on the East Coast. We may have loads of amazing food here but sometimes the variety of ethnic food is, shall we say, limited. Without a local ramen joint for years, I had no idea of it's complexity or the many ramen varieties let alone what even constituted "ramen".

Then I found this. Sometimes you just need things simplified.

Armed with my new found ramen knowledge, it was finally time to get in on the action. With but one ramen resto in the city, it was high time to pay Truly Tasty Ramen & Dumplings a visit.

Unlike a lot of other ethnic restaurants in the city with their dusty rose carpets and menu pic adorned walls, Truly Tasty is quite nice. Modern decor and minimalist design sets a simple yet comfy atmosphere. It certainly wasn't what I was expecting. The menu is similarly minimal with but a few bowls of ramen, some dumplings, and a couple Japanese appies. It being our first time, might as well go with the House Special ramen. Wait a minute, you're out of pork belly? Excuse me while I go cry in the bathroom. BBQ pork will just have to suffice.

Within minutes our steaming bowls arrived accompanied by sides of bean sprouts in sesame oil, crispy fried garlic, and chile oil. Now, like I said, I don't know a damn thing about ramen. So in depth descriptions and comparisons to the great noodle bowls of the world ain't happening. What I can tell you is that I loved it. The broth was super flavourful, the stuff that long simmering's made of, and the pork was melt in your mouth tender, possessing it's own slightly sweet, almost 5 spice flavour. Some of Mr. Ramen's friends were also present, namely corn, green onions, and a soft boiled egg. And we all know how I feel about #putaneggonit. There were also pickled onions which I pretty much enjoy on just about anything. Missing however was the infamous fishcake, Ms. Naruto. Damn, I really wanted to meet her.  Regardless, I slurped up every last bite, even adding all the sides to create a more savoury, spicy broth.

Word on the street is that a second ramen joint Tako has just opened in the suburbian land of ethnic food, Clayton Park. With the ramen obsession in full effect (I may have just made my own. Recipe coming soon!) you bet I'll be making the trek soon.

But the best part aside from the eating of course was that while writing this, I also watched the ramen movie of all ramen movies, Tampopo. Set in Japan in the 80's, it follows a truck driver who stops at a small town noodle shop then vows to help the widow-run shop become the best in town. Cuz it's the trucker you trust to teach you the ways of the ramen right?! You've going to wanna head to the nearest video store and rent this one folks. Filled with completely random scenes exploring the love of food (and boy do I mean RANDOM!),  it truly speaks to the art of ramen. Big thanks to an instagram friend @chezwu for suggesting it. Jumped right on down that ramen rabbit hole and I'm never looking back.

Monday, June 10, 2013

lick the bone

The sun has finally hit the East Coast. You know what that means. Beers are chillin' and meat be grillin'. I bet you're thinking I'm about to share some awesome BBQ recipe. Well, not this time. Don't get me wrong, beers on the deck and BBQ'd dins is all I can think about when it's warm. But sometimes you just gotta let the experts do the cooking.

I'd like to say I'm schooled in the ways of the grill, that I've travelled the Southern US stuffing smokey goodness into my face at every stop on the road. But I'd be lying. What I would give to tour the legendary BBQ joints of the South. Most definitely bucket list material. I'm a huge fan of all things pork so when BBQ finally hit our city, I was all over it. At present, we have but three BBQ joints in the city, one a chain out of Florida that I honestly haven't been rushing to try. For me, there's only one on that list. When the BBQ  Let's be real, when the pork craving takes hold, it's Boneheads BBQ every time. I can't stay away from the pulled pork sammie.

Since the very first time I put that meat in my mouth, I was hooked. Yeah, I said that.  Now despite a menu full of meaty goodness, I can't order anything but. Once Brent and I shared the behemoth pit boss sampler, a huge feast for 2-4 with pretty much every thing on the menu. Though a whole world of delicious, the next visit we were right back on the ol' pulled pork train. Never overcooked or mushy like we've had in other places, Boneheads does pulled pork proud. Straight up, perfectly smoked piggy served simply in rub and its own juices. I'm so addicted to pork that I've even gagged my way through many a sloppy pulled pork sammie so smothered in sauce there might as well not have been meat in there. None of that at Boneheads. If sauce is your thing, three house made sauces, all delicious, allow you to flavour it any way you want, leaving us purists with juice running happily down our chins.

customization station
Besides the food being awesome, Boneheads is also locally owned, a big plus in my books. Even cooler is how they rock the social media, specifically twitter. Not only are they engaged with their public, but they're some of the funniest tweeters around. Their email is so you can see where I'm going with this. Give them a follow @boneheadsbbq to get in on the action.

They've also been winning Best Ribs in The Coast for years now and were even featured on You Gotta Eat Here. So listen to us. Put it in your mouth Halifax.